Hallmarks of Cancer Part 4
Hallmarks of Cancer Part 4
We continue our discussion about how complicated cancer really is. We conclude with the discussion with the emerging hallmarks.
Now, we have talked about how cancer cells can rewire themselves on the inside, and we touched on how other cells can rewire them (remember the sub-contractors analogy?). Now, we have this thing called the immune system that keeps us healthy by killing bacteria, viruses, infected cells, and other foreign invaders in the body. This same immune system is supposed to kill tumor cells by recognizing that they are “sick” or re-wired incorrectly. They do this by putting up flags on their cell surface called receptors. These receptors are supposed to bind, or hold hands, to the immune cells and talk about how they are sick. This allows the immune cell to kill the tumor cell and allow it to die. Unfortunately, this conversation gets screwed up. Think of it as having a debate with someone who won’t see your side, and you don’t see their side. This causes chaos and doesn’t allow the immune system to do what it needs to do.
This conversation is spoken in words called cytokines such as IL-1, IL-6, TNFα, etc. These are light weight (in terms of molecular weight, something we’ll cover another day) proteins/molecules that allow immune and regular body cells to communicate, or converse, about what’s going on and if they’re sick. In cancer, this conversation goes wrong, and it allows the cancer cells to get the wrong signals. These wrong signals then tells cancer cells to rewire themselves all wrong. Have you ever been on a first date and got the wrong signals? Yup, same thing happens with cancer cells!
Reprogramming Energy Metabolism
Okay, now we’re going to describe how the cell generates energy in the most basic of terms. Normal cells get their energy from a process called Oxidative-Phosphorylation that occurs in the powerhouse of the cell called the Mitochondria. This is a complicated process that we will discuss in another concepts corner. But, generally speaking, this process involves the use of oxygen to make ATP (the main energy molecule of the cell). In cancer cells, they use a process called glycolysis that mimics the same thing that happens when you work out. The muscle cells use this to break down glucose without the use of the powerhouse, and they do this in what’s called the cytoplasm. This is the liquid/mushy portion of the cells that hold and house the organelles (remember them? The little organs of the cell that do specific jobs to allow the cell to live.). This allows the cancer cells to live in conditions normal cells couldn’t live in such as hypoxic, or low oxygen, places. Remember how tumors need to build new roads (blood vessels) to get their food and oxygen. Well, until then, the cancer cells can switch over to this new way of getting energy. This whole process is called the Warburg effect. This adds to the complexity of attacking cancer cells and tumors with drugs because they adapt very quickly to new situations. This ability is what makes the cure for cancer conspiracy beyond possible.
Even if you killed one cancer off with the “cure”, the tumor would have one or two cells that would be immune to the cure. These cells would adapt to that “cure”, and come back stronger than ever. If you a Dragon Ball (Z) fan like I am, cancer is the super Saiyan of disease. Even if you beat them down, they come back stronger than ever, and usually defeat their opponents. This four-part series is only a simplification of the complexity that researchers face when trying to tackle the DISEASES that we call cancer. It is because of this complexity that we need people to believe in us when we tell you that there is no cure as of yet. In my personal opinion, I believe that when we cure cancer, we will have achieved immortality. That is how complex these processes are. We are looking at how normal cells function, and then we need to look at every single example of how that process can go wrong. Think about it in this way: It’s like giving an airplane to a random person on the street, and telling them build 1,000 functioning planes in 40 years by hand. Or, my favorite analogy, taking someone from Russia who doesn’t speak English and having them map the entire US interstate system on a regular piece of paper by walking the highways. It is damn near impossible. We are only now beginning to understand and map out the cellular highways, or wiring, to make treatments possible. Believe in us, and we will deliver.