Cancer Research: It’s About Time

By William C. Phelps, PhD


The 1960s seems like yesterday to me.  The music, the cultural passion, and a Presidential assassination helped to sear time and place in my now gray-headed memory. During this time, two young scientists in Philadelphia, Dr. Peter Nowell from the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. David Hungerford from Fox Chase Cancer Center, spent their days peering through microscopes at white blood cells. They noticed that when they stained cells from patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (or chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML), they would very often see an odd, minute chromosome in addition to the normal set.

We know today in looking back that this was a landmark observation. Dr. Nowell and Dr. Hungerford named their discovery the “Philadelphia Chromosome” in keeping with the tradition of the day, and it soon became an important way to diagnose CML.

In the 1970s as we suffered through the disco era, Dr. Janet Rowley at the University of Chicago used newly developed techniques that highlighted different regions of chromosomes to look more carefully at the Philadelphia Chromosome. She determined that they looked odd because two large pieces of two different chromosomes had changed places. But the significance of that wasn’t immediately apparent. [more]

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1980s, Nobel Laureate and former American Cancer Society Professor Dr. David Baltimore followed up on Dr. Rowley’s observations to make a critical discovery about what causes CML. His laboratory was able to show that one of the results of the exchange of chromosomal material was the creation of a completely new gene, BCR-Abl, which was only found in CML cells. Dr. Baltimore went on to show that the BCR-Abl protein causes CML in laboratory and animal models. Knowing what causes CML provided the platform for the next major discovery in the treatment of this form of leukemia, which is most commonly found in older adults.

ACS grantee Dr. Brian Druker, working at the Oregon Health and Science University, combined perseverance, innovation, and personal commitment to cancer patients to make the next major breakthrough in the 1990s. One of the most critical challenges that he faced was not scientific, but economic.

The number of patients afflicted with CML in the United States in the 1990s was thought to be too small to entice major pharmaceutical companies to develop a drug. Regardless, he was able to convince Novartis (then called Ciba-Geigy) to allow him to screen some of their huge chemical collections, and he was able to discover a drug which would block the activity of the BCR-Abl protein that had been previously shown to cause CML.

After a decade of hard work by hundreds of scientists, physicians, and patients led by Dr. Druker, Gleevec (imatinib mesylate) was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2001 for treatment of CML. Together with other, later drugs which target the BCR-Abl protein, Gleevec has transformed CML from a lethal diagnosis to a manageable disease for more than 90% of patients. 

Effective treatment of CML has undoubtedly saved thousands of lives, but it took 4 decades of discovery in 4 different parts of the country to make this possible. No matter how much we want a cure for lung, brain, or pancreatic cancer tomorrow, the history of science has taught us that it takes time. Even a brief examination of the major breakthroughs in cancer medicine reveals that the major discoveries were only possible because of a series of advances, painstakingly accumulated over many decades.

In every case, success results from the marriage of hard work and innovation nurtured by the element of time. (Money is crucial, too, of course. Without it, research can’t happen at all, and cutting funding only slows the development of new treatments.)

Discoveries made in the 1990s set the stage for the advances in targeted therapies against a broad range of cancers, including melanoma, lung cancer, and leukemia, for which we’ve seen major advancements during just the past year. These promising paths need the time — and dollars, of course — to find their greatest benefits for cancer patients during the next decade. It really is about time.

Learn more about what the American Cancer Society is doing to further promising cancer research.

Dr. Phelps is director of preclinical and translational cancer research at the American Cancer Society.

7 thoughts on “Cancer Research: It’s About Time

  1. For the last 2 years, I personally have been doing research on ways to kill Cancer of all types, and I have found extreme success everytime I have tried including such Cancers as Colon, Retal, Lung, Leukemia, Brain Tumors (Cancerous), Spinal, Pancreatic, Liver, Kidney, Skin Cancers of all types, and I found that two of the Canna_Oil capsules that I make myself out of pure Cannabis Oil that I extract with ACS Reagent Grade Acetone. After evaporation of said ACS Reagent Grade Acetone, I am left with pure Cannabis Oil or Hash Oil as it has been labeled. I then mix that Cannabis Oil with 25% more by weight of Pure Organic Hemp Seed Oil that can be bought at the local Whole Foods Store or Organic grocery, and once mixed well, I weigh that mixture and add that same weight ammount of the powderized cannabis that I extracted the oil from after I run it back through a coffee grinder to make sure it is very fine. I mix the powdered canna-fiber at a 1:1 ratio with the Canna-Oil/Hemp Seed Oil mixture and capsulize the mixture. The Hemp seed Oil is ALL of your Essential Fatty Acids, and Omega-3- the "good fat" doctors recommend for optimal health. Hemp seed oil has Omega-3 ALA, Omega-6 LA, and Omega-9. Unlike flax, hemp seed oil contains valuable Super Omega-3 SDA, and Super Omega-6 GLA which help our bodies metabolize fat. This is the reason that I use it in my Canna-oil capsules. The hemp Seed Oil helps to break-up the extremely thick Cannabis-Oil so that it is able to be absorbed by your body right now. So basicly, the Hemp Seed oil is a carrier for the Cannabis-Oil which is the THC that your Endocannabinoid Receptors are looking for, and they will not function without! If you give take these capsules orally by mouth at the rate of just two per day (equivalent to 1 gram canna-oil), starting with only one per day for the first 7 – 10 days and then moving up to two caps per day, within the first four days you will feel healthier, your appitite will come back along with your color, and your energy. Within 3 to 6 months of this practice everyday without fail, you will not have anyu sign of tumors or cancers or anything else that was going wrong. I had Hepatitis C that I contracted from a blood transfusion. My doctor recently did my liver enzyme studies and call me personally to inform me that after smoking for 40 years, that my lungs were clear all the way to the bottoms of the lobes, with no webbing. I have the liver of a 27 year old man, (I’m 48 in June) And she asked me where I had hidden the Hep C. I said I did not understand. She said yeah, join the club, "I can’t understand what you did with the Hepatitis C"! She said, "It takes Interferon to get rid of that and you somehow managed to take care of it without it". She told me what ever I am doing, keep it up because I am healthier than her, and if she didn’t know better, she would say I am getting younger! My well documented studies on a large grouping of Medical Marijuana Patients here in Washington State has proven that I have a product that works in the killing of Cancer and much, much, much more! If you would like to know more about it, I can be reached 24/7/365 at 206-733-0149, – [URL removed per blog comment policy]/ Please, the missconceptions, and misinformation about cannabis was because it worked years ago, bjut if everyone was doing it, people would live much longer and be much healthier, and is something the government just does not want to happen. I lost my mother and grandfather to cancer. it runs very high throughout my family, except with me, I am healthier than everyone around me, BAR NONE! lol Have a blessed day, David ‘Purple’ west, Executive Director/Educator/Consultant – Purple Cross Patient Care Association and The Purp sPot Academy for Cannabis Research & Education, Seattle WA

    1. Hi David,
      My Husband has terminal small intestine cancer. I’m trying to get info on where to get oil, dosage and how you use it.
      Can you help?

  2. Hello, David, moderation means someone must approve comments. This is done to counteract spam. Since your comments came in at roughly 2 o’clock in the morning, we didn’t receive them until the working day began. As you’ll see, your main comment has been approved, although per our blog policy, your URL has been removed.

  3. The National Institute of Health, via PubMed public medical library, has listed 10,982 research reports on cannabinoids and their ability to induce apoptosis and cause autoaphagy leading to programmed cancer cell death without damaging healthy tissue. In light of these thousands of reports on cannabis, and it's constituent cannabidiol, CBD, having that evidenced ability to target cancer, why isn't the American Cancer Society promoting further research and clinical human trials? Cannabidiol has shown in vivo and in vitro it's ability to kill cancer cells. Isn't it time to further investigate cannabis sativa and cannabis indica for their curative properties, and incorporate what the scientific medical research has already shown? After all, 10 years ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services received approval for U.S. Patent 6630507, demonstrating ten years ago that cannabinoids were both antioxidants, as well as being neuroprotectants and shown great promise and potential in cancer research, as well as potential in the area of Alzheimers and Parkinson Diseases. Due to the ACS policy I cannot site my sources by way of a url, but one merely has to google cannabinoids and cancer, as well as U.S. Patent 6630507 to find a plethora of scientific research on cannabidiol, CBD and it's ability to induce "apoptosis" in vivo and in vitro. Is the ACS invovled with any current research into cannabidiol, CBD?

  4. I am trying to research this whole new world of hemp oil. I have learned a lot so far but I am trying to help my dad who may be dealing with pancreatic cancer. I think it is so disgusting that we could possibly have a cure for cancer and because a plant cannot be patented and no big money can be made, unlike the huge drug companies selling drugs for 5 and 600 dollars a month for a drug for 30 days use. I watched run from the cure on utube and it was eye opening to me. I don't know whare to start but I would love to try to get this pure oil from the plant.

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