Greg Shepherd 1955 – 2011
Another (extremely) benevolent GMO
Greg was my big brother, and he left this world four years ago. He died from a malignant brain tumor that looked like an octopus just inside his left ear, a tumor that declared war on his body. Specifically, his tumor was a glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) which is a very late stage, nasty glioma, also known as astrocytoma grade IV. He died scarcely 18 months after diagnosis. He was 56 and otherwise healthy, in the prime of his life really. During those precious final 18 months, he endured two craniotomies, multiple radiation blasts and a round or two of chemotherapy.
Last week I watched a segment on 60 Minutes that blew me away – so much so that I felt happy, excited and sad all at the same time. It would appear that a few people were recently completely cured of their glioblastomas.
Oh my, it was their own immune system, but with a lot of help from recombinant DNA technology, or transgenesis (wiki), or genetic engineering – call it what you will. It was those little buggers called GMOs.
Is natural always a good thing?
Everyone has heard of chemotherapy and radiation as common cancer treatments. But there is a big, bad new kid on the block: immunotherapy. A heretofore lesser utilized branch of cancer treatment, immunotherapy is now gaining momentum, fast, and biotechnology is stepping onto the stage as a major player in the therapy. And not only is it cutting edge transgenesis at work here, but a much maligned virus – polio – turns out to be an ideal medium for the process.
Simply put, polio attaches to cancer cells thereby making them targets of the immune system. The virus is safe to use because, via transgenic technology, the original polio is re-engineered using the common cold virus to replace the unwanted traits of polio. This ensures that the patient receiving the treatment does not contract actual polio.
This is so cutting edge it makes my head perform pirouettes. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? It is so simple it has only taken over a hundred years of research to get here. In other words, this is no overnight sensation. This is the result of painstaking, tireless research of generations of experts. This is the result of endless hypotheses and stabs in the dark.
With all the public hysteria flying around the use of genetic modification in crop production – the calls for labeling, cries that the technology is ‘against God’s way’, causing the proliferation of ‘frankenfoods’, ruining the planet, causing all manner of disease, not natural, and so on, with all of that I have to ask, would anyone deny a loved one the cure for cancer because it is not natural? My guess is certainly not.
There is nothing natural about mixing one virus with another inside a lab then infecting cancer cells with it so that the immune system is triggered and thereby does what it does best – kill the bad stuff. That process is simply not going to happen naturally, on its own. The bio-engineer, the scientist, the expert must intervene to initiate this miracle of man. As nature would have it, our immune system does not attack malignant tumors in our body.
A few years ago, I was of the belief that everything needed to be natural to be good and right and in line with the proper way of things. A scientist had the audacity to tell me that if left unchecked, nature’s intent was to kill me, that it is science that saves me time and again. I was so offended at the time I wanted to punch the wall, but now, I understand what was meant by that statement.
I will wind down this post by adding that there are many other immunotherapy methods and drugs out there being utilized and researched that don’t involve GMOs, and by no means is polio the only agent being looked at in those that do.
As I see it, any and all of of this is exciting! Immunotherapy is the emerging new darling in cancer research and is ushering in a new era of treatment. But before we all fill our champagne glasses, we need to remember to remain cautious. A recent article in Forbes puts the breaks on the fervor over this ‘miracle’ because of course there is a downside, but even so, I have no doubt that immunotherapy is the future of cancer treatment.
Countless, precious individuals like my brother will benefit as we get past the early stages and trials and these treatments become routine. There are even those trying to speed things up, as it were. See Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure.
If only Greg could have waited a decade or so. If only…
(This article has been updated since its original posting.)
For further reading: Duke Researchers Engineer Polio Virus For Cancer Treatment
Related video: Treating Cancer With Polio Is Working
Forbes Article: Here’s what ’60 Minutes’ didn’t tell you about the ‘miracle’ glioblastoma treatment.
Greg’s Gift (video taken by hospice workers during his last two weeks of life – inspiring)