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'The Immortal Cell; Why cancer research fails'
Gerald B. Dermer
Avery Publishing Group USA 1994,
212 pages
ISBN 0-89529-582-2.

Introduction From The Author:

I have spent about one-half of my adult life as a scientist in cancer research. from the world of the surgical pathology lab - where I studied tumors removed from the bodies of living cancer patients - to the rarefield world of medical school research on cells living in petri dishes, I have immersed myself in knowledge about one of the greatest scourges of our time. And I have learned that there is a vast and deadly gap between the reality of cancer, which strikes human beings, and the theory of cancer, which thousands of researchers are using in their search for a cure.

There is an East Indian folktale, about a group of blind men and an elephant, that is tragically descriptive of the state of cancer research today. In the fable, several blind men are asked to describe an elephant. One, after feeling the elephant's trunk, asserts that it is "very like a snake." Another, feeling a leg, insists it is "very like a tree." Another, feeling the tail, insists it is "very like a rope." Each leaves the scene certain that his impression is correct.

In cancer research, most scientists are in a far worse position than the blind men of the fable. The blind men were gathering what data they could from an actual elephant. Most cancer researchers, using all their faculties, are investigating an un-natural "animal" created in the laboratory, mistakenly applying their data to the real "elephant" of human cancer.

Although some of my colleagues are aware of this gap, few are willing to risk their careers by discussing it openly. In the absence of public debate, cancer scientists around the country are free to propagate the myth of a productive "war on cancer." No one wants to admit that this so-called war has been a worthless investment of taxpayers' money and scientists' time. But as more and more money is spent, with fewer and fewer meaningful results, increasing numbers of patients and their families, taxpayers, and politicians want to know the reasons why.

The answers can be found within the hallowed halls of the National Cancer Institute and other bastions of the cancer establishment, where well-funded scientists are tilting at the molecular windmills of their favourite laboratory representation of cancer - cells growing in petri dishes. Almost everything in science and medicine, including the development of effective treatments, hangs on the reliability of these experimental models. In cancer, the use of these unnatural cells as a model for the human disease has been directly responsible for our ongoing defeat. The cultures, termed cell lines, give incorrect and clinically useless information about cancer.

I came to the world of academia from the hospital environment, after more than a decade of working with tumors removed from the bodies of living cancer patients. The discrepancies between what I knew of human cancer and what I read in research journals and saw in researchers' petri dishes were so striking that I could not keep silent. But soon I learned the fate of those who would challenge a fashionable and very productive research model, however incorrect it might be.

Although it is shielded from the public by high minded pronouncements and scientific jargon, the cancer establishment is afflicted with a mental and moral malaise. It is more interested in maintaining the status quo than in finding the answers to the cancer riddle, and will defend that status quo against all comers. Its struggle to retain credibility and power may well last decades and cost millions of lives, unless the source of its funding - the taxpaying public - demands reform.

I tried to interest the media in the problems in the cancer industry. I wrote letters and made phone calls, but no one wanted to get involved. The medical reporter from the Arizona Republic was concerned that if he wrote stories critical of cancer research, the Cancer Center of the University of Arizona School of Medicine would no longer give him its stories. I encountered similar resistance throughout the media. Finally, in the summer of 1989, I realized that if this story were ever to be made known to the public, I would have to do it myself. I knew that most effective force for change is informed citizens demanding it. The result is The Immortal Cell.

This book was written to alert the public to the truth behind the failed war on cancer. I wrote it as neither a journalist nor a practising physician, but rather as a research firsthand. In these pages I am harshly critical of much of our medical science establishment. I do not laud dedicated researchers, nor do I paint a rosy picture of soon-to-be-discovered cancer cures. Although I firmly believe that research can and will produce practical and effective treatments for cancer, such advances will never come from the present research paradigm. Instead , I present a story of narrow-mindedness, vaulting ambition, and self-interest among those to whom we have given our trust - cancer scientists. It is an account of a scientific and medical scandal of the highest order. But most of all, it is a tale of poor science and the pressures that induce cancer scientists to do unsound work. *

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