Thursday, December 1, 2016


Linda and friend, off to Europe
Probably 1965

I guess this is worth posting.  It originates with the NCI and is a general description of immunotherapy - what it is, what it does, how you get it, what its side effects are, and so forth – aimed at people who know less about it than you do.  It is boring, but useful, and I can’t think of anything clever to say about it.  Stow it away, & hope you never need it.

Monday, November 28, 2016


Linda and the author, 2010
Fecal transplants.

Now that I have your attention, let me introduce the Fred Hutch Winter Magazine, which largely is devoted to new developments in studies of what the researchers chose to call the human microbiome. You know what that is:  the trillions of tiny creatures that happily live and die inside us, everywhere, inside and out.  These creatures consist of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microscopic uglies left unnamed.  It is said that there are two pounds of these little creatures living in our colons alone.  Another estimate holds that on average each of us plays host to 40 trillion of the things – enough to adorn each cigarette smoked in China last year with 16 of them.  Disgusting, right?  Read on.

Recent research indicates that a lot of what you regard as “you” is strongly influenced by your particular mix of microbes.  Not only your digestion, your propensity to gain weight, or your susceptibility to disease – your microbiome even influences your sex life.  Enough people already know this that an entirely new sub-set of quackery has sprung up.  There is even mention of things called “fecal spas”.  Other equally disgusting practices are discussed.  There are definitely some instances in which messing with the microbiome is useful – it sometimes even helps with cancer.  But too little is known for the amateur to dive in head first.  So, the recommendation is caveat emptor, or for those of us born since the 19th century, let the buyer beware. 

This really is an interesting article.  You would enjoy reading it..

I wrote about this topic several years ago:

A lot seems to have happened since.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Let's be Nice to the FDA

Two happy people on the Nile

Maybe Congress reads this blog, because they are attempting to do something about the FDA, my long-time punching bag. 

  As this Washington Post article explains, FDA is being encouraged – nay, required – to speed up its activities.  More money is provided, and restrictions are loosened, IF THIS BUNCH OF LEGISLATION IS ENACTED INTO LAW.  You would think this would be a slam-dunk; both parties are in favor, and President Obama already has his approval pen in hand.  Yet this matter has been held up for months, and may not survive.  Why?  Why, politics, of course.

To put it succinctly, Democrats want more, and Republicans worry about where the money will come from.  Then there special-interest groups, ranging from the AFL-CIO to the Breast Cancer Alliance, that want specific fiddles.  My opinion: The perfect can be the death of the good.  For God’s sake, let’s get something written into law quickly, ‘cause only the Lord can predict after the inauguration – and even He is scratching his head!

I should add that I now partially comprehend  why the FDA grinds so slowly; not only are they entangled in restrictions, but they are also short-handed.  Apparently they are 700-odd technical staff short, partly because they can’t meet the salaries available in the private sector.  This pending legislation will fix that, if and when.

Read this.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


A Joyce ceremonial caramel cake
Did you know that the number of cigarettes consumed in China this year, if laid end-to-end, would extend to the moon and back nearly four times?  Well, neither did I, and in fact I’m actually not absolutely sure of it – I just made a quick  back-of-the envelope calculation using my cell phone.  But whether that’s right or not isn’t important – the average Chinese smoker consumes 22 cigarettes daily, and the total consumed adds up to a yearly total of 2.5 trillion.  Those numbers alone invite further arithmetic:  for instance, 2.5 trillion cigarettes divided by 22 cigs per day times 365 days per year suggests that there are 311 million smokers in China.  India may be nearly as bad.

So, for your homework:  If all the cigarette butts generated in China were dumped in Nebraska, how deep would the pile be?

All this is meant to introduce today’s topic: why is the worldwide burden of cancer increasing so rapidly?  Apparently it is, you know, as the following link describes:

I am aware that most of you won’t read this link, so I will give you the short answer.  There is higher cancer “burden” (expense, suffering, death) throughout the world because poor countries are getting richer.  Being richer, they can afford better health care.  Better health care means that fewer of their people die of malaria, HIV, syphilis, cholera – etc.  This allows them to live long enough to die of cancer, and it gives them pocket money to buy certain agents of doom, such as cigarettes. 

Hell!  There was more to this blog – as there is more to this article – but my computer just ate it all, every word.  And it is time to watch the Seahawks.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Carolyn, Linda with cousin Elsie
Heron Island, Maine

From my scouting team of J & R Ingwall comes this interesting NYTimes article.

 I have never had any desire to visit Cuba.  I visualize it as something like Puerto Rico, but with older cars.  I spent five days in Puerto Rico once, and came back with foot fungus and a queasy belly.  My rule of thumb is, never visit a place with broad-leaf plants and high humidity.  Iceland, yes.  Indonesia, no.

However, it appears that good can emanate from such a sticky paradise as Cuba must be.   Apparently Cuba has a healthy biotech industry.  They have developed and currently market a vaccine called Cimavax which arrests the progress of one kind of lung cancer.  Many Americans currently journey to Havana to get treatment, and to stock up on the stuff to smuggle home.  In the meantime our FDA is effectively sitting on its hands; it will authorize testing sometime soon.  As you know, I don’t like the FDA very much.

Cuba is an anomaly, at least to me.  In most respects it is very poor – but it has an excellent medical system.  Apparently medical doctors there are everywhere, on every street corner, a dime a dozen.  There are so many of them that they are exported to Colombia, in exchange for oil.  I wish a few thousand of them would come here.  That way maybe I wouldn’t  have to wait a week to see my primary care physician.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


Normally I introduce a blog entry with a picture of Linda but, in view of our recent election, I will use this shot to illustrate that there places on earth where no one gives a fig about
 Donald Trump

Medieval armies relied on the horse.  During the Napoleonic Wars, navies relied on oak trees.  Today in the war against cancer the one indispensable creature is, of course, the mouse.  I have mentioned mice 27 times in the course of this blog.  For instance, early on I introduced you to the  transgenic glowing reporter mouse”, and later to the “sublethally irradiated nonobese diabetic severe combined immunodeficient mouse” (poor little devil!).  I also have heard of “nude mice”, although what they are good for is a mystery to me.  There must exist huge mouse farms, devoted to breeding and genetically screwing up these miserable rodents.  I would guess that the proprietors of these diabolic (but essential) establishments have dreams wherein, having died, they report to the Pearly Gates, only to discover that St. Peter is a huge white rat with angry pink eyes and a swishing tail.

Well, in Holland right now they are killing vast quantities of “immune-deficient mice”, for the good of humanity.  Dutch investigators have determined that existing ovarian cancer (OVCA) cell lines do not do an adequate job of mimicking the effect of their drug of the moment, on high grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC).  Thus, they have taken to transferring OVCA cells to their mice from actual OVCA patients.  Results from this seemingly cruel but necessary operation they term “Patient-derived tumor xenografts” (PDXs; these guys seem uncommonly fond of acronyms).  Results so far are encouraging, both for OVCA therapy and for prediction.

This article (which is tough going) is of particular interest to me because it deals with epigenetics (which I have written about even more than about mice.)  One form of epigenetic control is to paste a methyl group (CH3) on a segment of DNA, thereby somehow preventing the expression of a gene.  It appears that HGSOC is accompanied by a distinctive pattern of methylation, and thus can be used as a predictor.  It seems to me that this knowledge also could be used to derive a drug to reverse the effects of methylation – to scrub the DNA double helix free of the little methyl devils, so to speak.

So let’s hope that global warming and sea-level rise don’t first scrub the earth clean of these valuable Dutch labs!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


When Linda's hair fell out during chemo she briefly considered wigs.  She didn't like them, so went to scarves.  I rather like this wig picture, though

I am going to pass along some information that I hope to hell you never need: how to be an effective cancer caregiver.  This information originates with the NCI, not me, so you can rely on its veracity (and, perhaps, curse its bureaucratic construction.)  Here it is:

God knows that being a cancer caregiver is tough.  Carolyn (Linda’s sister) and I shared the work and the misery during Linda’s last few weeks.  Others helped; Bunny Schneider, Linda’s cousin, Florence DiJulio, her best friend, my kids – and lots of others.  Without all of you people, but especially without Carolyn, I would  not have survived.

So glance through the NCI document, then stash it away.  Chances are you will never need it.  With any luck…..

And if you want to help erase this fucking disease from the face of the earth, grab yourself a charity deduction by sending a check to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, in honor of Linda Joyce Beck.