Cancer cells are, well, cancer cells; cells that grow uncontrollably in the host, and ignore all patterns and signals that govern the structural integrity of tissue and organs.
Much research in the last several decades have defined molecular features attributed to cancer cells, and more importantly what specifically can kill them. Decades of work goes by with the discovery of drugs that change the lives of many individuals and families touched by this disease. Yet despite the euphoria of success, scientists come face to face with a troubling problem of cancer cell resistance to treatment.
The same goes for rabbits thriving in Australia.
Well yes, like cancer cells, rabbits living Australia have no living predators, and so can grow exponentially to unmanageable numbers that will eat the Australia continent threadbare.
According to Professor McFadden during his talk at UBC, these rabbits were once extremely susceptible to myxoma virus infection- a virus that is essential harmless to all animal species except the rabbit.
While inoculation of Australian wilderness with this virus had once completely wiped out the rabbit population, the residents weren't happy for long because- yes you guessed it- the rabbits came back. And here's the catch: these rabbits are resistant to myxoma virus.
Well, the story about the rabbits in Australia is a very good analogy illustrating our present fight against cancer. Through our understanding of the properties of cancer cells including their weaknesses, we managed to create drugs to wipe them out- and curing pateints of cancer.
But watch out.
Like the residents of Australia who witnessed the fateful return of the rabbits, cancer patients often witness the fateful return of their cancer (sometimes with vengeance) after a once successful treatment.
Clearly, the challenge for cancer researchers is to develop multifaceted strategies that not only target the bulk of the tumor population, but the resilient outliers/mutants that may escape treatment and contribute to recurrence.
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