June 25, 2013

"Why We Should Study Cancer Like We Study Ecosystems."

Oncology ≈ ecology.
[R]ather than labeling cancer as a group of mutated cells, as the thinking goes, we should see cancer as a disruption in the balance of a complex microenvironment in the human body. Like a damaging invasive beetle eating its way through forests in Colorado, a novel disease breaking out in populations of wild birds, or loggers mowing down parts of the Amazon rainforest, cancer throws a monkey wrench into an otherwise placid, balanced system.
And once the monkeys get wrenches your entire metaphorest goes into collapse.

38 comments:

ricpic said...

Ooh, holistic.

traditionalguy said...

That's not a very new way of seeing Cancer. It has been seen as an ecology issue of a new growth springing up inside of our body competing with it for a place to exist, and winning.

The question is how to abort that new you before it kills the old you. So the Chemo killers and the body part hackers have go to work on it inside our bodies. You need a death Panel that kills the new you and leaves alive the old you.

Pogo said...

The authors needed the metaphor, not the scientists, whose work on ways to defeat cancer progresses without need for Derrida.

Terry said...

Loggers are just like cancer!

Tim said...

From the article:

“The heart of the matter is that an ecological view of tumours does not invalidate but complements and builds upon decades of cancer research and undoubtedly this will lead to a better understanding of the biology of cancer and to new and improved therapies,” the researchers conclude. “We need to properly understand the trees (e.g. every leaf, twig and branch) before we can understand the forest but we cannot afford to ignore the forest because the trees are so interesting on their own.”

The article is strongly written to suggest this approach is fact rather than supposition.

Isn't science about testing hypothesis before drawing conclusions?

Shouldn't the Smithsonian blow the whistle on this nonsense rather than tout it?

Maybe they get referral fees from the Moffitt Center...


bagoh20 said...

Yes, because we have nothing but success dealing with those problems.

edutcher said...

Considering how the ecological science has been settled, this approach should be of great comfort to those with cancer.

Pogo said...
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David said...

"cancer throws a monkey wrench into an otherwise placid, balanced system."

I've had leukemia and a long fortunate remission.

I do not consider my "system" to have been placid and balanced before, after or during cancer. The human body causes all kinds of mischief. We will some of it (or our instincts do) and others more or less happen to us.

Why, just last night . . .

Pogo said...

Cancer is more like Marxism's effect on economies.

The appetites of the bloated bureaucracies of cancer are rapacious, eventually killing the nation so encumbered.

Bryan C said...

If the human body is an ecosystem, and cancerous cells are genetically distinct organisms uniquely adapted to survive in that ecosystem, is it still ethical to kill a tumor?

Mitchell the Bat said...

To me, it's gears, wheels and pulleys.

But it could be a Calder mobile, I suppose.

rhhardin said...

Proposed title for cosmologist's talk on the likely future of the universe: We're fucked.

Michael K said...

Cancer research has used ecology for decades. It has been used to identify causes, like asbestos and smoking, and to model behavior, like metastasis.

This sounds like "new age" blather.

rhhardin said...

Metaphor drives its point home on a two-way street.

Goffman, or perhaps Richard Harvey Brown on Goffman.

rhhardin said...

Metaphor doesn't get to the bone, but it tells us where to start digging.

Goffman

Tibore said...

Hold on... since when have medical researchers not been thinking about cancer in terms of the "ecosystem" it's thriving in?

I think we need to understand that the Moffit Cancer Center (the org who wrote the study being quoted) is not forwarding some sort of airy New Agey vision. They are most certainly not painting a layman-like view of how cancer is studied. Rather, they are merely advocating for the increase of mathematical and computational tools to be applied in cancer research. In short, they appear to be looking at an increase in computer-aided modeling and statistical analysis being applied in new and different ways. Big difference. This isn't alt-med "complimentary" treatment advocacy, this is something much more focused and rational.

Yes, it's true that there are those who concentrate on the cancerous cells and their characteristics in isolation. But there are also plenty of others who do the opposite and study cancer systemically. How else can the neoangiogensis inhibitor drugs be explained if researchers weren't looking at cancer in the context of the organism it resides in and the biological systems it affects?

I'd also love to see the output of applying game theory principles to computational modeling to trace how cancer cells evolve and respond. I think there's knowledge to be gained there.

I fear that the Smithsonian Mag's article headline accidentally made this look like "Gaia" theory advocacy. It's not even close. Once you read the details of what the Moffit Center's actually proposing, you can see it's hard science, not silly New Agey nonsense.

Tibore said...

"Pogo said...
Cancer is more like Marxism's effect on economies.

The appetites of the bloated bureaucracies of cancer are rapacious, eventually killing the nation so encumbered."


Damn... I never thought about it that way before. I need to steal that from you, Pogo. It's one of the best ways I've ever heard that put.

Paco Wové said...

"an otherwise placid, balanced system."

I would argue that the human body is not really very much like a 'placid, balanced system'. It's a highly dynamic unstable equilibrium that eventually spins out of control.

Natural ecosystems aren't really 'placid, balanced system[s]' either, they just have very different timescales compared to our observational abilities.

Paco Wové said...

"We're fucked"

Unstable equilibria all the way down.

gerry said...
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chrisnavin.com said...

Environmentalists are a bit like invasive beetles in the first of the sciences. Ecology is the niche they've carved out.

chrisnavin.com said...

Forest

gerry said...

In short, they appear to be looking at an increase in computer-aided modeling and statistical analysis being applied in new and different ways.

Well, I hope they do better than the anthropogenic Global Warming Alarmist computer models.

Darrell said...

Fevers are like global warming. Doctors can buy and resell carbon credits to cancer patients to offset this assault. Death will stop the CO2 production.

Michael K said...

There are lots of degrees being awarded in computational biology, This is not new. It was 50 years ago but no more.

I'm OK with talking about it but that article is written like it's a new discovery. Maybe it is to that magazine's audience

SteveR said...

Let's study cancer like we want to "cure" it and not like we want to have it be a great business. And that doesn't just mean medical practitioners, Big Pharma and insurance companies either. Seriously

elkh1 said...

We save the endangered species, do we save the endangered cancer cells?

Methadras said...

"Why We Should Study Cancer Like We Study Ecosystems."

Because science has been co-opted by the left and now it's a leftist thing to do. However, the irony is that leftism is the cancer in our political ecosystems.

John Kenneth said...

Tumors are formed by unregulated cells that no longer function in a way that promotes the overall health of the body.
Sounds way more like libertarandianism than leftist.


Also, stopping blogging about science until you get a non-liberal arts degree.

Æthelflæd said...

"The heretic must be silenced!" cries the priest's guild. You shall not speaketh about the holy things, that you understandeth not.

Amartel said...

Well, just so long as we're not studying cancer like we study global warming.

John Kenneth said...

Æthelflæd-
Except you can very easily become literate in science if you just take the time to study it.

I'm not saying never talk about it. I'm just saying you shouldn't talk about a subject when you don't understand what your words mean.

El Pollo Raylan said...

Cancer throws a lifespanner in the works.

MadisonMan said...

Many many billions of dollars have been spent fighting cancer, to not much effect quite yet.

Cancer still kills many.

Carl said...

I've been in science 33 years, and I have never -- not once -- known of a metaphorical argument that had a particle of merit.

Less teleological English-major bullshit, more X-ray crystallography.

Largo said...

You don't watch House? House saves people with metaphor all the time.

John Kenneth said...

Carl, really?
You've never come across a scientific hypothesis born from a metaphor? Ever?