World Cancer Day - what do researchers say?
4 February 2015
Cancer. It can happen to anybody.
Here at Monash University Malaysia, Associate Professor Md Ezharul Hoque Chowdhury from the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Dr Lee Wai Leng from the School of Science engage in cutting-edge research that has the potential to change the way we treat cancer. And their advice to you? Support research - it could save your life and the lives of your family members.
Briefly describe your work with cancer.
Ezharul : Cancer is the result of an uncontrolled division or abnormal increase of a particular type of cell (e.g., liver or brain cells) due to the effects of some harmful chemicals or radiation on our genetic materials. If the dividing cells are localised in the form of a tumor, we can remove it by surgery. In most cases, however, when genetically defective cells are identified through diagnosis, they have reached the malignant state, i.e., spread to other parts of the body and interrupted its vital functions.
Chemotherapy is the most common treatment - but it is usually a combination of poisonous drugs, that destroys cancer cells, as well as the healthy ones. This causes many side effects, such as hair loss and the decrease of blood cells. My research is about using nanoparticles to act as a carrier of drugs to deliver them to cancer cells only. This is the world’s first pH-sensitive inorganic nanoparticles that we originally developed.
Lee : I seek to provide scientific evidence that traditional herbs can cure illnesses. I do believe there is some kind of mechanism where medicinal plants play a role in preventing or treating cancer or reducing the side-effects of drugs. My study aims to discover druggable targets in cancer and to elucidate bioefficacy and mechanism of potential anticancer compounds that are derived from medicinal plants. I’m currently working on the ‘Tapak Sulaiman’ or ‘tutup bumi’ plant (Elephantopus scaber L.) and have previously found that individual isolates from this plant has anti-breast cancer properties. But we are seeking more clinical evidence.
What is the best way for the public to support cancer research?
Ezharul : *MAKNA, which is the National Cancer Council, is an NGO that collects funds from the general public for financial assistance and provides grants for research. Alongside the efforts of the government or non-governmental organisations, the general public should be more concerned to foster cancer research activities not only via donations, but also by forming a powerful forum for advising those agencies and organisations. This will aid in ensuring the progress of nationwide cancer research through the frequent dialogues with them as well as the cancer researchers.
One problem I have identified in Malaysia is that there is no pharmaceutical company willing to sponsor clinical trials with locally developed products. They are mostly concerned with marketing the products, and if there are clinical trials, they test international products. I have yet to figure out the solution to this problem of inviting a sponsor for our own potential products.
Lee : Some people, when their relatives are diagnosed with cancer, will freak out and suggest eating this or that plant. To me, that’s dangerous. Cancer is a very complicated disease and each type of cancer - depending on whether it is early stage, mid stage or late stage - involves different causes and mechanism of pathogenesis. Cancer could be caused by external factors or genetic background of the patient, which are also dependant on different regions. This is why two people can respond differently to the same treatment.
Therefore, public awareness on the importance of both basic and clinical cancer research is essential to develop a cancer management system that suits local needs. If there is a call for clinical research volunteers, we would appreciate it if the public would support it by volunteering, as this will enable researchers to provide specific data in local settings. Apart from that being open to research surveys will also help.
From your own personal experiences and opinion, what gestures are appropriate and what can we do to support cancer victims?
Ezharul : We should never make cancer patients think that we have changed our attitudes towards them, just because of their current health outlook. We should also engage in necessary initiatives through the same forum or a different one for raising funds in order to support the costly treatment and expenses.
Lee : Most people might feel that cancer is principally caused by external factors, that it could be cured if caught early, and that cancer patients are at least partly to blame for their illness. In fact, genetic factor contributes to the disease as well. Therefore we should avoid judging the cancer victim, and instead be supportive spiritually and financially (if possible). Whatever the cause is, it is important to minimise any form of pressure on cancer patients, so as to maximise the effectiveness of cancer treatment.
*For more information on MAKNA, visit http://makna.org.my/
(Source taken from Monash University website)