Elementary my dear Watson, ‘go big or go home” – what if the money spent on cancer went to other diseases?

A new paper in the RSC journal Open Biology came to my attention today. It is written by Dr. Jim Watson, yes the one with the Nobel prize for his work with Francis Crick on the discovery of the DNA structure. I will not dwell on the main body of the article, but the final two sections labelled 23 and 24 really piqued my interest. What follows are just a few thoughts that came to mind – I would recommend the paper should be read because there are many areas that fly in the face of what most people believe about antioxidants and cancer. Beyond that I found some other nuggets.

First, Dr. Watson compares the search for the Higgs Boson  to the human genome project. Hmm, not sure whether that is the right thing to do. One was a long quest for something that was predicted (Higgs), the other was a big fishing expedition that consumed a lot of money and which even the scientists involved question the value of to this day (genome project)..Ok lets move on..

Dr. Watson then makes a statement ” If however, we continue to move forward at today’s never frantic , largely five-day working week, the never receeding 10-20 year away final victory that our cancer world now feels safe to project will continue to sink the stomachs of informed cancer victims and their families”.  Now that is some amazing prose. But I cannot agree that today is ‘never frantic and full of five-day working weeks’..this is something coming off the heels of a Forbes writer saying that Academics have a lot less stress than most people. What is going on? The scientists I know are always working, they never switch off because I do not think the word “week” exists in their vocabulary. Ok moving on..

I tend to agree with a later statement that “we now have no General of influence” to lead the war on Cancer. I wonder if this is a dig at someone? I could honestly say that it would be great for science if we had a team of folks saying we are going to conquer disease X by year Y. Why just focus on cancer, heck there are thousands one could pick. So it would have been amazing if someone of Dr. Watson’s huge scientific stature had said lets ‘go big or go home’ on finding cures for the thousands of rare diseases. Lets use all the accumulated knowledge we have to join the dots.

Further on he proposes another large scale project ($500-1000 million) for RNAi methods to reveal  more targets for anticancer drugs. As someone whose own family has been hard hit by all kinds of cancers, I would say enough money has been thrown at the disease. Yes I want a cure like any sane individual, but not at the expense of other science. Small amounts of funding in other disease areas could have a disproportionate impact. I think it is elementary my dear Dr. Watson, it is time we started to think about ‘small’ projects that could disrupt our understanding of diseases. Its great to see Dr. Watson stick his neck out with such an Open article too, which I am sure will gather far more attention for what is said in sections 1-22. Perhaps its time to look beyond cancer?

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