MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz (The Philippine Star) - November 11, 2015 - 9:00am

In my first novel (“So Heaven”), the hero saves a woman who discovers the cure for pancreatic cancer. That is fiction. In real life, many of the people I listed in my two previous columns on my dear departed friends died of cancer. Fortunately, a few of my loved ones have survived cancer, including my sister, my brother-in-law, and two of my closest friends. A few of my friends are currently battling cancer, and I pray for them every day.

The Web is full of ways of fighting cancer. One says that massive doses of Vitamin C does the trick. Another says eating sili (chili pepper) every day works miracles, too. A third one says that eating fruit on an empty stomach immunes you from cancer. There are many of these “cures,” some of which may be true, some mere urban legends.

Because cancer has been on my mind, I was delighted to have lunch last week with Nina Solarz, the widow of Stephen Solarz. Those old enough to remember martial law (and sadly, not too many do, these days) know that Democratic Congressman Stephen J. Solarz of New York was instrumental in the decision of Ferdinand Marcos to call a snap election. Solarz, together with other friends of the Filipino people, successfully cut off American military aid to the Philippines, forcing the hand of the dictator. The snap election paved the way for us (those old enough to remember those heady days of people power) to get Corazon Aquino into Malacañang Palace.

Stephen was diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer. He would have died earlier than he actually did, were it not for the intervention of David Schrump and his team at the Thoracic and GI Oncology Branch of the Center for Cancer Research of the National Institutes of Health. Stephen was treated with experimental treatments developed by Schrump.

In gratitude and also because so many people are dying of cancer in the world, the family and friends of Stephen Solarz, led by his widow, established the Stephen J. Solarz Memorial Fund, one of whose projects supports the cancer research of Schrump.

I could not meet Schrump because I was flying out of town, but I learned a lot about the project from Nina.

Five clinical trials, each of which has already received approval from the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA or USFDA), are ongoing. Although medical research takes a lot of time to be considered completely authoritative, the trials have already successfully prolonged the lives of several patients. There is great hope that Schrump’s discoveries will someday solve the mystery of cancer.

As far as I can make out, since I am not a medical doctor, Schrump has shown that it is possible to use a patient’s own cancer cells to kill other cancer cells. I suppose this is something like fighting fire with fire (firefighters deliberately burn grass on the path of a raging forest fire). Medically, this is the principle of vaccination. Schrump is developing a cancer vaccine to develop immunity to cancer.

It sounds so simple, but in fact, the research has to delve into such stuff as cancer stem cells, cancer therapy, thoracic malignancies, adjuvant therapy, and other things that I have no idea about but surely must be on the right track.

Nina is in the Philippines for a couple of weeks to accompany Schrump. Schrump is looking for a Filipino oncologist who will want to work with him for two years. The fully funded fellowship (the medical term for what we non-doctors would call postdoctoral studies) will train the Filipino to do high-level cancer laboratory research. Upon returning to the Philippines (which is something the fellowship demands), the Filipino oncologist is expected to set up his own research laboratory (or to join the best laboratory in the country, assuming that by the time there will be one).

The field is called “thoracic epigenetics.” I love medical terms, because they allow me to remember my school lessons in dead languages. “Thoracic” (from Greek) just refers to the chest or thorax. “Epigenetics” (also from Greek) refers to the field of study “relating to or arising from non-genetic influences on gene expression.”

There is a long list of Filipino doctors that Schrump is interviewing this week, testifying to the reservoir of talent that we have in the country. The chosen fellow will join two other fellows who were identified earlier – Elvin Hekimoglu from Turkey and Dhi-Hsin Hsiao from Taiwan. These three, together with the world-renowned doctors at the National Institute of Health, will one day find the cure for cancer that we have all been waiting for.

COMMENDATION: I would like to commend Officer A. P. Crozco for being lively during the rush to register for elections at the Makati Coliseum sometime last month. He kept us senior citizens entertained while we were waiting for our turn to get our biometrics. It was a long wait, because there were hundreds of voters in line, but he kept teasing us about our advanced age (as only Filipinos can do without offending), the heat (which was actually intolerable), and various other topics that made us feel that the three-hour wait was worth the opportunity to choose our next leaders.

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