An Explanation From the Scientist Behind That Cat Poop Cancer Treatment
In a scientific discovery at Dartmouth recently hailed as “highly shareable” by the internet, cat poop is being mentioned in connection with a newly discovered potential cancer treatment.
Toxoplasma gondii, a single-celled parasite found in the guts of cats, has been used in a lab to treat cancer. It might, after enough testing turn out to be a viable cancer therapy. However, toxoplasma is a strange, shape-shifting organism, and the kind cats poop out won’t shrink your tumors one bit. Still, Dartmouth recently publicized the very promising discovery: A modified version of toxoplasma, when injected into mice with certain kinds of cancer, switched on an immune response that the cancer had deactivated, which then allowed the body to fight the disease itself.
David J. Bzik, Ph.D. of Dartmouth’s Geisel Medical School has been experimenting with toxoplasma for at least a decade. He says the discovery that an altered form of the parasite might cure cancer is a big deal, but that toxoplama is weird and wonderful microbe that still has surprises in store for humanity, none of which involved ingesting cat poop by any stretch of the imagination.
He also schooled me on some interesting trivia I thought I knew about toxoplasma. What follows is an edited version of my conversation with him.
I’m reading a lot of headlines about cat poop curing cancer. Oh of course. They’re sensationalist.
What should they be reporting? We developed this strain of toxoplasma that doesn’t replicate.
Could you remind us what toxoplasma is? It’s a protozoan. Its closest relative is malaria, it’s in the same phylum.
And what happens when it can’t reproduce? It doesn’t cause disease in mice. It’s a great vaccine for toxoplasmosis [which], in AIDS patients is a really big disease. Also in cancer patients, when their immune systems are suppressed, they’re vulnerable to natural infections by toxoplasma. So having a vaccine is a good idea. This has not been tested as a vaccine yet in humans or cats, and we also haven’t tested the anti-cancer effects in humans either. This has all been mouse work.
VICE News host Thomas Morton swings from the trees with an international team of scientists in Panama that’s found a promising treatment for malaria, Chagas disease and breast cancer in the most unlikely place: The mossy fur of tree sloths. It’s yet another reason to not cut down rainforests. About half of all drugs brought to market from 1997-2006 came from plants, fungi and bacteria discovered by “bio-prospectors” in nature. And we see that sloths are just one of many new and unusual frontiers for this research.
It’s raining and very gloomy in New York, and we at the VICE offices in Brooklyn are totally bummed about it. So to improve your day, here’s a visual journey through a tanning salon to fill your eyeballs with fake sunshine. It’s a proven fact that exposure to UV rays gives you vitamin D and releases endorphins, and we estimate that at least 11.5 percent of these healthful benefits can be translated through a computer screen and into your body via your retinas. If you’d really like the full experience of going to a tanning salon, you can get it right at your desk by plugging your headphones in, turning on some top 40, and cozying up in that sad office sweater that lives on the back of your swivel chair to mimic the warmth of the sun, all while you look at these photos that William Mebane took in a tanning place, called Salon Bronze, in Easton, Pennsylvania, last week.
It’s time, once again, to marvel at some idiots who don’t know how to handle the world:
Cry-Baby #1: Caprock Academy
The incident:A girl shaved her head to support her friend with cancer.
The appropriate response: Raising some money to donate to charity on her behalf or something.
The actual response: She was suspended from school.
Kamryn Renfro is a nine-year-old girl in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Her best friend, Delaney Clements, has been battling neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that affects children, for several years.
As a result of her cancer treatment, Delaney lost her hair. Something that she’s not too psyched about, “People would sometimes call me a boy even though I was all dressed in pink,” she told CBS News.
Because Kamryn didn’t want her friend to “feel left out,” she decided to shave her head, too.
"She was like, really excited and she was jumping up and down that I did it," Kamryn toldUSA Today.
The staff of Caprock Academy, the school that Kamryn attends, were not quite as excited though. When Kamryn arrived for classes on Monday, she was told that her haircut violated the school’s dress code, and turned away from her classes.
Last week, 2.6 million women sacrificed their makeup, raised their tired arms in the air, pouted, and took a #nomakeupselfie to raise awareness for breast cancer. This week, boys have found their own inane counterpart: the #cockinasock.
The cock-in-a-sock concept, though probably as old as socks themselves, was most memorably championed by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and since then it has gone from strength to strength, appearing in American Pie and bringing the homoerotic LOLs far and wide, from boarding school dorms to stinking holiday flats in Tenerife. That is, until now, when it’s become the latest weapon in the fight against ball cancer.
If you’re wondering what putting a sock on your dick and posting a picture of it on the internet has to do with raising money for charity, the mechanism is the same as the #nomakeupselfie. Take your picture, text the word “BEAT” to 70099 to donate three bucks to fighting cancer, and then encourage the giggling co-workers on your Facebook page to do the same. It’s the kind of viral campaign that gacky brand marketers strive a lifetime to come up with.
We Need to Quit Our Obsession with Meat Before It Kills Us
On Sunday, March 9, Pitt Cue Co.—the meat mecca just off London’s Carnaby Street—hosted a special evening, a one-off “Highland Beef Night” that featured a nose-to-tail menu of beef dishes made from a pair of Highland cows the restaurant bought a year ago from a Cornish farmer. The animals spent two months dry-aging, their flesh and bones eventually finding their way into dishes like beef scrumpets, beef and bone-marrow pasties, and the king of all cuts, rib of beef.
All of it was fucking fantastic. Not many places in London do the things to pigs and cows that Pitt Cue does. But with everyone smiling at each other—lips slicked with grease, teeth like fence posts that live animals had been fired into—I couldn’t help thinking that there was something a bit culty about a group of humans gathering together to eat two specific cows.
Locavore obsessives will kick their hooves at this. Speak to any chef, food critic, restaurateur—whomever—and they’ll give you the eat-better-meat-less-often argument, droning on about where the animals lived, what they ate, how humanely they died, which artisan coffee they drank, etc., etc. All of that is irrefutable. If you’re going to eat meat, you can do your part by eating the best quality available and, when you can, consuming the animal’s less popular parts (neck fillet, onglet, cheek, trotters, that kind of stuff) and not just the common cuts.
Meanwhile, we’ve become increasingly obsessed with meat. If an event like Highland Beef Night had been touted even a few years ago, there’s no way it would have pulled in the people it did on Sunday. Meat is now highly fetishized, especially among young people. Burgers are the new tits—if you look at any social media platform, there are as many 20-something men posting photos of ground flesh covered in neon sauce as there are sharing that zero-gravity Kate Upton video. We’ve become a society of rabid carnivores, and it’s not just getting tiresome—it’s fucking killing us.
The Make-A-Kush Foundation: Kids, Cancer, and Medical Marijuana
The way Frankie Wallace tells it, his calling revealed itself in his sleep.
“I had a dream [that] cannabis would cure cancer and many other diseases,” he recalled as his wife, Erin, stood beside him on the back porch of their house.
A few minutes before, the three of us had ducked into the basement of Frankie and Erin’s suburban split-ranch house near Portland, Oregon. We went down there to sample something called Absolute Amber, a potent concentrate Frankie concocted by soaking a batch of his latest crop of medical marijuana in butane and isopropyl alcohol, boiling those liquids away, after which the oily residue was frozen and double-filtered. The resulting product was as close to a pure distillation of THC as a mortal was likely to get.
Frankie lit a blowtorch and held it to a small piece of metal attached to a glass water pipe until it was red-hot. He touched the matchstick-size shard of burnt-sienna-colored hash oil to the metal, and it released dense white smoke that the pipe caught, filtered, and delivered into my body. On exhaling, I felt an astringent tingle pass through my lungs. I sat down and quietly counted to 30. The urge to speak would be great, Frankie had warned, but to do so might send my body into a fit of convulsive coughing. As I looked at Frankie and Erin, their soft smiles appeared to curl up like arabesques in an illuminated manuscript.
Frankie is more than a weed aficionado—he’s a marijuana evangelist, a THC high priest. After his fateful dream, he sold all of the couple’s belongings and moved from Birmingham, Alabama, to Erin’s cousin’s garage in Portland, where medical marijuana is legal. They partnered up with another grower and found a house in a nearby suburb, where they now live alongside the two dozen marijuana plants in their garage. They have 12 patients and keep their modest grow operation afloat through donations.
This kind of small business isn’t uncommon in the statured legal-marijuana market of the Pacific Northwest, especially now that “dabbing” is becoming a luxurious but increasingly popular form of ingesting THC and its cohorts. What sets Frankie and Erin apart is that they believe pot can literally cure cancer. And ever since the dream they have been testing their theory on an eight-year-old named Mykayla Comstock.
I Got My Personal Genome Mapped and It Was Bullshit
Last Friday, the FDA forced personal genomics company 23andMe to stop marketing its tests to the public in their current form. Before the order came in, customers would send a spit sample to the firm, who would sequence the DNA and look for genes indicating a risk of up to 254 diseases and conditions, providing a breakdown of any issues.
The FDA cited a lack of supporting evidence for some of the claims made and expressed particularly serious concern over their assessment of the BRCA gene, which is linked to breast cancer, suggesting 23andMe’s tests might result in false positives that could lead to women undergoing traumatic and unnecessary surgery. The FDA’s actions have led to an explosion of opinion across the science blogosphere, but in all of that commentary a big question remains unanswered: What exactly is the point of personal genomics?
My first experience with the industry came about three years ago, when I was offered the chance to have a test done with Navigenics, a firm since taken over by a biotech firm called Life Technologies. Being a curious sort of guy, I jumped at the chance. A sample tube arrived via Fedex a few days later, which I duly spat into and sent back for analysis.
The results came back in the form of a sort of “wall of death”—a breakdown of all the things that might harm or kill me over the coming decades, detailing how likely I am to have each condition. Drilling into the figures, I can see that I have a higher risk of prostate cancer than 95 percent of the population and a 1 in 5 chance of developing Alzheimer’s—twice the average risk. So I’ll probably get cancer, but on the plus side I’ll be too forgetful to care about it.