Shrews Vs Cancer

24 May

My friend Hardy pushed this article from the CBC along to me:

Shrew spit tames cancer cells

[…]

At first, Stewart thought the chemical — called soricidin — might be a potential painkiller, because it blocked nerve transmission. When he tested it on a random cell culture that happened to be ovarian cancer cells, however, he found the cells died[…]

Northern Short-tailed Shrew by Gilles GonthierNorthern Short-tailed Shrew, Photo by Gilles Gonthier

I think we can all agree that any new tool to fight cancer is a welcome one, but what really brought the story home for me was the description of his process:

Stewart spent several years luring the animals with pepperoni and trapping dozens of shrews in his rural backyard before he eventually identified the chemical in shrew saliva that causes paralysis. Researchers then purified and synthesized it.

People tend to think that a single person can no longer make a difference in the scientific community, that the age of the sole-tinkerer is over, and that nothing gets done without a larger machine to make things happen.

If this passes the tests and manages to become key to a widely used treatment, it won’t be because of the scads of test tube wranglers and suit wearing money-holders, it’ll be because one interested fellow spent years in his backyard with pepperoni grease on his fingers and a real need to know burning in his brain.

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