Monday, August 10, 2009

The Cancer Cell

What drives a change in a person's attitude? Is it inherent behavior? Is it coded neuronal traffic in the brain? Or is it just a random process, unbeknownst, unpredicted and totally without reason? Those are the same questions of a wayward cell. A perfectly functioning cell in the family of cells that somehow changes it's very nature, its very drive and out of this change a monster is born. This monster cell, a renegade of totally different mentality runs amuck without care, without need, without concern, conspiring, stealing, usurping other's rights while planning its own survival to the detriment of others. Like a tyrant, unconcerned with the welfare of the people it constantly satiates its voracious appetite while allowing others to starve. This is a cancer cell!

The life of a normal cell is like a controlled machine. Born from genetic pressures and regulated by the evolutionary demands of its neighbors, the cell evolves into a functioning paradigm of efficiency. It may do any of its various function depending on which organ the gene code organized its predictable behavior. For instance the liver cell would work hard at metabolism, a brain cell would traffic electrical stimuli via chemical means and help through protein modulation to store memory or a heart cell would dance to the beat of a drummer (the AV node) at a constant unexcited rate of 72 beats a minute. These virtues of predictable behavior give life a fighting chance. This is who we as humans are, a pulsing virtue of predictability and stability.

The cancer cell is born of a genetic code gone awry. This may happen due to several dislocations in the orderly business of living. The code can be disrupted by a set of "jumping genes." You see the human body is an exemplary machine that evolves when pressures are applied to it. 

These "jumping genes" are constantly flying off of one chromosome and landing on a another. The purpose is to strengthen the DNA so as to forestall any disruptions from the environment. In so doing sometimes it creates untoward changes. Such changes lead to damage to the individual but are rarely duplicated since they are not recorded in the DNA of future generations. 

The DNA (a central processing unit that constitutes all the codes of cellular behavior in its various configurations of just four nucleic acids - Adenine, Tyrosine, Cytosine and Guanine) is constantly at war with the environment. It takes about 10,000 hits a day. These hits come from the solar radiation, from the food we eat, from the beverages we drink. The cell repair mechanism - also under the genetic umbrella called the miss match repair gene - helps thwart those attacks. If the attacks exceed the limit then trouble starts brewing. Even so this problem can be arrested by other mechanisms at the cell duplication factory where when a cancer cell appears due to its miss coded genetics the guardian of the genome a p53 protein will isolate it and push it towards destruction and recycling. The process is orderly until the "hits" start exceeding the limits of the assembly line. Much like the "I love Lucy" episode of the chocolate assembly line. Lucy could not wrap the chocolates fast enough so she started eating them. With her mouth and her hands full, ultimately chaos ruled.

There are other factors at play here too. Although at base level we are at the mercy of a system that quietly regulates us by lassoing the wayward cell we can be preemptive in our daily lives to help the process of weeding these bad influences. Remember your fathers and grandfathers, they never seem to take stress the way we do. They worked hard, walked daily, ate regularly in moderation and consumed alcohol in limited quantities. True many smoked, which was through lack of knowledge and want for conformity with society but overall they lived good lives. It is better to live a life of quiet understanding than one of seething desperation.

There are several other vistas of cellular behavior we will uncover in subsequent musings. But uncovering the knowledge of the cellular behavior is fascinating. Dealing with cigarette smoking, alcohol, drugs and stress that form the constituents of present lives will be an interesting journey. How the mechanisms alluded above create the change in the cell and others not yet mentioned and still others not yet fathomed. The story has to be told.

No comments:

Post a Comment