Scientist: Cure for cancer possible in 5 to 10 years
Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 9:40 pm
GRAND RAPIDS (AP) — The cure for cancer could be found within five to 10 years, predicted a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who helped unlock the mysteries of DNA.
“I’m very optimistic,” said James Watson, speaking recently at the third annual Origins of Cancer symposium at the Van Andel Institute. “My younger colleagues will say I’m overpromising. But overpromising is better than underpromising. If you underpromise, you’re under no obligation to do anything.”
Watson is one of three scientists who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1962 for discovering the structure of the DNA double helix. He also was the first director of the National Institutes of Health’s Human Genome Project from 1988 to 1992. (See related photo, Page 6.)
In a wide-ranging keynote speech, Watson re-called the early days of DNA research, discussed some of the latest developments in understanding and treating cancer and talked about his own approach to prostate cancer.
The standard message about curing cancer is that it will happen in 10 to 20 years, he said. He thinks it could happen sooner, but a greater sense of urgency is needed.
“The only moral thing is to work as if we are at war against cancer,” he said. He recalled how President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971, and added, “We have 10 years if we are going to win the war in 50 years.”
Watson decried the way cancer research is funded, which forces scientists to secure grants to pay their salaries.
“The chief point of money we get should be to cure people with cancer, not give five-year job security to the people doing the work,” he said.
He discussed a number of factors being investigated as targets for cancer treatment.
“I think we will have the targets for most of the cancers completed in five years, maybe sooner,” he said. “Then it will be up to the chemists.”
Now 83 and chancellor emeritus at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Watson said he was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago. After looking into radiation treatments and surgery, he decided on a course of “watchful waiting.”
“I was 80 and probably won’t live to be 90. So I will probably die of something other than prostate cancer,” he said.
He takes ibuprofen every morning as well as Metformin, a diabetes drug, because they have shown promise in preventing cancer. He also gets “hard exercise” in the form of vigorous tennis matches.
Watson traced his interest in curing cancer to his uncle’s death from melanoma, which happened when Watson was a freshman in college.
“People ask me do I feel satisfied with my life and I say ‘No.’ I won’t feel satisfied until melanoma is cured,” he said. “Then, I can relax.”
Published in The Messenger 5.25.11