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Watson on Cancer and Antioxidants

James Watson argues that as researchers get a better view of how cancers arise and what drives them, they are not getting any closer to a cure for cancer. "Even though an increasing variety of intelligently designed, gene-targeted drugs now are in clinical use, they generally only temporarily hold back the fatal ravages of major cancers such as those of the lung, colon and breast that have become metastatic and gone beyond the reach of the skilled surgeon or radiotherapist," he writes in a Perspectives piece at Open Biology.

Instead, Watson writes that as many chemotherapy drugs target reactive oxygen species, that's where researchers' efforts should be concentrated. However, he adds that antioxidants may be hampering otherwise effective oxidative therapies. "Blueberries best be eaten because they taste good, not because their consumption will lead to less cancer," he writes in Open Biology. He adds that Myc may be a key target for new drugs.

"Everyone thought antioxidants were great," Watson tells Reuters. "But I'm saying they can prevent us from killing cancer cells."

Sloan-Kettering's Hans-Guido Wendel tells Reuters that "the notion that targeting Myc will cure cancer has been around for a long time," but that blocking Myc could be "an interesting line of investigation."

However, another cancer researcher, who goes unnamed in the Reuters report "so as not to offend Watson," says Watson's paper has its pros and its cons. "There are a lot of interesting ideas in it, some of them sustainable by existing evidence, others that simply conflict with well-documented findings," the biologist says. "As is often the case, he's stirring the pot, most likely in a very productive way."