Playlist TEDTalks

Rethinking cancer treatment: 9 great talks, plus 1 book

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Mina Bissell speaks at TEDGlobal 2012

Mina Bissell was not always the most popular person in the field of cancer research. After studying chemistry in college and getting her Ph.D. in bacteriology, the leading theory on how cancer develops — that a single cancer gene in just one of the body’s trillion cells is enough to cause the disease — simply didn’t make sense to Bissell.

In an exhilarating and often laugh-out-loud talk at TEDGlobal 2012, Bissell describes her research on breast cancer over the past 35 years, proving that a cancer cell’s microenvironment plays a starring role in its story, giving the cell signals about whether or not to continue developing.

“I made a radical hypothesis that if it’s true that architecture is dominant, then architecture restored to a cancer cell should make the cancer cell think its normal,” says Bissell, explaining that her research confirmed her theory. “We can revert the malignant phenotype,” she continues, “It’s a hopeful way of thinking about cancer.”

In an ode to Bissell’s work, below, find 8 other amazing TEDTalks (and 1 TED Book!) on new ways of thinking about cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

William Li: Can we eat to starve cancer?

This talk will make you happily snack on strawberries, kale and licorice. At TED2010, Dr. William Li explains that cancer cells start out as microscopic, harmless nests that can’t grow because they don’t have blood vessels supplying them with nutrients. Li gives an overview of anti-angiogenesis, the strategy of preventing the growth of blood vessels to a tumor by eating cancer-fighting foods. Check out a full list here.

David Agus: A new strategy in the war on cancer

Traditional cancer treatments focus on individual cells. But at TEDMED 2009, Dr. David Agus argues that this approach is shortsighted. According to Agus, the future of cancer treatment lies in sequencing cancer genomes, as well as in using atypical drugs, computer modeling and protein analysis to treat the entire body rather than rogue cells.

Jack Andraka: Detecting pancreatic cancer early

Still in high school, 15-year-old Jack Andraka was shocked by the statistic that only 5.5% of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive past five years, because diagnosis usually happens so late. In a talk given as part of the TED2013 Talent Search, Andraka explains his cheap and easy test for the early detection of pancreatic cancer, using carbon nanotubes. (Read our Q&A with Jack.)

Bill Doyle: Treating cancer with electricity

Chemotherapy and radiation are the standards in beating back cancer. But what about electricity? At TEDMED 2011, Bill Doyle — the executive chair of Novocure — introduces us to Tumor Treating Fields, which use electricity to both interrupt cancer cell division and weaken the cells formed from divisions.

Ananda Shankar Jayant: Fighting cancer with dance

Classical Indian dancer Ananda Shankar Jayant was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. While her doctor recommended resting through treatment, Jayant believed that her mind and spirit needed healing in addition to her body. “So I would drag myself into my dance studio every day,” she said in a talk at TEDIndia 2009. “I danced through chemo and radiation cycles, much to the dismay of my oncologist.” Could having a person suffering from cancer continue the activities they are passionate about help them heal?

Jay Bradner: Open-source cancer research

Jay Bradner is working on a breakthrough approach for subverting cancer. His Harvard lab has found a molecule, JQ1, which might explain how cancer cells recognize themselves as cancer cells. Instead of patenting JQ1, they published their findings and mailed samples to friends at other labs to work on. In his TEDxTalk, Bradner explains how open-source publishing could fuel new cancer a-ha moments.

Eva Vertes: Do stem cells cause cancer?

Microbiology prodigy Eva Vertes was only 19-years-old when she spoke at TED2005 about cancer stem cells. In this talk, she presents research that suggests cancer might be a repair response to damage to stem cells in the lungs, liver, bones, etc. The implication she is currently testing? “It’s possible, although far-fetched, that in the future we could think of cancer being used as a therapy,” she says.

Danny Hills: Understanding cancer through proteomics

Inventor and engineer Danny Hills makes a case at TEDMED2010 for the next frontier of cancer research: proteomics, the study of proteins. As Hills explains, genomic sequencing only shows us a list of the ingredients in the body — while proteomics shows us what those ingredients are signaling to each other. Using proteomics, Hills imagines designing specialized cancer treatments that would help an individual’s body fix itself.

And that book:

Controlling Cancer: A Powerful Plan for Taking on the World’s Most Daunting Disease

In this fascinating TED Book, biologist Paul Ewald (with the help of co-author Holly Swain Ewald) lays out a bold plan for attacking cancer. A leading thinker in the field of evolutionary medicine,  Ewald breaks from conventional thought and postulates that cancer is caused by viruses pushing infected cells to the brink. By attacking the virus, Ewald explains that we could come close to eradicating cancer altogether. (Read our Q&A with Paul.)