Proteolytic agents and cancer

Dr. Weeks’ Comment:   A great historical look at cancer research by a genius, the Scottish embryologist Dr.  Robert Beard.

Don’t forget to take your proteolytic enzymes –  we like Wobenzyme.


Page 1020, [June 23, 1906] ———————————




SIR:—The published report (MEDICAL RECORD, May 19, 1906, p.809) of a discussion before the Medical Society of the County of New York tempts the writer to offer the following remarks as a preliminary note, based upon the result of his scientific study of eclampsia. The medical profession in America can easily test the truth of the writer’s contention, by using diastase in any case of pregnancy where there is the slightest threatening of eclampsia.

The “trypsin” treatment of cancer had not long been in use, when in January last some French and Italian physicians informed me of certain bad symptoms of vomiting, nausea, pain in the back, “sleeping in any position,” mental and physical torpor, etc., following injections. In answer to their requests for scientific advice, I urged them to treat it as they would the vomiting of pregnancy, and for myself I began to study eclampsia. For the treatment is based upon the introduction of an artificial “critical period” (vide J. Beard, “Certain Problems of Vertebrate Embryology,” 1896, and “The Span of Gestation,” 1897, Jena, Gustav Fischer), and its course would naturally be the same as the events from the seventh week of a normal gestation. It was soon seen that no rational treatment of eclampsia existed. There was an extensive experimental study of it in the Archiv fur Gynakologie (Vol. 76, 1905, pp. 507 to 585) by Professor Zweifel, as well as a lecture by him in the Munchener medizinische Wochenschrift for February 13, 1906. His article bears the title “Zur Aufklarung der Eklampsie.” It would take up much space to describe his results. Briefly, he sets it down to the formation of sarcolactic acid in the fetal blood and placenta. In my opinion his conclusions rest upon very thin ice, and there may well have been other substances. However that may be, I have gone behind it all, to the true source of the mischief.

As Professor Zweifel himself found, the diastatic ferment is absent in the fetal blood. The reason of this is not far to seek. In the days of long ago, and as now happens in most marsupials, birth took place at the critical period, and the milk-nutrition was initiated. In this the diastatic ferment is of no use.

When, as she did, Nature prolonged the gestation, in order to bring the young into the world in more perfect form, she deferred in so doing more and more the start of mammary nutrition. In prolonging the gestation she forgot to introduce diastase at an earlier period, and the “memory” remained that it was not needed until the milk-period had passed. Consequently there is an absence of the diastatic ferment during all fetal life. Usually the difficulties caused by this can be got over, if the maternal pancreas form sufficient diastase. But if there be any failure in this respect, the consequences may well be disastrous. In a way the difficulties may be said to have been usually overcome, but pregnancy, from the seventh week onward, owing to this absence of the diastatic ferment, is a sorry business. Probably in all cases the oral or hypodermic administration of diastase during the last months of pregnancy would be of great benefit to the mother. In certain forms of cancer, more especially uterine cases, it cannot with safety be dispensed with. When the patient becomes drowsy, it is called for. In some cases, not in all, symptoms of eclampsia, varying in degree, arise in the “trypsin” treatment of cancer. The comparison between this and the phenomena of gestation proves to the embryologist that it is and can only be the absence or the insufficiency of diastase which causes it. In a gestation without eclampsia there must be something being formed either by the mother or fetus which prevents its arising. If eclampsia ensue, the want of diastase alone can be at its basis. Therefore, in the treatment of cancer by pancreatic ferments injected into the blood it is most desirable that a pure trypsin alone without much diastase should not be employed, and if bad symptoms arise, these should be met by the giving of sterile hypodermic injections of 5 per cent. diastase solution up to 40 minims daily. The like treatment is called for in cases of eclampsia, or where it is threatened.

It is becoming more and more evident that, in the treatment of cancer by the pancreatic ferments, after some few weeks of the trypsin injections, say four, if not earlier, this injection should be replaced in the treatment, until the remains of the degenerating tumor be removed, by injections of the diastatic ferment, up to 40 minims daily. There is not a particle of doubt in my mind that such injections would also remove the symptoms of eclampsia in pregnancy. JOHN BEARD, M.D.

University Lecturer in Comparative Embryology. EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND, June 4, 1906. ————

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