1911 – The year the cancer revolution was lost

An Old View on the Origins of Cancer Revisited

by Katherine Duff

The Trophoblast and the Origins of Cancer, by Nicholas J. Gonzalez, MD, and Linda L. Isaacs, MD New Spring Press, P.O. Box 200, New York, NY 10156

In his 1911 book The Enzyme Treatment for Cancer, Dr. John Beard challenged the orthodoxy of his day when he proposed the trophoblast not only as the model for cancer but also the actual cell line from which cancer develops. Beard, an English scientist, was ostracized for this view, and died long before modern molecular biology confirmed many of his then-radical findings. For the 150th anniversary of Beard’s birth, authors Nicholas Gonzalez, MD, and Linda Isaacs, MD, examine the original thesis and bring it up to date with citations from modern biological research in their book The Trophoblast and the Origins of Cancer.

To understand how the trophoblast could serve as the model for cancer, the authors begin with a detailed explanation of the human reproductive cycle, conception, and embryonic implantation. When the embryo is beyond the 16-cell stage (the blastocyst), it transforms into the inner cell mass, which will become the embryo body, and the outer layer of trophoblastic cells, which will become the placenta. Before the trophoblast becomes the placenta, it engages in a variety of activities that will assure survival. As primitive undifferentiated cells, the trophoblast proliferates without control, can invade adjacent tissues, and can migrate easily through those tissues before it changes into well-behaved differentiated cells. Before this happens, the embryo will have been anchored to the uterus, protected itself from the mother’s immune system, and accessed blood supply. The authors describe the molecular techniques that form the coordination and cooperation between cells of the trophoblast and endothelium of the uterus. Beard suggested that the molecular techniques for invading tissues used by the trophoblast were similar to those used by cancer cells. The authors cite current researchers who declare that cancer cells use the same techniques as the trophoblast.

Beard did not accept the hypothesis that cancer arose from normal tissue that had mutated into primitive, poorly differentiated somatic cells and then into aggressive tumors. Rather, he looked to the germ cells that are precursors to the egg and sperm. Studying fish and reptiles, he traced their journey through the yolk sac, embryo, and back, where he found that the cell population grew from 100 at the beginning to about 4000 by the time they reached the genital ridge. Not all of these cells would survive the trip, and some would become vagrant germ cells that settled in numerous places in the body cavity. Scientists in the late 20th century rediscovered these vagrant germ cells in mammals and humans as well. Beard developed his theory “Indeed, the similarities between cancer and trophoblast, as we continue to learn, go deep, right to the level of molecular mechanisms that define each of these two cell types, the one completely normal and necessary for human life, the other dreaded and deadly in its potential.” that cancer actually arose from an aberrant trophoblast originating from a vagrant germ cell.

The authors recognize Beard for another discovery: stem cells. Evidence is cited indicating that Beard’s vagrant germ cells are what we now know as stem cells. Though he did not envision our current use of such cells, he meticulously documented their appearance and behavior.

Another prescient aspect of Beard’s work was his investigation of the role of pancreatic enzymes in the management of the trophoblast. He saw that the trophoblast reverses its uncontrolled growth and tissue invasion precisely when the embryonic pancreas becomes active. He identified the proteolytic enzyme trypsin as the enzyme most responsible for controlling the trophoblast. It was from this discovery that he investigated the use of trypsin in controlling cancer tumor growth. As a result of Beard’s success in treating animals, physicians treated their patients with pancreatic enzymes and saw successes that were published in medical journals of the day. This resulted in some support for his thesis and a lasting backlash from the medical establishment.

Through the years since Beard’s death in 1924, a few physicians, including the authors of this book, have used the enzyme treatment for cancer. Some had success and other did not, which opens in this book a discussion of the proper preparation and use of the enzymes. The book concludes with eight successful cases from the authors’ files.

The Trophoblast and the Origins of Cancer is the first volume of a series of books to be offered by Drs. Gonzalez and Isaacs about their practice in the enzyme treatment of cancer. It is a well-written, concise narrative that begins with the meticulous research of a man who suffered the slings and arrows of being ahead of his time and ends with the practical application of his discoveries over 100 years later. For its 220 pages, the book has something to offer the medical historian, practicing physician, scientist, and curious patient.

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