Universal cancer cure now suddenly possible

“Miracle”: The new T-cell offers hope of a “one-size-fits-all” cancer therapy. © Science Photo Library

Should we hope for a world without disease? It seems possible. At last, a cure for cancer seems to be on the horizon. And, now, scientists are dreaming of a future where no one becomes ill.

In a gleaming laboratory in Cardiff, the excitement was palpable. Everything was about to change.

It was the breakthrough scientists thought was impossible – the discovery of a part of the immune system that could finally treat every type of cancer.

For many, the word “cancer” is a death sentence. In 2018 alone, 9.6 million people died from cancer worldwide. In the UK, more than four children die of cancer every week. The treatments are often worse than the illness itself.

A cure for cancer would be a game changer. But imagine if – rather than curing diseases – we lived in a world with no disease at all.

It sounds like science fiction, but some believe it is possible. Scientists think, one day, doctors will look at your genes and predict what diseases you will get in the future. They can then fight it before you ever become ill.

Without disease, the possibilities seem endless. Suffering could be eliminated. No longer would people be condemned to lives of pain through physical or mental illness.

The common cold, just an inconvenience for many, costs the US economy $40 billion (£30.6bn) a year. Who knows what humanity could achieve with perfect health?

It sounds like utopia, but is this really such a good idea?

Without suffering, would we still have the same capacity for feelings of joy or hope?

In a world without disease, you would probably still die. Ageing, traffic accidents, natural disasters, starvation and even murders would still exist – none are pleasant.

In 2014, Dr. Richard Smith caused controversy when he said we should “stop wasting billions trying to cure” cancer, calling it the “best death” humans can hope for.

Is it really a good idea to postpone death? More elderly people would place pressure on the world’s already limited resources.

According to Professor Marc Boulay, although the death rate would fall in a world without disease, the population would level out after a small spike.

Why? Because with 200-year-old great-great-great grandparents to look after, most people could no longer afford children. This seems like a bleak future.

So, should we hope for a world without disease?

Immortality beckons?

Yes, say some. Diseases like cancer have caused untold suffering throughout human history. Where treatments exist, they are often both brutal and expensive. Disease is especially a problem in low income countries – eliminating it could help to eliminate global inequality. Many terrible diseases, like smallpox, have been eradicated already. Why not get rid of them all?

No, say others. Eradicating all disease will be hugely expensive, and an unwise use of money. Most diseases prevalent in low income countries are already preventable. The world has more easily solvable problems such as poverty and lack of education. We should not use resources to extend our lifespan: life is only really enjoyable for about 100 years. Suffering makes us human.

You Decide

  1. Would you want to live forever?
  2. Does suffering make us human?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are 150 years old. Write a diary entry (half a side) describing your life. Does being so old make you happy or miserable?
  2. Choose a disease or group of diseases that you would like to eradicate. In groups, prepare a presentation explaining why you think this is the most important disease to eliminate.

Some People Say...

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

Marcus Aurelius (AD121-180), Roman emperor and philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Scientists at Cardiff University have discovered a new T-cell (a type of white blood cell that can kill cells infected with viruses) in the immune system. T-cell cancer therapies (where the immune cells are removed, modified to find and destroy cancer cells, and then returned to the patient’s blood) already exist. However, they only target a limited number of cancers. This new discovery is different because scientists think it might be able to destroy almost all cancers.
What do we not know?
The new treatment has not yet been tested in human beings – we do not know if these trials will be successful. More generally, we do not know if it will ever be possible to have a world without disease. And it is impossible to describe the consequences of a world in which humans could routinely live to 150 or 200 years – the effect on both society and the environment are unknown.

Word Watch

Palpable
A feeling so strong it seems like it can be touched or physically felt.
Immune system
The body’s natural defence against infection and cancerous cells.
Genes
The part of a cell in a living thing which controls its physical characteristics, growth and development.
Utopia
An imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.
Dr. Richard Smith
Former editor of the BMJ (British Medical Journal).
Professor Marc Boulay
A professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US.
Smallpox
A serious contagious disease caused by a virus. Symptoms include fever and pustules (pimples that contains yellowish pus). It was eradicated by vaccination in 1979.

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