Free Access to Nature Research Papers on Cancer
Nature is a scientific magazine, published every week. Most of the magazine is “research articles” written by scientists (to scientists) so it helps if you have a science degree because the papers are highly technical (i.e. you need to look up every third word to find out what it means)
Nature is considered to be one of the best science journals around, and is the journal that most scientists would like to have their papers published in (another popular journal is Science). Both these journals (Science and Nature) are very high quality and are checked over by leading scientists who know the work (peer-review) before they are accepted for publication (and very many articles will be rejected)
Of course, quality publications aren’t cheap, a 1 year personal subscription to Nature costs $200. so that is why I am writing this post, at the moment Nature is offering some of it’s articles on cancer for free. There is a “Nature Collections” Supplement on Cancer which is available online free of charge for 6 months (sponsored by several large drug/biotech companies.) I was particularly interested in a paper about the epigenetic silencing of p15 by it’s antisense RNA (Yu et al. Jan 10 2008). I’ve written other blog posts about antisense RNA/RNAi and I think more and more research is going to show that RNA is just as important as DNA. The paper is highly technical, but then this sort of research is complicated, if it was easier we would have cured cancer by now!
The second supplment that is available online free (for 3 months) is from another Nature journal called “Nature Reviews Cancer - Focus on Migration and Metastasis“, again it is offered free because several biotechnology companies are sponsoring it. (Why you might ask? Well a lot of scientist read Nature, so it is a good way of advertising their company, please note, the companies are sponsoring the publication of the magazine, not that actual research of the scientists.)
A paper that I found particularaly intersting was one on the Parallel Progression of Primary Tumours and Metastases. (Nature Reviews Cancer, Klein, April 2009). Again, this is a highly technical paper. In it, the authour is arguing that scientsits should change their way of thinking about metastases. A metastases is when a cancer has spread to another part of the body. Generally, it is metastatic tumours that kill people. A lot of people think if you can stop a cancer spreading then people with cancer will be able to live a very long time (long enough to die of something else).
So why is this paper important? Our current theory is that a tumour starts of very small and grows, very slowly (maybe for 10-15 years) before it gets big enouugh to see (e.g on an x-ray, MRI or mammogram) or big enough to feel (i.e. a lump). The bigger a tumour gets, the faster it grows, eventually once it gets big enough a few cells break away from the tumour and move to a distant site (e.g. liver, brain or bones) and start growing. This new paper argues for a different theory. The authour thinks that both primary and metastatic tumours start off at a similar time, but the metastatic ones grow more slowly and respond to signals from the primary tumour.
What difference does it make when a metastases starts? A lot of scientists are looking at the genes in a primary tumour and trying to use that to decide if a tumour will spread (or not) and if it will respond to treatment (or not). However, if both primary and metastatic tumours start at a similar time then just looking at the genes in the primary tumour is not going to tell you much about how it spreads.
What does this mean for cancer patients today? Not a lot, surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are still your best bet for stopping a tumour growing but if scientists can understand more about how tumours spread they will be able to find treatments that stop this from happening in the first place. A lot of research is like this, it may not have immediate benefits today, or tomorrow, but in the long run this research could be vital to saving a lot of lifes.