Livin' on the MDedge

Cancer with meatballs and the unkindest frozen cut


Two great tastes that cause cancer together

Spaghetti and meatballs. They go together like chocolate and peanut butter. It almost feels wrong to eat one without the other; but if you’re worried about cancer, you may have to go meatless.

a nice plate of spaghetti and meatballs artisteer/iStock/Getty Images

The latest blow to an enjoyable meal comes courtesy of a study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, which tested how lycopene – a carotenoid found in tomatoes that has notable anticancer properties – is absorbed by the body when in the presence of iron, which meat contains plenty of. When the study subjects drank a tomato-based shake infused with iron, lycopene was far less present in the blood and digestive system than in subjects who drank an iron-free tomato shake.

The study authors claim that either the iron is oxidizing with the lycopene or that the iron turns the mix of tomato and fat into something like separated salad dressing, preventing everything from mixing together when it enters the body.

Tastes like chicken

It’s an enduring oncologic mystery: How can some cancer cells endure what should be a lethal therapeutic beating, only to bounce off the canvas after an eight-count to deliver a devastating relapse-counterpunch of their own?

breast cels dividing royaltystockphoto/iStock/Getty Images

A new study offers an unsavory answer: cannibalism.

Turns out that dining on one’s weaker cancer cell neighbors during a chemotherapy barrage provides just enough energy to rope-a-dope and stage a late-round comeback.

Breast cancer cells with wild-type TP53 genes are particularly prone to revival after taking a beating at the hands of doxorubicin or other chemotherapy drugs. Like many of their cancerous compatriots, they retreat to a corner of the therapy ring during chemo and go gloves up in a state of senescence.

But researchers at Tulane University noticed that, in the midst of that pharmaceutical pummeling, those senescent wild-type TP53 cells start doing something that their other senescent, cancerous neighbors don’t: They engulf other cancer cells. Why? Seems those breast cancer cells with the wild-type TP53 gloves are equipped with gene expression programs similar to macrophages.

What’s more, the cannibals’ appetite for fellow cells appears to confer a survival advantage when the chemo rounds end.

We at the Bureau of LOTME will resist the impulse to ring out this item with a tasteless Donner Party punchline. Instead, we’ll indulge our high-brow inner child by retooling an elementary school comedy classic.

Why don’t cancer-cell cannibals eat cancer-cell comedians? They taste funny.

Poop, what is it good for?

One thing you can cross off the list: Cutting meat.

Snow field igloo Geerati//iStock/Getty Images

That might seem pretty obvious, but there’s actually a bit of history here. In a book published in 1998, anthropologist Wade Davis shared an account of an elderly Inuit man trapped alone in a storm. He had no tools and no food, so he made a knife out of his own frozen stool and used it to kill and butcher a dog.

That story, which has since become something of an urban legend, directly inspired the career of another anthropologist, Metin Eren, PhD, of Kent State University in Ohio. As director of the school’s laboratory of experimental archaeology, Dr. Eren decided that the time had come to prove or disprove the poop-knife hypothesis.

First, he and his team had to make such a knife. To produce the needed raw materials, Dr. Eren went on an 8-day “Arctic diet” that included lots of beef, turkey, and salmon, with some applesauce and butternut squash risotto thrown in, while a colleague stuck to a more Western diet. Their samples were then frozen to –58° F and sharpened with metal files.

“I was surprised at how hard human feces could get when frozen,” Dr. Eren told Live Science. “I started to think, ‘Oh my gosh, this might actually work!’ ”

The team’s attempts to cut refrigerated pig hide, however, were not successful. “Like a crayon, it just left brown streaks on the meat – no slices at all,” he said.

Today’s lesson? Don’t meat your heroes or their poop knives; they’re sure to disappoint you.

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