Christian Long

Eva Vertes: The Future of Medicine

In TED Talks on April 16, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Extra credit reflection by HERSH T.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Eva Vertes: The Future of Medicine

Imagine when you were still 19 and then imagine the incredible prestige associated with the TED talks.

Eva Vertes, a 19 year old genius, has a few stumbling sentences but the passion and incredible joy she has for what she is talking about far outshines this. The excitement she shows still contains that youthful innocence combined with the obvious intelligence she exudes causes the audience to lean in and enjoy what she is talking about.

Eva goes on to relate her extremely impressive resume in a very humble way while also informing the audience why she chose to focus on what she did. Her initial focus regards the effect of heavy metals on the nervous system and neuroscience in general, however, soon the audience realizes that her true interest revolves around cancer, and how it comes about.

“It seems that cancer is a direct result of injury.”

This line popped out to me and actually made sense. Cancer, the enemy of the 21st century, is a disease that is characterized by a proliferation of mutated cells that, through metastisis, can travel to all parts of the body. Eva’s idea is that cancer is simply a healing process that is overeager, her incredible idea is that we should manipulate, rather than eliminate (chemotherapy, radiation).

Many great and important discoveries were made when a person asked the simple question why? Here, the medical world had taken note that cancer, for some unkown reason, did not affect skeletal muscle and so Eva asked why. Skeletal muscle is the muscle that makes up the heart, and muscles, which is also why we don’t often have heart cancer. And so Eva asked many preeminent scientists in this field, and the answer she got was that skeletal muscles were terminally differentiated, which simply means that they do not grow again. (Neurons for example).

Often, when something does not make sense, people will give it an explanation just to fit the circumstances.

This is how local myths were created, something incredibly odd or seemingly supernatural occurs and people just turn a blind eye. And so what Eva, with her youthful innocence noted, was that there were other types of cells that were terminally differentiated which did get cancer. And so, like any great hero, Eva did not take that for an answer and fought on to see what the real answer was.

To understand her definition, we must familiarize ourselves with the way a tumor grows. All cancer begins at the size of a pinprick, and at that size, it would have no effect on the immensly huge host (us). So what happens next is that a process termed angiogenesis occurs. Angiogenesis is simply when blood vessels are created and brought closer to whatever it is that is using angiogenesis. In this case, a tumor uses angiogenesis to grow large, and then uses these blood vessels to travel through the bloodstream and metastisize. When a closer look is taken at skeletal tissue an incredible discovery is found.

Skeletal muscle has many incredibly tiny tumors during cancer!

What to do now?

According to Eva, it could be that skeletal muscles have such a strong ability to utilize angiogenesis because we use muscles so much that they can actually overpower the angiogensizing power of tumors. Well, Eva goes on to introduce some of her current hypothesis, and the first one is centered around something called chemokines or chemical attractors. When skeletal muscle is injured, it actually releases just as much chemokines as any other area of the body, and chemokines are the main factor in causing cancer metastisis. However, her hypothesis, is that because we use skeletal muscle so often, maybe skeletal muscle has actually refined the process of healing itself. Eva’s most important idea is simply that cancer is an overactive healing process, and so in other parts of the body it is harmful, however in skeletal muscle, it actually works.

The final hope that Eva introduces is that in skeletal muscle, the factor that changes stem cells into muscle cells is called Myo-D. And so when a cancer metastisizes to the skeletal muscle, maybe the Myo-D is actually turning the tumor cells into muscle cells! This is a revolutionary idea and can then be used in so many other fields. What if it could be used to grow back muscles of paraplegics or amputees!

Truly, Eva has placed a great many incredible ideas in our minds, and her impressive credentials prove that it is more than just talk. I believe we will be seeing more of Eva soon.

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