OK…that’s an exaggeration. But, his recent passing was the occasion of my reading is obituary in the NYTIMES, and there I discovered that he was another link-in-the-chain in the story of Gleevec, a cancer therapy breakthrough that has cured patients of a form of leukemia that was previously uniformly fatal.
Tony Pawson focused his research on the communication between cells in the body, presuming that this interaction, when not regulated properly, led to illness. Born in England, but doing much of his research in Canada, he discovered something called the SH2 domain, a ‘chemical knob’ on the outside of cells that allows for communication to take place. Adjusting the activity of this SH2 domain, and other similar ‘knobs’ found later by other researchers after his initial discovery, has led to a host of treatments of various conditions from cancer, to diabetes, to rheumatoid arthritis.
Gleevec is a particularly interesting treatment, as it has profoundly altered the lives of CML (Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia) patients, providing a virtual cure of this disease. I have patients myself who take this medication, and I’ve mentioned before in talks, of a person you might be familiar with who has CML and who has been saved by Gleevec…..Kareem Abdul Jabar.
The story of Gleevec and it’s discovery, has recently been made into a best-selling novel this summer THE PHILADELPHIA CHROMOSOME. Check it out at Amazon…it makes for a good read about the trail of research and where it can lead, and in so doing, confirms that basic science in the biological arena yields many practical results and should be supported by all of us through the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and other institutions like my alma maters Johns Hopkins and ASU’s Biodesign Institute.