Remember those days in grammar school when we learned about healthcare through the lyrics to Schoolhouse Rock!? "To keep your engine running you need energy…for your high-powered, revved-up body machine."
Modern medicine's come a long way in keeping our machines up and running and some of the smallest discoveries have made the biggest impact. In the 1800's Louis Pasteur discovered germs, revolutionizing healthcare. Centuries later, a New Orleans doctor is revolutionizing how we understand breast cancer- a major killer in Louisiana and across the U.S.
Lisa Plunkett, executive director of Susan G. Komen in New Orleans says, "Louisiana of course is one of the two areas in the nation with the highest mortality rate of breast cancer." We’re second only to the District of Columbia.
LSU researcher Dr. Shyamal Desai believes that understanding breast cancer boils down to a single protein. "It is known that ISG15, when it is activated, it activates immune cells, immune cells in our defense system and immune cells then kill infected cells."
At least that's how it works normally, but Dr. Desai found this protein was elevated in cancerous cells. Through 12 years of research, she discovered why. "ISG15 is a defense protein. Right? So they're using defense protein for their survival. It's like taking help of police to do a crime."
Instead of activating your immune system and fighting cancerous cells, ISG15 actually promotes their growth. It interferes with the body's natural disposal of old proteins, which build up and lead to cancerous growth or metastasis. Her finding may seem small, but could have huge implications. Dr. Desai believes she's found not just a root cause of breast cancer, but a root cause of all cancer. If that is in the fact true researchers can now attempt to find a cure. "We are in the process of finding IHG15 inhibitors, which now can block these cancers and if I'm right, if it is the root cause of cancer, maybe a vaccination for IHG15 might work?"
It’s a step forward for the 14,000 women who run in New Orleans' Race for the Cure and a glimmer of hope for the 40,000 who die of breast cancer every year.