Coal And The War On Cancer
Coal Bin article by Harold Hough
Obama has promised us a first class health care system. And, he has promised that he would get rid of coal mining. Obviously, he is unaware of the number of medicines produced from coal based chemicals. In an earlier article, we talked about how synthetic quinine was synthesized from coal based chemicals. There is also aspirin. However, the history of chemotherapy – targeting cancer cells with drugs - is a history primarily based on chemicals produced from coal.
Ironically, it was the chemical warfare of World War One that gave medicine the push in the right direction to fighting cancer. One of those agents was Mustard Gas, which killed thousands and maimed many more by blistering any exposed flesh, including the lungs. A method for mass producing it was developed by the Germans in 1916, and the most popular method was the Depretz method, which synthesized it by treating sulfur dichloride with ethylene, a chemical that comes from coal tar.
The number of injuries and deaths forced doctors to study the effects of mustard gas during and after the war. One discovery was that victims’ blood production decreased dramatically.
Research increased in World War Two as the Allies tried to prepare for a possible chemical attack by the Germans or Japanese. Two pharmacologists, Louis S. Goodman and Alfred Gilman, were recruited by the Department of Defense to investigate the impact of chemical warfare agents on the body. Their research took an unexpected turn in 1943, when a German air raid in Bari, Italy led to the exposure of more than one thousand people to the SS John Harvey's secret cargo of mustard gas bombs. Dr. Stewart Francis Alexander, a Lieutenant Colonel who was an expert in chemical warfare, was sent to Bari, and based on the autopsies of the victims, theorized that since mustard gas nearly stopped the division of certain types of cells which divide fast, it could also potentially be put to used to suppress the division of cancerous cells, which are also divide quickly.
Using this information, Goodman and Gilman reasoned that mustard gas could be used to treat lymphoma. After tests with animals, they injected a related chemical, mustine (which was synthesized from coal based chemicals), into a patient with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. They observed a dramatic reduction in the patient's tumor. Although this effect lasted only a few weeks, before the patient had to return for another set of treatment, this was the first step in modern chemotherapy.
This new family of medicine called Nitrogen Mustard drugs act by killing cells that divide rapidly. Unfortunately, they also harm cells that divide rapidly under normal circumstances: cells in the bone marrow, digestive tract and hair follicles. These results in the most common side effects of chemotherapy: decreased production of blood cells (which also impacts the immune system), inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, and hair loss.
Although the drug mustine (mechlorethamine) is rarely used in chemotherapy any more and is tightly controlled because it can be used in chemical warfare, there are several other coal based medicines that are closely related and used in chemo: cyclophosphamide, chlorambucil, uramustine, ifosfamide, melphalan, and bendamustine. A derivative of mustine, estramustine, is used for prostate cancer.
But, coal based chemotherapy medicines aren’t relegated to the traditional cancer drugs that make the patients so sick. They are also being investigated for use in a new generation of experimental drugs that dramatically reduce the horrible side affects of chemotherapy. They attack cancer tumors in different ways.
Inhibiting the growth of cells doesn’t always work. However, scientists have discovered that cells near the center of some tumors are oxygen starved and have used this as a way to target them. One potential cancer drug is Dichloroacetate, which is also produced from coal byproducts. It has been found to shrink tumors in rats and targets some types of oxygen-starved tumor cells. It is known to be relatively safe, available, and inexpensive, and it can be taken by mouth as a pill, which is convenient.
Fortunately, for future cancer patients, new medicines are coming on line that can stop the cancer without the dreaded side effects of traditional chemotherapy. And, no matter what they are, there is a good chance that they will be coming out of a coal mine.