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Opinion | Can a Neuroscientist Fight Cancer With Mere Thought?


For example, we know that there are circuits in the brain that control and monitor breathing, and we know that these circuits connect to other areas of the brain that transmit pain with its negative emotional tone. So even if we don’t understand all the details, we can devise experiments to test the hypothesis that breathing activity can reduce pain perception by transmitting electromagnetic signals. respiratory center to the emotional pain center of the brain to reduce later activity. .

But is pain perception a good general case for mind/body drug use? After all, pain perception occurs in the brain, so it’s not too hard to imagine that it could be influenced by the way we behave or think.

What about a potentially fatal disease that often manifests outside the brain? Can cancer progression be affected by behavioral practices such as meditation or breathing? The short answer is we don’t know, but the longer and more interesting answer is that, at least in some cases, there are reasonable and testable hypotheses about how this might be. happen.

One potential biological explanation is that some kind of signal must be sent from the brain to cancer cells in the body. The main way the brain communicates with the body is through nerve fibers that form pathways from the brain to the body to conduct electrical signals, which in turn release neurotransmitter molecules at their ends. . (The brain can also communicate with the body through molecules secreted into the bloodstream.)

In recent years we learned that certain types of cancer in the body receive nerve fibers, which originate in the brain and are transmitted to the body through electrochemical signals that pass in sequence from one neuron to another. These include tumors of the lung, prostate, skin, breast and pancreas, and digestive system. This innervation of tumors often contributes to the growth and spread of cancer. In most cases, if you are a cancer patient and your tumor is congenital, your prognosis will be worse. However, there are many types of nerve fibers, and there are others that can slow the progression of cancer and others that don’t work.

Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which innervation contributes to tumor growth and spread is an active and promising area of ​​investigation. One recent report led by the laboratory of Sebastien Talbot at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, have shown that melanoma is often innervated by nerve fibers that secrete chemical messengers. This compound, CGRP, acts on a specific type of immune cell, inhibiting that cell’s ability to fight tumors.

When these nerve fibers were deactivated in melanoma-bearing mice, stopping CGRP secretion, the spread and growth of the melanoma was significantly reduced, resulting in increased survival of the mice. triple. This means that blocking the electrical activity of these nerve fibers allows immune cells to help tame the cancer.

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