Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Does Germany need more than 500 cancer centers? After attending a meeting of representatives from 10 university cancer centers and the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT), Rainer Flöhl in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) is skeptical. While the university cancer centers are similar to the successful Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the US – linking basic and clinical research (which is called “translational research” nowadays), they do not yet provide nationwide cancer care. Therefore, the German Cancer Society supported the adding of further centers: “clinical oncology centers” and “organ centers”. At present, Flöhl writes, the landscape is dominated by organ centers (e.g., 200 each for breast and colon cancer), however they lack a multidisciplinary approach and are hampered by poor documentation standards and poor financing. As a result, patients do not get optimum treatment and many cancer centers may have to close sooner or later.

In Die Zeit, Gianna-Carina Grün is dealing with the aftermaths of the German EHEC epidemic. Not only modern sequencing technology but also a collection of strains played a crucial role in the rapid identification of the EHEC strain. However, Europe does not have comprehensive collections of microbial strains – building such databases is tedious and does not provide for scientific glory in terms of publications and inventions. Grün explains that not lack of funding, but structural deficits in academic and public institutions have prohibited the building of valuable databases so far.

Gert Antes, director of the German Cochrane Center in Freiburg, in Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) introduces the Cochrane library which meanwhile lists 600,000 randomized, controlled clinical studies from all over the world. He also features efforts by the US, Canada and various European countries to provide patients and health care professionals with reliable information distilled from the library. Germany, Antes states, does not invest in any attempts to turn research results into practice and to find what really works in health care. He is also disappointed by the German government´s plans to cut funding of clinical research. Antes’ conclusion: “Germany has never had a role as trailblazer in patient-oriented research, and now it seems it is heralding the end of it.”

Ulrike Gebhardt in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) provides an overview on how immune cells cooperate with cancer cells. As an example, she mentions M2 macrophages which are tricked by a tumor so that they mistake it for a wound. As a result, they start a support program to direct blood vessels and nutrients into the area. In addition, they support cancer cells in forming metastases. The findings, Gebhardt states, may lead to novel ways to cure cancer and to prevent metastasis.

Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times (NYT) introduces the latest health-related Apps and gadgets to monitor activities and body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure and temperature. Joshua Brustein, also in NYT, introduces the latest internet startup prone to change our way of life: Taskrabbit, a market where busy people can hire others to help them with everyday tasks such as picking up groceries, making reservations and assembling IKEA furniture.

Finally, for people who always wanted to know whether they are descendants of Tut Ankh Amon, Swiss iGenea offers an answer. Turn in a swab of your DNA, and if your genes are the closest match to the pharao’s DNA, you get your money back. iGenea’s regular business is genealogical DNA analysis, and the company promises to provide its customers with insights about origins and migrations of their ancestors and information on whether they stem from ancient tribes suchs as vikings, celts or jews. However, as Matthias Glaubrecht explains at length in Die Welt, it is far from being clear that iGenea has obtained the mummy’s full DNA profile, let alone that the DNA derived from the mummy is indeed DNA from the pharaoh and not a contamination. In addition, as Eva Zimmerhof writes in Focus, preliminary tests demonstrate that about 45% of German, 50% off Swiss, and up to 80% of Spanish males are descendants of Tut Ankh Amon.