21st December 2011, 12:04 PM
I've just finished a fascinating book called 'The Emperor of All Maladies', which is described as a biography of cancer (I like to know about things!). The later chapters, describing the genetic research into cancers, are particularly fascinating (though I think I understood about half of what I was reading!). They have discovered 'pathways' into cell activity that control how the cells behave. These pathways act differently in different cancers, but one of the components is responsible for switching on and off cell reproduction. In other words, the normal procedure tells the cell 'OK, you've done your job, now stop reproducing' and switches off that part of the cell. In cancers, the off switch gets jammed by a genetic mutation and the cells continue to multiply. Reading this, I thought (as a single-minded dog owner!) 'Chiari Malformation!'. Because this seems to be what happens in a Cavalier foetus and newborn: the off switch for the bone cells in the skull works OK, but the off switch for the brain cells doesn't work - at least not so quickly. So could CM be caused by a genetic mutation? In cancer cells, genetic mutation happens frequently - the cells refuse to die at their usual age and instead wriggle/mutate madly to avoid destruction and interference; so far no one knows why or how they mutate. So CM could simply have been caused decades ago by a mutating gene that then got passed down the generations. (In the same way that my wonky legs are possibly caused by a disease that is an inherited genetic mutation - when and how did that get into our family??)
I'm probably talking rubbish, but the book did open up some interesting possibilities - besides making me very glad that I didn't have cancer 50 years ago!
Kate, Oliver and Aled