Charles Huggins (1969) - The Corticolytic Hydrocarbons

Charles Huggins (1969)

The Corticolytic Hydrocarbons

Charles Huggins (1969)

The Corticolytic Hydrocarbons

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Charles Huggins received his Nobel Prize in the autumn of 1966 and when the first invitation came to give a lecture at a Lindau Meeting, the 1969 Meeting on Physiology/Medicine, he duly accepted. He then continued to lecture at these meetings, one lecture in the 1970’s, one in the 1980’s and one in the 1990’s. His last lecture was given the same year that he turned 89, which makes him one of the oldest speakers at a Lindau Meeting. The first lecture describes his development of techniques to study the behaviour of animal cancer cells in the laboratory. If you want to study cancer cells from test animals, you can either try to find test animals that already have cancer or you can try to find a way to induce cancer in the animals. Huggins chose the second way and also wanted to find the most rapid way to induce cancer, thereby getting access to as many tumours as possible to study. Already in the 1930’s, some chemists had synthesized a molecule with the name 7,12-Dimethylbenz(a)anthracene (with the more convenient designation DMBA) and shown that it was strongly carcinogenic. The way they showed this was by feeding rats with food containing DMBA, finding that a single meal was enough to start a cancer growth. But Huggins felt that the process of feeding the rats was clumsy and too imprecise and instead made a solution containing DMBA which was injected into the blood of the rats. He could then show that this method provokes “instant cancer”, within one hour the cancer starts. As for the part of the animal that is most susceptible, this turned out to be the mammary glands. So, at the time of the Lindau lecture, instead of studying prostate cancer in man, Huggins was studying breast cancer in rats. He has written down a short version of his lecture, which then has been translated into German and published in the journal Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau, vol. 23, p. 351 (1970).Anders Bárány

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