TROPHOBLAST FROM THE PAST:
NEW DISCOVERIES BREATHE
LIFE INTO AN OLD THEORY

From The Cancer Chronicles #20
© March 1994 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.


NOTE: This article is provided as general background information on a new avenue in cancer research. Nothing that you read here should be taken as an endorsement of any particular approach or clinic. For more information on this particular topic, see the article on trophoblasts and hCG in the February, 1997 Chronicles.

Recent discoveries by scientists worlds apart have unexpectedly breathed new life into an old view: the trophoblastic theory of cancer.The first scientist is Valentin I. Govallo, MD, PhD, director of the Laboratory of Immunology in Moscow. Govallo is the author of 290 scientific articles and 20 books, including The Immunology of Pregnancy and Cancer (1993).

The second is M. Rigdon Lentz, MD, PhD, currently the chief of hematology and oncology at the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Valdosta, GA. Before this year, neither scientist knew of each other's work.

In Govallo's 1993 book, first published in the United States, he explains that he arrived at his ideas through a study of the immunology of spontaneous abortions. In 1972, he started treating such miscarriages, which are a major problem for many Russian women. Because of some similarities between pregnancy and malignancy, Govallo began a program of treating cancer patients. His first attempts involved stimulating their immune systems, through the use of vaccines and drugs. Although at a fairly low technological level, it was a program that in many ways resembled that of NCI's Steven Rosenberg.

Govallo was disappointed, however, when he discovered that this led to only two long-term survivors out of 66 patients treated. The rest died of their cancer. Govallo reached the conclusion (not yet acceded to by NCI immunologists) that "stimulating the functions of T lymphocytes in blood is not enough to induce an efficient anti-tumor immunity."

According to Govallo, the reason for the failure was that the tumor itself was hindering the activity of the immune system, emitting certain "blocking factors." This was a theory first proposed by orthodox scientists in the late 1960s. (It is also an integral part of Dr. Lawrence Burton's Immunoaugmentative Therapy, or IAT, practiced in the Bahamas since the late 1970s.)

Since some of these blocking factors seem to bear striking resemblance to those emitted by an embryo during pregnancy, Govallo had the brilliant idea of using a placental extract to immunize the patient against the fetus-like cancer.He found that an extract of what is called human chorionic villi (see illustration), when added to a test tube of white blood cells, "effectively blocks all reactions of cell immunity."

More than a decade ago, Govallo began injecting a hypdermic needle worth of this extract under the skin of cancer patients, once every two to three months during the first year and then again, as needed. Sometimes, this extract caused "fever, shivering, and light weakness" but these symptoms generally disappeared within 24 hours. Otherwise, the treatment was non-toxic. He calls this "immuno-embryo-therapy."

A glance at the statistics shows that the results reported in his book are startling: a 77.1 percent five-year survival rate. From his account, these were all advanced cases, no longer responsive to surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Govallo himself admits that "it is not exactly clear how the placental extract effect works."

So far the reaction from the U.S. medical community has been blasé. Last year, the publisher (Nova Scientific of Commack, NY) sent copies of Govallo's scientific text to every major medical journal in the country. To date, however, only one has reviewed it. In the Maryland Medical Journal (42:500-501, 1993), Joseph M. Miller, MD wrote: "If the results are accurate, this innovative approach could be one of the greater discoveries of the twentieth century."

He adds that "the book should be read with hopeful anticipation and not accepted as dogma." Fair enough. But, to date, no one in the U.S. cancer establishment has expressed the slightest interest in attempting to duplicate his results.

THE ULTRAPHERESIS MACHINE

Dr. M. Rigdon Lentz has also spent two decades investigating the ability of cancer to turn off an otherwise-normal immune system. Attempting to physically remove blocking factors, he custom built a machine that filters them out of the cancer patient's bloodstream, using a technique called UltraPheresis (comparable to kidney dialysis). In the late 1980s, Lentz carried out FDA-supervised Phase I and Phase II studies, removing plasma fractions with low molecular weights from the blood. Unlike Govallo, who sees a few Russian patients a month, Lentz is not currently treating patients with his method, as the objective of the earlier trials was scientific knowledge. Additional funding would be required to proceed with more extensive Phase III studies.

In the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Lentz and colleagues identified, purified, and characterized immune system inhibitors found in the blood of cancer patients. These were identified as receptors for tumor necrosis factor (TNF) (PNAS 87:8781-8784, 1990; also, Cell 61:361-370, 1990). By producing this factor, the tumor is apparently able to deactivate the body's otherwise powerful immune response to foreign tissues. The discovery of this "anti-TNF" is an exciting scientific finding, with implications for the treatment of a number of different diseases.

Lentz's published results contain many revelations about the ultimate power of the immune system, once it is deblocked, to destroy tumors.One of the most startling facts is that the first three of Lentz's terminally ill patients who died in the initial clinical trial had tumor lysis syndrome: dead cancer cells and debris that can overwhelm the liver and kidneys (J Biol Response Mod 8:511-527, 1989). Autopsies of these patients showed that "all measurable disease" had been destroyed due to "massive hemorrhagic and coagulative necrosis." Lentz learned that one must proceed slowly in harnessing such explosive anti-cancer reactions.

Patients receiving UltraPheresis also experienced intense, if transient, pain in their primary tumor and metastases. There was also fever, which Lentz brought down with the drug, acetaminophen (Tylenol®).Sixteen patients were treated between June, 1985 and April, 1986. As noted, three (18.7%) died after rapid tumor breakdown. A general improvement in physical condition and sense of well-being was seen in 65% of the cases, accompanied by improved appetite & weight gain.

"An objective reduction in tumor of 50 percent or more was observed in 6 of the 16 [remaining] patients," Lentz wrote (37.5 percent). Although this was not a study of survival per se, Lentz noted that 9 of the 16 patients survived more than one year, and 6 of the 16 for more than two years. (Two are alive, eight years later.)

Despite such promising results in terminal cases, again there has been little interest in the cancer establishment (of which Lentz is a card-carrying member) to vigorously explore this innovative approach because, he says, of its complexity.

INVASION OF THE TROPHOBLASTS

What is most surprising in all this is the new life Govallo and Lentz have unintentionally breathed into an old theory of cancer. The trophoblastic thesis was first put forward in 1902 by the Scottish embryologist, John Beard (Lancet 1:1758). Beard was rigorously trained in Germany and became lecturer in embryology at the University of Edinburgh, one of the world's great medical schools. His pioneering work on the embryology of fish and other vertebrates led him to contemplate the phenomenon of cancer. He was among the first to notice that the cancer cells bears a marked resemblance to the cells that normally surrounds the healthy, developing embryo, called the trophoblast.

When an egg is fertilized, it begins to divide, forming a ball of cells. Before it even leaves the fallopian tube, it grows an external layer of these trophoblastic cells. It is this trophoblast, not actual the human-to-be, that attaches onto and aggressively eats a hole in the uterus. It then nourishes the embryo from a blood pool it creates. (`Trophoblast' itself means `nourishing germ'.) This trophoblast burrows deeply and implants the embryo beneath the womb's surface. It eventually becomes the chorionic villi [see illust.], the fetus's half of the placenta.

The behavior of this tissue is so aggressive and relentless that one scientist has humorously but accruaely referred to this phase of pregnancy as the "invasion of the trophoblasts" (Cell 71:355, 1992).

Trophoblast, said Beard, is not only profoundly different, but in many ways the opposite of normal mammalian cell development. While a normal cell is a good neighbor, the trophoblast is born to be wild. It is primitive, corrosive, and invasive. Sound familiar? Of course: these are the very characteristics of cancer.

One of the mysteries of biology is how and why the embryo survive an immune system that, by all accounts, should kill it on contact as just another invading foreigner? Nature has obviously provided that this trophoblast is able to turn off an otherwise- vigilant immune system, displaying a sign (`antigen') that says `Baby On Board' to the immune system. In his article "The Phylogeny of Oncology" (Mol. Biother., 2:137-144, 1990), Lentz points out that "pregnancy and cancer are the only two biologic conditions in which antigenic tissue is tolerated by a seemingly intact immune system."

He concludes his essay with these remarkable words: "It is recognized that trophoblastic tissue has all the characteristics of a true cancer; it is deeply invasive, it is highly anaplastic in morphology [i.e., lacks normal shape], it has a high mitotic index [i.e., frequently divides], and it produces oncofetal antigens [i.e., shows `Baby On Board']...in every respect, [it] behaves as a true cancer."

Cancer cleverly follows trophoblast's example, using nature's one big exception to the rule, like a burglar who first turns off a burglar alarm, before he robs the house.Without the wildness of trophoblast, and its devious mechanisms, none of us would even be reading this. Cancer, said Beard in a provocative insight, is simply trophoblast in the wrong place at the wrong time, triggered into malignant life by what we would call hormones and carcinogens.

Beard noticed that in various species trophoblast is stopped in its forward march when the embryo begins producing pancreatic enzymes. In humans, he claimed, this occurred during the seventh week of pregnancy.At that fateful juncture, he said, trophoblast began to lose its aggressiveness. But if such enzyme production failed, and inhibition did not occur, the result was the most malignant form of cancer, choriocarcinoma. Beard suggested, therefore, that the use of pancreatic enzymes be attempted in the treatment of advanced cancer, since the destruction of the aberrant proteins of cancer appeared to him to be an unsuspected role of digestive enzymes. In March, 1909, he persuaded his friend Captain F. W. Lambelle, MD to treat an ex-drummer of the West Yorkshire Regiment, who had a metastatic sarcoma of the left upper jaw. Lambelle gave this man 120 injections of pancreatic enzymes. By the next year, the ex-drummer had completely sloughed off the cancer and in the following year, when Beard wrote The Enzyme Treatment of Cancer and Its Scientific Basis (London: Chatto & Windus, 1911; out of print) the patient was still cancer-free. Had the answer to cancer truly been found?

Some surgeons ridiculously countered that sarcomas were not really cancers! However, more serious challenges arose when others were unable to reproduce Beard's work—"countless failures," as Beard admits. Beard responded plausibly that commercially available enzymes were generally inactive, and that doses were commonly too weak or too small. But given the conservatism of the medical profession, and a growing enthusiasm for radiotherapy, it is not surprising that Beard's ideas fell into total disuse. He died in obscurity in 1924.

In 1942, these ideas were rediscovered by Ernst T. Krebs, Jr. and his colleagues. In July, 1950, they published an article in the Medical Record on "The Unitarian or Trophoblastic Thesis of Cancer." Krebs continues as director of the John Beard Memorial Foundation of San Francisco. His oft-stated belief is that "cancer is trophoblast in spatial and temporal anomaly, hybridized with, and vascularized by, hostal or somatic cells and in irreversible and fiercely malignant antithesis to such" (Townsend Letter for Doctors, Feb.-March, 1993, p. 175).

Krebs is also co-discover of Laetrile, and so the fate of the trophoblastic theory became intertwined with the trials and tribulations of that apricot kernel-derived chemical. A final blow seemed to come in 1990, when a prominent laetrilist, Robert Bradford, announced that modern research had undermined the trophoblastic thesis. "Say goodbye to an old friend," he wrote in The Choice.In this article, Bradford raised many technical objections to the Beardian thesis. And indeed many questions need to be answered before this theory can be accepted as fact. What is remarkable, however, is how two scientists have now independently proclaimed their belief in an updated version of that theory, arriving at their conclusions without studying Beard's seminal work.


Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. is director of the The Moss Reports for cancer patients. Dr. Moss is the author of eleven books and three documentaries on cancer-related topics. He is or has been an advisor on alternative cancer treatments to the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the American Urological Association, Columbia University, the University of Texas, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the German Society of Oncology. He wrote the first article on alternative medicine for the Encyclopedia Britannica yearbook. He is listed in Marquis Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in the East, and Who's Who in Entertainment (as a film documentarian). This Web site does not advocate any particular treatment for cancer. We urge you to always seek competent medical advice for all health problems, especially cancer. Before consulting our site please read our full Disclaimer statement.



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