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What Doesn't Kill You, Makes You Stronger

John Mehrmann

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Scientists and researchers are experimenting with venom, bacteria, and genes from the common cold to create amazing cures. What can we learn from this approach of studying what could be perceived as deadly and harmful, and apply the same aspirations to our own challenges and temporarily agonizing hurdles?

The Deathstalker Scorpion possesses one of the most deadly venoms of any scorpion on earth. However, research has shown that the venom of the Deathstalker scorpion contains chlorotoxin, a chemical that attaches to specific brain cancer cells, while leaving healthy brain cells alone. Scientists are studying ways to use chlorotoxin to carry radioactive atoms directly to the cancer cells, to single out and destroy brain cancer cells. Chlorotoxin also appears to successfully prohibit brain cancer cells from shrinking or moving, so the cancer cannot spread. A recently completed Phase II clinical trial at New York Presbyterian may soon bring treatment with chlorotoxin to reality. The deadly venom of the Deathstalker scorpion may yield a potent new weapon in specific and focused treatment of brain cancer.

Scientists at Introgen Therapeutics are using a few genes in adenoviruses to combat cancer. Adenovirus is better known as the culprit that brings us the common cold. The scientists are altering strains of the adenovirus to deploy anticancer genes within tumors, killing cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells unscathed. Rather than cure the common cold, these researchers are redirecting it as a cure for cancer.

Princeton scientists have demonstrated an unusual talent for training E coli to respond to surroundings, an accomplishment previously attributed only to organisms with nervous systems. The tiny microbes can be trained to respond to cues in their environment, turning genes on and off, and thereby illuminating the behavior of a bacterial pathogens. The feared E coli may eventually be revered as tiny workhorses to monitor their environment and assist with carrying corrective remedies.

The scientific approaches to use scorpion venom, E coli, and the common cold as potential cures for cancer are reminiscent of the studies of Louis Pasteur. In studying chicken cholera, Pasteur noted that one of sample cultures of cholera inducing bacteria had spoiled and failed to infect some chickens with a deadly dose of the disease. Upon attempting to infect the healthy chickens with another non-spoiled strain of the bacteria, he discovered that the chickens had become immune to the disease. With continued studies, Pasteur confirmed that exposing the chickens to weakened strains of the bacteria enabled them to develop immunization to the cholera. By the 1870's Pasteur applied this immunization method to anthrax, which had been affecting cattle. Pasteur made the anthrax vaccine by exposing the bacillus to the oxidizing agent potassium dichromate.

On a much more personal level, how often do we let the little things get in our way? Pasteur introduced small and weakened doses of bacteria to build up immunity to otherwise truly life-threatening exposure of cholera and anthrax. Scientists are experimenting with E coli and genes in the common cold in the pursuit of the monumental cure to cancer. Can we also be trained to adjust our perception, to manage the minor inconveniences and seemingly devastating small challenges of today as personal training and stepping stones to overcome bigger challenges that we may encounter tomorrow?

In the course of our own existence, we each encounter devastating losses, heartbreaking experiences, and tumultuous issues. In those moments facing challenge, when our concentration is focused on overcoming obstacles or coping with loss, we may be distracted from recognizing what we can achieve. Suffering feelings of loss can only occur if there is an appreciation for something to lose. You cannot lose what you never had. Understanding what you can attain may cause frustration when encountering delay, but do not allow the temporary interruptions to distract you from your personal goals for too long. Learn from the obstacles and adjust accordingly. Once the grieving for the sense of loss has subsided, then there is a time of peace, and a time to remember what you can achieve. Small setbacks are insignificant in comparison to what you can accomplish, and should never dissuade you from your course toward greater achievements. If scientists can identify useful chemicals in scorpion venom to carry a cure for brain cancer, then what can you identify in your experiences to carry you to new heights?

Most of our disappointments are merely the result of discovering or confirming that expectations or assumptions were incorrect. Occasionally, the realization may have life changing consequences. It is common to encounter such challenges in relationships, career, and personal development. Study the obstacles that are presented to you, and adjust your course accordingly. In taking a new path, you will inevitably encounter new discoveries that you would otherwise have missed, both in the environment around you, and within yourself. You might not use the common cold to cure cancer, but by overcoming a seemingly venomous situation, you could make a monumental personal discovery for yourself. Temporary setbacks and challenges cannot beat you, but you can use them to make you stronger.


Words of Wisdom

"Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine. "
- Lord Byron

"Where we have strong emotions, we're liable to fool ourselves. "
- Carl Sagan

"The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice. "
- George Eliot

John Mehrmann is author of The Trusted Advocate: Accelerate Success with Authenticity and Integrity. The book that is changing everything by reawakening personal values in business as a competitive edge


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