Big Knowledge (the next thing after Big Data) approach may offer an answer.

An early result of the COVID-19 treatment trial RECOVERY two days ago reveals that dexamethasone (a widely used corticosteroid) reduces death of patients on mechanical ventilators by one third, whereas it had no beneficial effect of patients who do not require respiratory assistance. Why does dexamethasone help? After all, corticosteroids treatment for COVID-19 has been dis-recommended by WHO, CDC and many experts.

We used a new computational approach, Big Knowledge (the next more intelligent thing after current brute-force Big Data) to look for molecular mechanisms by which the COVID-19 virus, SARS-Cov-2, destroys the lung tissue. …


The official recommendation in the United States (and other Western countries) that the public should not wear face masks was motivated by the need to save respirator masks for health care workers. There is no scientific support for the statement that masks worn by non-professionals are “not effective”. In contrary, in view of the stated goal to “flatten the curve”, any additional, however partial reduction of transmission would be welcome — even that afforded by the simple surgical masks or home-made (DIY) masks (which would not exacerbate the supply problem). …


Warning: THIS IS A PHILOSOPHICAL TREATISE ON THE EXISTENCE OF AN UNEXPLORED TERRITORY OF EPISTEMOLOGY (THE STUDY OF HOW WE ACQUIRE KNOWLEDGE) THAT LIES OUTSIDE OF BOTH MAINSTREAM ONCOLOGY AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE BUT THAT FULLY EMBRACES SCIENCE.

Over just the past few years, owing to new “omics’” technologies, an enormous amount of factual knowledge about the molecular wiring diagram of tumor cells and the dynamics of tumor behaviors have been collected and deposited in vast databases. However, cancer treatment still has to follow the traditional, lengthy path of drug development, clinical trials and approval. Currently, there is no room for…


Seattle, April 30, 2019 — Last week, Arivale, the direct-to-consumer “scientific wellness” start-up closed its doors. But the end of Arivale is not the end of “scientific wellness”. The attribute “scientific” is more than for marketing, more than expressing a sentiment. However, to see its substance we have to reach beyond “data science” — which is not science but is what Arivale has relied upon. Deep sequencing and deep learning will not do it, we also need deep thinking. If theory without data is useless, so is data without theory. An epistemic consideration for big data medicine.

In view of the rapid cycles of booms and busts in the arena of big data medicine, the sudden end of the health-tech startup Arivale should not have been worth big news. Yet it sent shock waves into the land of a promising new genre of health service. Because Arivale has spearheaded the selling of “scientific wellness” as a novel type of service, its demise carries the weight of an indicator for the future of an entire field. But beyond all the usual Monday-morning quarterbacking about absence of a market or failure of marketing or of management, etc. there is…


The compassionate, eulogy-like reactions to the news that Sen. John McCain is ending treatment for his brain cancer seem to equate this decision to ending life support. This response reveals an unfortunate misconception of cancer therapy among experts as well as lay people. The narrative suggests a belief that the chance of survival is a direct function of having treatment, and that stopping treatment means to abnegate the possibility that McCain is somehow benefitting from ongoing anti-cancer treatment, to however a small extent. But this is too simplistic. …


Cancer is a disease of the tissue, not of the cell, let alone, of the gene. The latter is the official dogma and did not get us very far. Cancer is a wound that never heals, a regeneration that fails to stop. Treatment that slaughters cancer cell populations (thus, essentially all treatments except immunotherapy) further damages the cancer tissue which further stimulates an abnormal, never-ending wound healing process: generation of more abnormal cancerous stem cells that keep dividing. So why add injury to injury with treatment that kills cells? It perpetuates a vicious cycle. …


Let us once more view terrorists or rogue states as “cancers” of the world –for sake of the pedagogical effect of metaphors. Politicians and strategy experts think that this mental picture can teach us how to fight expanding and evasive enemies. But I will argue that the lesson goes rather in the opposite direction: That stealing a page from security politics and the military may change our perspective on how to treat (or how not to treat) cancer in patients. But why bother since after all, we scientists and doctors are so much smarter than politicians? Not so fast. …


The cancer moonshot program was supposed to be a game changer in cancer research. But the recommendations (text here) that the advisory panel of experts released earlier this month, filled with well-intended and carefully thought-through proposals, were greeted as a success for its “focus on the shovel ready low hanging fruits”. Does this attitude honor the name of this ambitious cancer program and the spirit that Joe Biden instilled? Low hanging fruits are the ingredients for recipes to cook more of the same, to stay the course.

Breakthroughs, as history of science has taught us, is the child of the…


Cancer research is in stagnation. We cannot stay the course and double-down on exiting approaches with just more clinical trials and more data sharing. Instead, we need to promote contrarian approaches to overcome group-think. But how can we do so without being too disruptive?

Unfortunately, I fear, the well-intended Cancer Moonshot initiative is on the verge of being hijacked by the establishment of cancer research. As in politics, the establishment opposes any concerted efforts to change the system to the better. There are too many stakeholders who will suffer from attempts to fix the system. They want to stay the…


The arcane biomedical research funding system inhibits innovation because its bureaucratic complexity perverts meritocracy and stifles imagination, making it difficult for research dollars to reach the most innovative ideas. Can the Cancer Moonshot program change that? Observations from the trenches of the war on cancer.

When we fail in a big task, there are two possibilities: either it is because the task was inherently difficult and thus beyond our reach no matter how hard we try, or alternatively, it is because we did not try hard enough and made mistakes. Sometimes we can distinguish between these two: Did I fail…

Sui Huang

Institute for Systems Biology

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