Pseudoscience at its’ Deadliest: can sharks cause cancer?
Jason Gencher, U3 Bachelor of Music
After channel surfing through shark week this past summer, I started thinking about all the pseudoscience that surrounds sharks. The soups, ointments, lucky fins; different sections hacked off, ground up, or liquefied for puerile human superstition. The answer to the question above, however, is quite clearly no. Whether you have heard it or not (and let’s hope this is all news to you), the word going around is that sharks…or more accurately ground up shark cartilage, taken as a dietary supplement, fights and/or prevents a variety of illnesses, most notably cancer. Let’s not dismiss this claim so easily; let’s treat it in the same way that any other drug claim would be treated.
- Clinical Trials:
Yes. Indeed, a form of the drug made it as far the clinical trial stage. Neovastat, as it was called had showed ‘promising results as an angiogenesis (blood vessel formation) inhibitor in animal tests. It moved on to human trials and was unable to produce any positive results. In fact, it outright failed – twice.
- FDA Approval:
No. The drug, in whatever manifestation it appears, be it Carticin, Cartilade, or BeneFin has not been approved by the FDA…or for that matter even been submitted for approval. You would think that such a miracle drug would be swiftly approved. For now, (and forever) it shall be labelled as a ‘dietary supplement.’
Perhaps you are wondering how this notion arose? A book, written by William Lane, PhD entitled “Sharks Don’t Get Cancer” in 1992 sparked the notion that, well, sharks are unable to develop cancer. If sharks cannot get cancer, then what is it about the shark that prevents it from developing the disease? Logically, it would follow that there might be a compound that can be isolated and purified from shark cartilage that could be used as a cancer preventative. The proponents of this concept claim that it’s a specific protein that prevents angiogenesis. What confuses me is that absolute misunderstanding of science and medicine that follows. If the compound is a protein, then why would you grind it up and ingest as a pill, where the polypeptide chain would be cleaved by the acidic content of our stomach, rendering the protein completely non-functional? Matters plummet into greater abjection the farther we analyze the issue at hand.
As chance would have it, there have been about 40 different kinds of cancers discovered in sharks. Studies have shown that shark cartilage (I refuse to henceforth call it a dietary supplement, as the definition of supplement involves the object enhancing or completing its subject, and it clearly falls flat in both instances) mirrors the effect of a placebo thus effectively rendering it as an expensive sugar pill. Recent studies on the placebo effect have suggested that there is very little correlation between cost of the placebo and its effectiveness, therefore making this something of a scam. Luckily, many of us are prudent enough to call these issues out for what they truly are. It looks like something smells fishy (I am so, so, very sorry) about shark cartilage.
Jason Gencher, U3 student