A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Titania, Oberon and Cancer Research


In A Midsummer's Night Dream, two selfish pagan gods, Titania and Oberon, are having a lover's quarrel, trading accusations of infidelity both real and perceived. Titania points out that Oberon's jealous rages ("But with thy brawls thou has disturbed our sport") are having a deleterious effect among the mere mortal earthlings below them:

"Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have sucked up from the sea
Contagious fogs which, falling in the land,
Hath every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents.
The ox hath therefore stretched his yoke in vain,
The plowman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hat rotted ere his youth attained a beard:…"

Dr. Jiri Bartek, a Czech Republic scientist, conducts basic research into why cancer cells divide; in other words, into the cause of cancer, the vengeful wind of our time which, falling in the land, hath cost the plowmen of our society to lose their sweat, and, in the most tragic cases, causes the green corn of our youth to perish ere their youth attain a beard. The idea that cancer must also have namelessly assaulted Shakespeare's era, and all others, indeed all human cultures across the past, is a somber one to contemplate. But to understand the credit Dr. Bartek and others like him deserve, it is proper to contemplate the full scope of the suffering that has gone before. (Nine-men's morris refers to a part of the village green marked out for a game played with pebbles; murrain means the plague; quaint mazes means paths):

"The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrain flock;
The nine-men's morris is filled up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable."

Yes, such devastation can occur in the wake of a pandemic, but not if Dr. Bartek can help it. Here's the description of the significance of Dr. Bartek's advance, in his own words:

"The frequency of mutations and changes in our
DNA and the frequency of tumors clearly show
that there must be some mechanism that keeps
each damaged cell from degenerating into a tumor.
The question that many laboratories have been
seeking the answer to for over 20 years is, 'How
does a cell learn that it is about to degenerate,
and how does it deal with it?'

"Our project resolved these two aspects, and
that's why it drew so much international attention.
It's the key to better diagnostics and treatment."

Beyond cancer, we hear of the avian flu, buzzing above us among the estimated 50 to 100 billion birds with whom we share the earth, who threaten to deliver their WMD of a viral pandemic sooner or later, but not never, to a theater near you. It isn't a higher minimum wage or greater workers' compensation or social security benefits that will save us. It is people like Dr. Bartek, laboring in relative obscurity in places like Prague and the Route 1 corridor in New Jersey – Pharmaceutical Row – who either will or will not come up with a solution in time. In time, that is, to avoid this:

"The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blessed.
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound.

Our commitment to science, and in particular to the basic research on which more visible breakthrough applications depends, is a key measure of our maturity in a modern age. It is notable that new entrants into the stream of modernity, like the Czech Republic, are making such key contributions, even as more advanced, but more socialist-leaning countries like England, France, Japan and Canada, whose medical systems permit no profit-seeking, lag in their contribution. Such countries have made the decision to quietly fall into dependence on America, even for their health, and even as they complain of how we Americans so ruthlessly harness individual ambition to the common good.

One more item that we can add to the list of things for which to give thanks on Thanksgiving is this steady addition of new, young, inquisitive, and vital partners, including India, Israel, the Czechs, Taiwan, Singapore and others – who are joining us shoulder to shoulder in the search for cure and relief.

Meanwhile, Titania continues scolding France, England, Canada, Oberon and Japan for their failure to contribute (childing means fruitful; wonted liveries means usual clothing; mazed means amazed and progeny means offspring):

"…………….The spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the 'mazed world
By their increase now knows not which is which,
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension.
We are their parents and original.

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