Caledonia Scientist Helps Fight Cancer Naturally
Derek Johnson, a senior research associate and lab manager a the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, has focused his life's work on pairing science, traditional medicine and naturopathic nutritional supplements.
Caledonia resident Derek Johnson was a science nerd while growing up in Nebraska, especially since his mother is a professor of nursing.
So making his life's work researching naturopathic nutritional supplements, and studying their ability to prevent and help cure cancer, seemed, well, a natural fit.
Johnson manages the research lab for Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and is the senior research associate in their Zion Illinois facility. He takes care of the day-to-day research in the lab and finds new directions to go with their research. The lab studies the functional aspect of cancer cells, the genetic and genomic aspect of cancer cells, and the relationship between the tumor cell and the immune cell.
“We’re trying to find agents already known to be useful in some capacity and see if we can repurpose them for another capacity or finding new combinations of treatments that can be used in a synergistic way,” he said.
One example is a mushroom extract because it is known to be an “immune stimulator.” When patients take the extract their bodies are fooled into thinking that it has a fungal infection so that starts to ramp up the immune system by recruiting and stimulating immune cells. But those immune cells are then attracted to the tumor cells to kill them off. They also have another agent that makes the tumor cells better targets.
“It’s like a football team, you are making sure your team is trained really well and making sure the other team can’t train at all,” Johnson said.
Johnson has studied the effects on cancer cells of red grape skins and the chemicals found in green tea and turmeric.
Three years ago, an article on one research project he was involved in, studying how naturopathic nutritional supplements can be used to treat cancer, was published in the Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology. Johnson has a Masters degree in molecular biology, with an emphasis in environmental microbiology and he joined Cancer Treatment Centers of America to start their lab because he knew he wanted to work on cancer or virology.
“I thought this would be a subject of study that would not only be challenging, but endlessly complicated,” he said. In this line of work you, you really have to work to be bored. And if you get bored in this line of work it’s because of something you’re doing, not because the work itself is boring.”
But one of the primary concerns at the hospital is providing holistic care to the person, not the disease. This means patients get everything from pastoral care to a nutritionist to traditional medical care. He joined the hospital for their focus on science, but realized the benefits of focusing on healing the person and not just treating the disease.
And they’ve had success, but the key component, he said, is engaging the person in their own care.
“We’re getting very good at curing breast cancer, but it’s not so much finding breast cancer… it’s getting patients to take action,” Johnson said, adding that a simple monthly self-breast examine can help detect cancer.
But even that can be a difficult task for women.
Johnson said his boss had done a study when he was at Rush Hospital that looked at whether there was any affiliation between they types of women that come in at different stages of breast cancer, specifically if it was socio-economic, racial, or cultural.
“It turns out there’s really no relationship between stage of diagnosis, other than how active the woman was in her own health,” Johnson said. “It’s amazing how a human being can neglect their own health. There have been women with ulcerated lesions breaking through the skin on their breast and wait to go to a doctor until someone close to them will get sick of the smell of it.
“And the doctor is not surprised by this,” Johnson said.
Even in the most severe cases people can be cured, but this requires women to take action. Women tend to put things off and this is what Johnson calls “scamming yourself into having peace of mind.”
Click on the link for more information about naturopathic nutritional supplements and breast cancer.