July 2017

Synergy: doxycycline & vitamin C may be lethal to cancer stem cells

Synergy and new research with old ingredients: how antibiotics and vitamin C kill cancer stem cells

The study of T'ai Chi and biotensegrity both involve
synergy, wherein the combined effect is greater than the sum of the parts involved. Synergies create better value propositions; you get "more bang for the buck," "more bounce for the ounce," "more bling for your cha-ching."

With T'ai Chi, for example, numerous studies of the health benefits of T'ai Chi practice include a comment like, "although the exact mechanism is not well understood…"—meaning they know it works but they can't tell
why it works. No, you can't. Because it's not additive and it's not linear. There are emergent properties at work here, and it's synergistic.

In the natural world, most things work this way. Synergy is efficient; it maximizes effectiveness. Biotensegrity is the study of nature, and biology in particular, through the lens of tensegrity, itself a synergistic architectural principle revealing several emergent properties (auxeticity, mechanotransduction, helicity, visco-elasticity…). Here, as in T'ai Chi, synergy is the name of the game.

In traditional scientific research, however, randomized controlled trials tend not to have more than one parameter. Synergy, although apparent in many sciences and actively studied among them since the 1800's, does not seem to extend much into research. This is why some have proposed the alternative research strategy of
factorial randomized controlled trials. But science, justifiably, is a ship that turns slowly.

So, I always take particular delight when synergy presents itself in a new incarnation, especially when a simple combination of things that are relatively common and easily accessible is shown to be of potentially huge and immediate benefit to millions of people worldwide. I'm talking about a recent report showing that a combination of doxycycline and vitamin C can be a "lethal combination" for cancer stem cells.

Of course more research needs to be done. But sometimes, especially when there is more than one parameter to be tested, randomized controlled trials are trickier to coordinate, and may take years. Strategically, especially when the costs of NOT implementing the protocol may be quite high, the effects seem to be synergistic, and the interventions involved are considered relatively benign, the general public may prefer not to wait for them.

This was the case recently when the National Academies reported on three interventions which may, when combined, help to prevent or delay cognitive decline and dementia (see my previous blog article). Even though more testing needs to be done, the researchers felt that the public needed to be informed of the possible benefits immediately, so they could make their own choices regarding implementation of the relatively simple but potentially very highly effective three point strategy.

In the case of pairing doxycycline with vitamin C, we're talking about combining a readily available, inexpensive and commonly used vitamin with an antibiotic that is generically available, inexpensive, has a 50-year history of use, and is included in the
World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines.

For scientific integrity, researchers need to proceed slowly; but informed citizens may choose whether they want to, or have time to, wait.

Here's the report, entitled
Vitamin C and Doxycycline: A synthetic lethal combination therapy targeting metabolic flexibility in cancer stem cells (CSCs), available on the Oncotarget website

T'ai Chi for Preventing Cognitive Decline and Dementia

Just out from the National Academies is a report entitled Preventing Cognitive Decline and Dementia--a way forward, which should be of interest to T’ai Chi teachers and students everywhere.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine operates under an 1863 charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln and granted by the Congress of the United States in order to meet the government's need for an independent advisor on scientific matters. The consensus report from the Committee on Preventing Dementia and Cognitive Impairment asserts that encouraging evidence supports the implementation of three concurrent interventions in order to slow cognitive decline and the onset of dementia.

The three classes of interventions recommended are: cognitive training, blood pressure management and increased physical activity. Those of us who practice T'ai Chi will immediately recognize that the traditional Chinese internal art covers all three of these bases. Those of us who follow scientific research may appreciate what a rare move this is for a findings committee.

Why? The gold-standard of scientific research is randomized controlled trials. But, as the report acknowledges, randomized controlled trials with protocols having three different parameters would be “challenging to evaluate.”

They could also take years.

And so, the absence of randomized controlled trials notwithstanding, the report suggests three interventions that the committee “believes should be discussed with members of the public who are actively seeking advice on steps they can take to maintain brain health as they age.” Additionally, because “the apparent complexity of the pathophysiology underlying cognitive decline and dementia suggests that a multi-facted approach may be most effective,” report committee chair Chair Alan I. Leshner has declared that "the evidence is strong enough to suggest the public should at least have access to these results to help inform their decisions about how they can invest their time and resources to maintain brain health with aging.”

In terms of cognitive training, ample studies have indicated that T'ai Chi practice
improves cognitive functioning, memory, and even brain size. Research also has shown T'ai Chi to be effective in lowering and managing blood pressure, with one study even suggesting it may be as effective as prescription drugs. And although the movements are slow and gentle, we know that T’ai Chi improves lung function, aerobic capacity, strength and oxygen uptake.

Only time will tell, but cognitive training, blood pressure management and increased physical activity may turn out to be the trifecta of cognitive protection. Fortunately for us, T’ai Chi bestows all three, and more.

A pre-publication of the complete report can be read online here: