Chemical weaponry contributes to cancer research

What do the first and second World Wars have in common with fighting cancer?

According to Professor Jeffrey Manthorpe from Carleton University’s chemistry department, it is chemical weaponry.

“If a chemical could kill a certain type of cell, could it be used to treat a patient who has cells reproducing rapidly?” Manthorpe rhetorically asked the 30 people gathered at a bi-weekly science café hosted by Carleton’s faculty of science.

The science cafés are held at the Sunnyside branch of the Ottawa Public Library close to the university’s campus from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. The café covers a variety of topics from most areas of the scientific world, like computer science or earth sciences.

This is Manthorpe’s third time speaking at the science café.

The lecture explored chemical weaponry from World War I and II being used in modern day medicine. Exactly 100 years ago, chemicals were being developed and used to harm opposing parties in war, but today most of these chemicals are being used to fight against mental illness, cancer and tumours.

“War injuries led to infections, which led to the quest for antibiotics,” said Manthorpe.

Manthorpe explained that the development of mustine led to modern chemotherapy as it’s used to kill white blood cells. It is dangerous in large amounts, but a small dose can destroy the rapidly multiplying cells that form tumours. Scientists took that information, advanced it, and now tumour patients have a treatment.

“I think these sorts of science cafés are very beneficial because it allows professors to get out and interact with public,” said Manthorpe. “I think that’s definitely important because the public does support universities in Ontario and other parts of Canada through tax dollars. I think the public has the right to know what kinds of things we’re using that money to look at in our research.”


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