Alan Suemori
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

It was not supposed to be this way. After only three years, Randy Wada was on track to graduate from Northwestern University and begin dental school in the fall of 1978. In his final undergraduate semester, he took a random course in molecular biology and cancer to fill out his schedule. The class would change his life.

Taught by Dr. Brian Spear, who had the extraordinary idea that laboratory research should be joyful and fun as well as serious and disciplined, Wada was given a set of articles by a scientist who had taken a cancer cell, surrounded it with embryonic cells and then injected it into a mouse. Instead of running amok, the cancer cell normalized.

“At the time, it was all very controversial because we had been taught that your genes were your destiny. But this experiment was suggesting that if you surrounded the cancer cell with the right friends, you could change its future. I started to think that this is the way we should be treating cancer. Instead of trying to kill the cancer cells, maybe we should be rehabilitating them.”

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