Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Kathleen Conaton
Current Event #2

The MacGyver Cure for Cancer                                

David Walmer went on a volunteer mission to Haiti. He was sent to a hospital in a seaside town and was shocked by what he saw. Walmer, being a fertility specialist at Duke University, saw the local obstetrician-gynecologist names Jean-Claude Fertilien finishing a hysterectomy with the help of a flashlight, when the hospital generator wouldn’t start, or when an anesthesiologist wasn’t available for an emergency C-section. Walmer witnessed a women with undiagnosed cervical cancer go into septic shock and die right in front of him. In the US, cervical cancer is considered a preventable disease.

            In the U.S., screening for cervical cancer is typically done with Pap smears, a quick swab of a woman’s cervix to screen for cellular changes that foreshadow cancer. If abnormal cells are found, a doctor will usually perform a colposcopy, in which the cervix is examined using a specialized magnifying lens, a colposcope, to see if disease is visible. Cervical cancer used to be the top cancer killer among women before the 50’s and 60’s, when the Pap smears were invented. The mortality rate for cervical cancer is relatively low in the US. In developing countries it kills 250,000 women a year.

            David Walmers hope was to create a better way to look at the uterine lining. He bought a headlamp from a bike shop and a green filter from a camera store. That’s when it all began. At first Walmer's device was too uncomfortable and heavy. With the endless hours of work frustration rose and the project was set aside until Bob Malkin, a Duke professor and inventor suggested a new set of eyes look at the project. The students were game and the new colposcope was progressing. It would cost fewer than 750 dollars and help test for HPV. It could potentially end cervical cancer. Mother’s Day is approaching in Haiti, where some women wear flowers: red if your mother is living, white or purple if she is not. Family Health Ministries hopes to establish a new Mother’s Day tradition of cervical screening.


  1. The first thing that grabbed my attentions about this article was the name, I’s really creative and funny. You put plenty of good facts in your write up, which made it really interesting. I really liked the detail about how they treat cervical cancer in Haiti and on how the treaty in Haiti differs. I also thought your point about how they celebrate mothers day in Haiti was pretty interesting.

    I was shocked to hear the amount of people that die in third world countries from cervical cancer when it is considered a preventable disease in the U.S. It’s hard to believe that 250,000 people die from it every year in other countries. I also liked the point you made about how cervical cancer use to be deadly in America during the 50’s and 60’s but is now one of the most treatable cancers.

    My only criticism about your write up is that you should of put more detail in how it affects America. I think it would have been more powerful if you used more comparisons between Haiti and the United States.

  2. I read Kathleen’s report and I was learned a lot of new things. I also really liked how it was written. First off, I liked that she gave background information about Pap smears. This is something that if she had just mentioned, I may have not known much about it, and I would have been a bit confused. I also liked how she gave a comparison of cervical cancer fatality numbers in the US to those in developing countries. This was very eye-opening because it is sad to think that something that is so preventable here is not preventable in other parts of the world. Finally, I liked how the review flowed. Kathleen presented good background information and then went into detail about what happened after.
    One thing that I think Kathleen could have done better is that she could have gone into a little more detail about the relevance of this new colposcope. For instance: Where is it being used? I also would have liked to see a critique of the article.
    Overall, I really enjoyed reading Kathleen’s review. I learned a lot about a topic I don not know much about but that I am interested in. Something I learned was that cervical cancer is very preventable in the United States.