1 Little Oscar
Adam Boatwright, a medical doctor and genetic researcher, stood six feet tall. In spite of his 47 years, his still jet-black hair framed a serious face dominated by large dark-blue eyes. Even today the ruggedly good-looking man he could still pass as a Marine captain.
Adam walked that morning to the Life Sciences Building on the main campus of Central University, moving with a slight limp because of a wound from exploding-mine shrapnel. The Viet Nam War injury did not slow him as he bounded up the outside stairs to the LSB lobby.
Excited, he was about to meet with Dr. Itzak Friedman, the famous Israeli scientist, to plan the next phase of the research project.
Adam was unlocking his office, when so surprised by a note taped to the door, he dropped the keys. The note requested that he come immediately to Itzak’s study. Puzzled, Adam hurried down the long empty hall and pushed open Itzak’s slightly ajar office door. He gasped at the shocking scene.
Itzak Friedman was writhing on the floor!
The heavy man’s eyes were wide with fear as he gasped for air. But the desperate scientist’s lungs weren’t sucking sufficient volumes. Adam shifted into an emergency-room mindset, trying to reach a diagnosis. Itzak’s cyanotic skin clued Adam that the flailing man had swallowed something blocking his windpipe. The big man was suffocating, but there was no time to search for the obstruction.
Adam’s own head pounded from a rush of adrenaline as he rummaged the scientist’s neat desk, looking for a sharp object. He grabbed the scissors and quickly made a surgical incision beneath Itzak’s larynx. He then carefully pushed and turned until a breathing vent was opened. But the blue-faced man’s arms stopped flopping, and his arched back went suddenly limp. Itzak was not breathing through the bleeding hole.
Adam would use his own lungpower to force air into the dying man. Nervous and dripping with perspiration, he grabbed a glass pipette cylinder the supply cabinet. The glass tube was about twice the thickness of a drinking straw. Adam gently pushed the pipette into the incision and breathed into Itzak’s windpipe. The patient’s coloring improved, but he soon lost consciousness as blood flowed profusely from the hastily made incision. Adam continued breathing for Itzak, until the poor man’s heart suddenly stopped beating.
For several minutes, Adam administered CPR. But it was no use. Itzak was dead.
It was 9:05 A.M. when Adam ran into the Genetics Department office. He was extremely flustered because nothing about Itzak’s death made sense.
“Quick, Jill,” Adam sputtered at the department secretary. “Dr. Friedman’s in his office. He just died. Call an ambulance.”
Adam paced the halls in shock, his mind again and again reliving those terrifying minutes, wondering what he could have done differently. He always reached the same conclusion—only the tracheotomy could have saved the man’s life.
Adam’s first research meeting with Professor Itzak Friedman had been just three weeks before. Remembering every detail of that session, Adam let the earlier scene run through his mind, hoping for some clue to explain Itzak’s mysterious death.
* * *
The two men had exchanged greetings as Adam entered Itzak’s orderly study for the first time. Itzak was a stocky man with long white hair, making him look like a clean-shaven Santa Claus in a lab coat. Adam’s attention was drawn to the man’s eyes, which seemed to window some deep-seated anguish.
Adam had sat down, startled to see the man’s lab coat almost fly apart. It was a white rat jumping out of the pocket and scurrying onto the man’s shoulder. Itzak scooped up the acrobatic animal and kissed him on the forehead, announcing: “This is Little Oscar. He’s the guiding light for the cancer project.”
Moments later, Itzak was prying the mobile rodent off his chest. “I’m ready to share my great secret. It all revolves around this little fellow.”
Itzak held Little Oscar up high, smiling like a father admiring his baby.
Adam shared Itzak’s obvious love for animals. But bonding with a rat!How odd. Although highly intelligent animals, rats led short lives and simply couldn’t provide companionship like a dog or cat.
“Where does your pet fit into your cancer research?”
I’ll say this as simply as possible,” Itzak answered, looking admiringly at the animal. “Little Oscar is ten years old.”
“That’s impossible. Rats hardly ever live beyond three years. The rodents usually die of cancer, living about 18 months. But ten years!Never! That’s like a human living to be 200.”
Itzak smiled at Adam, obviously enjoying the drama. “Precisely. But as long as I continue treating him, Oscar will never get cancer. He’ll live until one of the escaped boas from herpetology finds him.”
“Oh my god! How did you manage that?”
They were interrupted by a telephone call.
Adam waited for Itzak, mulling over cell physiology. Body cells divide naturally, their regeneration being a normal part of life. Most cells are short-lived and constantly have to be replaced. Difficulties arise when the new cells fail to duplicate the originals, and the resulting freaks sometimes become cancer. Adam smiled, distracted by Little Oscar’s antics. The rat had climbed on top of Itzak’s head, running his paws through the man’s long hair, as if trying to make a nest. Itzak never budged until Oscar jumped down to the desk.
Finally, Itzak resumed the conversation.
“Now I can answer your question, Adam. I’ve been keeping Little Oscar alive by giving him I-complex. That’s a group of special chemicals employed by the body for fighting viral infections. My research proves that I-complex also maintains cell-division fidelity. That’s how it prevents cancer.”
Adam remembered feeling confused.
“It’s my name for a substance I discovered,” Itzak proudly announced. “It came from bodily fluids taken from Little Oscar’s older sibling while fighting a viral infection. I and a deceased biochemist colleague separated known substances from the liquid, including dead viruses and various metabolic products and antibodies. The leftover concoction—what I call I-complex—defies any traditional description. All I know is that it does the job. It was an arduous exercise to have I-complex synthesized. In Israel, we exposed Little Oscar to every rodent virus known. So far he has never caught a viral infection.”
“Do you use the same complex on your liver cells?” Adam asked.
“No. We found human I-complex from the lymphatic fluids of volunteers, all suffering from various varieties of flu, colds, and worse. Using similar alchemy, we separated the critical disease-fighting chemicals and amalgamated them into the final substance used in our liver-cell experiments. It remains a mystery how it works.”
Adam remembered that he could hardly contain himself. “If you did it all over again, would you obtain the same I-complexes?”
“No,” Itzak replied, “we’ve tried to replicate the human substance with different volunteers and a new mix of viral infections. The resulting chemicals don’t foster cell-division fidelity. The same is true of rat I-complex.”
Adam remembered summarizing those strange findings, merging them with what he knew regarding the body’s immune system. “Let’s see if I have it. During an active viral infection, the body produces a host of chemicals, some of which we can lump together. Those are your I-complex. Your hypothesis is that this substance is what conquers viral infection. Further, I-complex helps cells properly divide and thereby prevents cancer. The substance is present only until the virus is conquered, when the body stops making it.”
“You’re absolutely right, “Itzak said, grinning wide. “The chemical must always be present to accomplish those miracles. That’s why I use synthetic rat I-complex, manufactured outside the body. Little Oscar receives daily transfusions. We insert analogous synthetic human I-complex into the growth medium of the liver cells being cultured in dishes. ”
Adam remembered Itzak’s intense stare. “Rat or human, the same principle applies. Synthetic human I-complex eliminates errors in cells dividing outside the body. That’s how the whole line of research was started. My animal experiment was the second step. My main goal is preventing cancer in a live person. I’m just about ready to launch the next phase.”
Adam remembered his excited objections. “It’s too soon for that! You can’t do live human research until the FDA has seen the animal results and gives its approval.”
“I’m taking a few shortcuts. I can’t wait a quarter century for every approval.”
“I hate delays, too,” Adam replied. “But what’s your hurry?”
Itzak stared at the picture on his desk. “My wife Hannah has melanoma. It has metastasized into several organs, and she has only a few months to live. I’ll treat her myself once I perfect the cancer cure.”
“Your research is certainly promising,” Adam commented, struggling to be nonchalant. “But you’re far from a cure for cancer.”
At that point the conversation was interrupted by Little Oscar, who jumped onto Adam’s shoulder and sniffed at his ear. Adam laughed and gently picked up the animal, patted his belly, and cuddled him between his palms. Within seconds, the energetic rodent squeezed out from the confinement and scampered across the desk, jumping into the pocket of Itzak’s lab coat.
“Where do I fit into your plans?” Adam asked.
“It takes lots of synthetic I-complex to keep Little Oscar going, equivalently more than a healthy human can absorb.”
“So the treatment won’t work in people?”
Adam remembered Itzak’s steady stare, outlasting the researcher’s reply. “I’m convinced it will work. We just have to administer human I-complex in manageable doses. That’s why I wanted to consult with you.”