Dr. Robert Naviaux
Dr. Robert Naviaux in his office. Courtesy UC San Diego

The cause of chronic illnesses like cancer and diabetes could be due to dysfunction in the body’s natural metabolic healing cycle, according to a paper released Friday by a UC San Diego researcher.

Writing in the medical journal Mitochondrion, UCSD professor Dr. Robert Naviaux details his belief that a hitch in cell danger response, a natural cellular reaction to harm, could keep cells from healing completely and thus changing the way the cell reacts to its surroundings.

“The healing process is a dynamic circle that starts with injury and ends with recovery. The molecular features of this process are universal,” Naviaux said. “Emerging evidence shows that most chronic illnesses are caused by the biological reaction to an injury, not the initial injury or the agent of the injury. The illness occurs because the body is unable to complete the healing process.”

The cell danger response can essentially get stuck, causing the cell to behave as if it is in imminent danger despite the original threat subsiding, according to Naviaux.

Naviaux tested the theory in a small clinical trial of 10 autistic boys in 2017.

Naviaux gave the subjects one dose of a drug that inhibits the production of adenosine triphosphate, a “warning siren of danger” for cells. The boys who received the dosage showed improved and ultimately fleeting communication and social skills when ATP production was limited. Naviaux and other researchers plan to conduct a trial with a wider scope next year.

“It’s abnormalities in [molecular] signaling that cause the normal stages of the cell danger response to persist abnormally, creating blocks in the healing cycle,” Naviaux said. This could also explain why healing times can vary from person to person and why chronic diseases can relapse.

Should Naviaux’s belief be confirmed by further study, he believes the medical community is on the verge of making a breakthrough in the treatment and prevention of chronic disease.

“Once the triggers of a chronic injury have been identified and removed, and ongoing symptoms treated, we need to think about fixing the underlying issue of impaired healing,” Naviaux said. “By shifting the focus away from the initial causes to the metabolic factors and signaling pathways that maintain chronic illness, we can find new ways to not only end chronic illness but prevent it.”

–City News Service