U2's The Edge talks up food as an anti-cancer weapon

The Edge's interest in health and cancer was heightened after his daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2006 when she was seven.
The Edge's interest in health and cancer was heightened after his daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2006 when she was seven.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON •The lead guitarist of rock band U2 has more on his mind than music.

The Edge's daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2006 when she was seven. She recovered and is now 19. The experience heightened his interest in health and cancer, and especially in angiogenesis, which focuses on the formation of new blood vessels.

In recent years, several antiangiogenesis drugs have been developed to disrupt the blood supply that cancers need to grow.

The Edge, whose real name is David Evans, is convinced that certain foods can play a similar role and is pressing for more research.

He is a board member of the Angiogenesis Foundation, a Massachusetts-based non-profit group. It is headed by Dr William Li, an internal medicine physician who studied under angiogenesis pioneer Judah Folkman.

Interest in using food as an anti- cancer weapon is intense among consumers. But the idea that foods such as green tea or blueberries can starve tumours is controversial - "unsettled science", as Dr Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society, puts it.

The society avoids saying that any particular food will ward off the disease, though it stresses that eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables is linked to a reduced risk.

Still, Dr Brawley is enthusiastic about The Edge's emphasis on a healthy diet, saying the recommendations could help combat obesity, which itself is linked to an increased possibility of cancer.

The Edge and Dr Li visited Capitol Hill on Monday to argue for more research on the issue. They also spoke to The Washington Post. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

How did your daughter's experience affect you?

When my daughter was first diagnosed with leukaemia, I was sent into a complete tailspin.

I was determined to fully understand what this meant.

The good news is that chemotherapy protocols are well understood and the success rate is high. So you don't need to try anything different.

We were able to take advantage of dietary changes to offer additional support to combat the disease. What I felt acutely is we can do better than chemotherapy. It is brutal, it is very crude; you basically are killing cancer cells at a slightly higher rate than you are killing normal cells.

When I discovered the angiogenesis approach, I thought: "This is part of the future. It might not be the whole future, but it's part of it."

How are you trying to promote that approach?

We're communicating with scientists from other fields, talking to government officials and also doing public outreach. The emphasis has to be on focusing more on prevention, and angiogenesis and diet is an obvious place to look.

What is the evidence that specific foods might protect people from the disease?

Some of it is in the state of being a very good theory, a theory that has a lot of evidence around it, population studies. There are actually laboratory tests that the foundation has funded, where you grow human cells in a petri dish and see what happens when certain foods are added.

It's really compelling when you start to see in a petri dish that these foods are really having an effect, which in some cases rival pharmacology.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2017, with the headline 'U2's The Edge talks up food as an anti-cancer weapon'. Print Edition | Subscribe