‘The Radium Girls’ sounds like the name of some kind of cutting edge, pop-punk girl band. Something you might associate with the fun loving, poofy-haired era of the 60s.
But far from being a symbol of modern music, the radium girls actually represent one of the most grotesque medical catastrophes of the last century.
Back in 1917, at the inception of the First World War, both industry and science were booming.
A new element, radium, had been discovered by Marie Curie two decades prior — an iridescent silvery substance that stirred her with ‘ever-new emotion and enchantment’. And despite the fact that it severely burned her fingers, took her eyesight and eventually caused her death in 1934, its potential to be used in both science and industrial manufacturing was cause for great excitement in the US.
Factories like the United States Radium Corporation (USRC) were popping up all over the country in a concerted effort to aid the soldiers. Radium was being used to paint military dials and glow-in-the-dark watches on a mass scale. And women were being employed as dial painters in droves, as their ‘small, nimble fingers’ were perfect for the job.
Women painting luminous dials in 1932. Source: The Spectator
For a factory job, the pay was three times more than average. Putting the women who worked there in the top 5% of female earners nationally, and providing an unprecedented level of financial freedom.
Not too much was known about radium at the time. So the glowing element was more of a novelty than anything. The factory workers would paint it onto their teeth, to give themselves a dazzling smile. Or wear their best dresses to work so they would glimmer on the dance floor.
Far from anticipating the danger of being exposed to the element, a majority of people were convinced of its benefit. It was a common misconception that consuming minute amounts of radium was good for your health. While large quantities of radium were trialled in the battle against cancer, due to its capacity to destroy human tissue.
As such, dial painters were comfortable ingesting a small quantity of the paint, using the ‘lip-pointing’ routine to sharpen the brush as they had been instructed.
But not too long after beginning work at the factory, the effects of the poison began to manifest.
In 1922, employee Mollie Maggia began to complain of tooth pain. As time passed, her teeth fell out one by one, and in their place, excruciatingly painful ulcers grew.
Soon after, her bones caved in — leaving her unable to walk. Her jaw fell apart and tumours began to sprout all over her body. After the disease ate itself through her jugular vein, causing her to violently haemorrhage, she died choking on her own blood at the young age of 24.
This was a fate that would consume a number of ‘radium girls’ across the US, who despite winning a historic court case against the company in 1939, eventually all succumbed to horrific deaths at the merciless hands of cancer.
Have we really come that far?
The radium girls — who are still (literally) glowing in their graves — are an important reminder of the tragic consequences of medical ignorance. They not only demonstrate how little we knew about cancer back in the early 1900s, but also how little we know now.
Currently, radium is still used to treat patients with prostate cancer which has spread to their bones. Its aim is essentially the same as chemotherapy’s. Use the wide sweeping poisonous effects of cell destroying drugs to stave off cancer growth.
However, much like radium, the downfall of chemotherapy is that it’s non-targeted and destroys any fast dividing cells, whether they’re cancerous or not. And oftentimes leaves the patient worse off that they started.
The hard truth is that we would have just as much trouble treating the radium girls today as we would have 100 years ago. Because when it comes to cancer, we’re still very much in the weeds.
Not for a lack of trying, we have made very little progress in treatment over the past few decades. Currently, chemotherapy is the best solider we have in the war against cancer. But that could all be about to change.
In his latest research report, Harje details a brand new piece of biotechnology that has shown promising potential as a way to possibly cure cancer for good. Rather than providing a blanket approach like chemotherapy does, this ‘living drug’ supercharges your immune system so that you are able to fight against cancerous cells from within. As Harje explains:
‘The first step involves drawing blood.
‘Doctors separate the T cells. Once in the lab, researchers introduce specific proteins, which are found in specific cancer cells. The T cells are engineered to then find cells with a particular protein and kill them.
‘Once engineered, researchers grow these T cells into hundreds of millions. The final step is to pump this living drug back into the patient.
‘If all goes well, the engineered cells will multiple rid the patient of all cancerous cells.’
This technology has the potential to not only cure cancer, but all human disease. And Harje believes the company behind this technology is looking at potential gains of 2,422% if it’s able to make good on the early promise.
While there have been many false dawns in our search to cure cancer, it’s incredibly exciting to see companies still pushing the boundaries. We can’t guarantee this, or any other, company will ever find a true cure for cancer. Like you, though, we remain hopeful.
To read his full research report, and to learn more about the incredible potential of the ‘Living Drug’, click here.
This week in Markets & Money:
On Monday, Selva wrote about how we are 10 years on from the Global Financial Crisis, but haven’t done anything to avoid another one. We are still highly in debt, even more so than back in 2008, and years of low interest rates and debt taking have pushed asset prices to new highs. And although Australia was lucky to largely avoid the last crisis, this time we may not be so lucky.
To read the full story, click here.
After having a great 2017, emerging markets are diving this year. The MSCI emerging markets index has dropped over 10% since the beginning of the year. And as Selva wrote on Tuesday, the problem is that some emerging markets are struggling to stop their currency from falling against the rising US dollar.
To find out what this means for Australia, click here.
In the most recent development in the trade war between the US and China, the Middle Kingdom has imposed tariffs on waste material like plastic, paper, metals and aluminium. As Selva wrote on Wednesday, the US now has two alternatives. After years of sending scrap abroad, it can either look at other buyers to take their trash…or start a recycling program themselves.
To learn more about the ongoing trade war, click here.
Electric cars are making a comeback, and they’re going to need lithium. This is why the rebirth of the electric car is turning lithium into one of the world’s most strategic commodities. And as Selva wrote on Thursday, as one of the leading producers of lithium, Australia could be set to benefit from the coming boom.
To read the full story, click here.
Then on Friday, Selva compared Australia’s current financial market to that of Spain’s in 2008. From 2001 to 2007, Spain saw property values rise six times higher than the average salary. Easy credit coupled with high immigration also combined to inflate property values — which eventually led to a bubble burst. And as Australia has uninterrupted growth for 26 years, we could be in for a similar fate…
To learn more, click here.
Until next week,
Editor, Markets & Money