Dr. John Beard, DSc was born on November 11, 1858, in the parish of Heaton Norris, a southern suburb of industrial Manchester, UK. His grandfather, John, was a mill operator, and his father (also named John), who had no formal education beyond grade school, was a clerk in a nearby mill. In the spring of 1866, Beard’s father died at the age of 31 and Beard’s mother, Eliza, was left with the sole responsibility of caring for 3 sons: John (aged 8), Samuel Barlow (aged 6) and an infant named David. Although Eliza came from the same lower/middle-class background as her husband, she was left with some financial resources. Soon thereafter, their full-time servant was dismissed, and the family moved to a nearby neighborhood of blue-collar workers.
In the winter of 1873, the family’s income improved when Eliza, then 36, married a cotton fabric manufacturer named William Halliwell. The family relocated to Littleborough, Rochdale, 18 miles north of their former home in Reddish. In October 1873, Halliwell sent John and his younger brother Samuel to King’s School, Grantham. King’s School (founded in 1329) was best known for its most famous alumnus, Sir Isaac Newton. John Beard attended King’s School for nearly 2 years, until midsummer 1875, when he left before graduating. Courses at King’s School primarily consisted of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, plus some mathematics. It’s speculated that John left this school to pursue scientific studies not available at the school. In 1878, his mother Eliza Beard died in Rochdale, England, at the age of 40.
A large part of this biography is sourced from Dr. Ralph Moss’ The Life and Times of John Beard, DSc., and Angela R. Burleigh’s article Of germ cells, trophoblasts, and cancer stem cells.
Both these authors have devoted considerable time, detail, and effort to impartially describe Dr. Beard’s life and theories. Both articles are highly recommended for further reading of Dr. Beard’s life and work.
Dr. Ralph Moss is an American author whose writings promote complementary and alternative cancer treatments. In 1974, he earned a PhD in Classics from Stanford University. He maintains a website http://www.cancerdecisions.com/ and offers Moss Reports that contain comprehensive, up-to-date information on conventional, integrative, experimental, complementary, dietary, and alternative cancer treatments.
Beard completed his secondary education near his home and in 1877 registered at Owens College, Manchester. Owens College was a relatively new institution funded through the endowment of a wealthy cotton merchant, John Owens.
In 1878, Beard completed baccalaureate exams at the University of London in natural sciences. In 1879, he attended many surgical operations of Professor Edward Lund (which suggests he was enrolled in the Royal School of Surgery and Medicine in Manchester).
In the 1880-81 academic year, Beard attended the Royal School of Mines in South Kensington, London – primarily to apprentice with Professor Thomas Henry Huxley (one of the most famous English scientists of the day). In the summer of 1881, Beard returned to Owens College, where he studied chemistry with Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe (who discovered the element vanadium), and zoology with Arthur Milnes Marshall.
It was at this time that Beard decided to pursue biological and zoological studies in Germany, like his mentor Thomas Huxley. In the fall of 1881, he enrolled at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau (in southwest Germany), founded in 1457. There he studied with August Weismann, director of Freiburg’s Anatomical Institute.
Although Beard was formally enrolled at the University of Freiburg, he traveled around within the German university system. From the fall of 1882 until the summer of 1883, he attended the University of Würzburg, working under Professor Karl Semper, a leading figure in biology. He also associated with Robert Wiedersheim, Alexander Ecker and C. Fr. W. Krukenberg. In September 1883, Beard returned to Freiburg for his second year, but then decided to travel to Italy, where he spent half the year from November 1883 to April 1884 studying and working at the Stazione Zoologica in Naples.
In April 1884, Beard returned to Freiburg to complete his doctoral dissertation using the knowledge he had acquired in Naples. At that time his major (Hauptfach) was zoology, while his minors (Nebenfächer) were physics and botany. His dissertation, submitted in English, was “On the Life-History and Development of the Genus Myzostoma (F. S. Leuckart).” Myzostomes are small marine parasites of echinoderms, primarily crinoids, which remove food from grooves in the skin of their hosts. Three months later, he received his doctorate (DSc) from the University of Freiburg. That same year, Dr. Beard’s stepfather, William Halliwell, died at the age of 53.
During his time in Germany, Dr. Beard married Henriette Marie Sester, the daughter of a Bavarian farm family. In the summer of 1885, the young couple returned to Manchester where Dr. Beard took up a postdoctoral position at Owens College, Victoria University. Because of the courses he had already taken there, he earned a Bachelor of Science from Manchester the following year.
At Owens College, Dr. Beard pursued studies with Arthur Milnes Marshall and took entrance exams for the University of London.
In September 1885, (when Beard was 27 and Henriette 25), they had a son, Carl Edgar L. S. Royle Beard (later known as Edgar R. Beard).
In the spring to summer of 1888, Dr. Beard ventured to Black Lake, New York for a study expedition. This lake was the habitat of numerous Lepisosteus osseus (longnose gar). His research paper on Lepisosteus was presented in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.
In August 1889, he was appointed naturalist in charge of the Marine Laboratory at Dunbar, a research center on the coast of Scotland maintained by the Scottish Fishery Board. However, this position did not last long because in 1890, Dr. Beard accepted a position in the zoological department at the University of Edinburgh, where he worked for the next 30 years. Dr. Beard was appointed lecturer in comparative anatomy of vertebrates and lecturer in embryology. He also became the senior assistant to James Cossar Ewart, MD, Regius Professor of Natural History, for the next 20 years.
Beard Kept a Microscope on His Dinng Room Table and Worked Tirelessly Into The Night
On November 4, 1894, Beard’s wife Henriette died of pneumonia at the age of 34. Air pollution, unsanitary conditions, and overcrowded slums contributed to Edinburgh’s high mortality rate. Despite the devastating loss of Henriette, Dr. Beard remained academically productive for the next several years. He researched a wide variety of subjects, including germinal continuity, alternation of generations, heredity and variations, development of nerve cells, and etiology and treatment of benign and malignant tumors. He kept a microscope on his dining room table and worked tirelessly into the night.
In addition to more than 100 scientific articles, Beard published 5 monographs: Morphological Studies (London, 1888), On Certain Problems of Vertebrate Embryology (Jena, 1896), The History of a Transient Nervous Apparatus in Certain Ichthyopsida (Jena, 1896), The Span of Gestation and the Cause of Birth (Jena 1897), and The Determination of Sex in the Animal Kingdom (Jena, 1902).
His work in embryology was well received and his monograph The Span of Gestation and the Cause of Birth was much discussed around the world. One even finds mention of it in the correspondence of Sigmund Freud and one of his closest friends, Wilhelm Fliess, MD.
Dr. Beard remained conversant with German scientific literature throughout his life, and many of his own articles first appeared (albeit in English) in German journals, especially the Anatomischer Anzeiger, to which he was a steady contributor. His writings also appeared in many leading British journals, Nature, Science, the British Medical Journal, and the Lancet. He wrote on such diverse topics as the origin of the cranial ganglia (1885), sensory organs (1885), parietal eye (1887) and teeth in fishes (1888), and the determination of sex (1902). He also produced original work on the following marine species: Myzostoma glabrum (1884, 1888, or 1898), Ichthyopsida (1890), Elasmobranch of fish (sharks) (1887), myxonoid (1888), cyclostome (1888) and marsipobranch fishes (1889), Lepisosteus osseus (1889), infusoria (1895), lampreys and hags (1892), Scyllium (1896), Tricosurus vulpecula (1897), and his passionate topic of interest, Raja batis, the common or smooth skate (1896, 1900, 1904).
Sometime between 1894 and 1901, Dr. Beard married his second wife, Helen von Roschmann, the daughter of a Prussian military official.
In 1902, Dr Beard published on alternation of sexual and asexual generations Heredity and the Epicycle of the Germ Cells in Biologisches Centralblatt. He next published The Germ Cells: Part 1. In 1903, Dr Beard made his first public pronouncement on cancer, The Embryology of Tumors, before the Royal Society, Edinburgh and in 1904 he published Problems of Cancer in the Lancet.
Beard’s Writings Appeared In Many Leading British Journals: Nature, Science, The British Medical Journal, and the Lancet
“Cancer is a problem of developmental biology.”
– G. Barry Pierce, et al., 1978
We now arrive at the time and work for which Dr. John Beard is best remembered, that being the fundamental resemblance of trophoblast to cancer and his proteolytic enzyme treatment of cancer. Bear in mind that Dr. Beard spent the last two decades of the 1800s primarily investigating the development of the elasmobranch family of fish (skates, sharks, and rays) before turning his attention to the subject of cancer. At that time, embryologists were not thought of as the most scholastically adept scientists to be proposing theories regarding the development of cancer. Focus in the field of oncology was then and still is today, more directed on treatment and management of cancer and less concerned with its origin and development. Additionally, Beard spoke of cancer as a natural phenomenon that under certain situations, aberrant germ cells can generate a tumor. In doing so, he contradicted hundreds of years of medical thinking, which routinely depicted cancer as an abnormal growth contra naturam, i.e., “contrary to nature.”
Trophoblasts (from Greek trephein: to feed, and blastos: germinator) are cells forming the outer layer of a blastocyst, which provide nutrients to the embryo and develop into a large part of the placenta. In a pregnant mammal, trophoblasts are the infiltrative components of the developing embryo which forms the placenta. This invasive, infiltrative behavior is very similar to the way cancer cells infiltrate and invade surrounding tissues. These trophoblast cells are known to produce human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). In fact, production of HCG is the basis for the widely used pregnancy test. If cancer cells and trophoblast cells are similar, one would expect cancer cells to also produce HCG; and that is exactly what they do. This was reported in 1995 by Hernan Acevedo, PhD, and published in Cancer. He found that every cancer produces HCG, same as the trophoblast cells of pregnancy.
Dr. Beard’s trophoblastic cancer theory can be restated in modern terms in the following way. Cancer represents primarily trophoblastic tissue derived either from an aberrant germ cell or from a somatic cell whose normally repressed “asexual generation” genes are abnormally reactivated (“derepressed”). The variety of tumors, other than teratomas, may be due to a parallel chance derepression of some genes of somatic (“sexual generation”) characters. This is conceived as a defensive reaction against intramural parasitization by trophoblast and would result in the differentiation and hyperplasia of normally present more primitive somatic cells.
The activation of these primordial germ cells resulted in the formation of what Dr. Beard called “irresponsible trophoblast”. A tumor was thus a normal cell (one routinely generated during mammalian pregnancy) that had been stimulated to multiply at the wrong time and place. Although Beard postulated that cancers arise from germ cells, he did not suppose that tumor tissue is gametoid, (a gamete is a mature haploid male or female germ cell that can unite with another of the opposite sex in sexual reproduction to form a zygote). Rather, it is reminiscent of the trophoblast cells that form the outer layer of the blastocyst. Basically, there are two important concepts essential to the formation of this idea. The first is that cancers behave similarly to the cells of the trophoblast, and the second is that like the trophoblast, cancers arise from asexual generation.
Dr. Beard’s trophoblastic theory of cancer, proposed over a century ago, may not initially seem relevant to current cancer models and treatments. However, the fundamentals of this theory are remarkably like those of the cancer stem cell (CSC) theory. CSC hypothesis in its most accepted form states that tumor growth is sustained by only a portion of the tumor cells. These cells uniquely possess the self‐renewal and differentiation capabilities of normal tissue stem cells and are hence referred to as cancer stem cells. Simplistically, the CSC theory surmises that a small population of tumorigenic cells exists, which initiate and maintain tumors, and these cells have a likely origin in normal stem cells. Both theories (CSC and trophoblastic) are based on the potential of a single primitive cell to form a tumor.
Dr. C. Ferretti in the October 2006 issue of Human Reproduction Update, states both cancer and trophoblast cells share the same molecular circuitry for their proliferative, invasive and migratory capacities. An excellent book on the subject by Drs. Nicholas Gonzalez and Linda Isaacs is The Trophoblast and the Origins of Cancer: One Solution to the Medical Enigma of Our Times. An excellent article on Trophoblastic Cancer Theory is Cancer – Navigating the Historical Road to Truth Part 3 by Eric Malouin (available from drjohnbergman.com).
Cancer represents primarily trophoblastic tissue derived either from an aberrant germ cell or from a somatic cell whose normally repressed “asexual generation” genes are abnormally reactivated (“derepressed”). The variety of tumors, other than teratomas, may be due to a parallel chance derepression of some genes of somatic (“sexual generation”) characters. This is conceived as a defensive reaction against intramural parasitization by trophoblast and would result in the differentiation and hyperplasia of normally present more primitive somatic cells.
Dr. Beard extensively studied numerous species in his career, especially fish, and observed that in all embryonic stages of every mammalian species the same trophoblast transformation occurred. He noticed that at the same time the trophoblast made this transformation, the pancreas was actively secreting its proteolytic enzymes and he concluded that it was the pancreatic enzymes that played a part in controlling placenta growth preventing it from further invasion and cell replication. In other words, Dr. Beard hypothesized that the initiation of pancreatic enzyme production by the fetus might be responsible for the regression of trophoblastic tissue in the natural course of pregnancy. Dr. Beard noted that on the 56th day of gestation the human trophoblast normally stops its progression. On that day, the fetal pancreas starts producing pancreatic enzymes – trypsin and chymotrypsin. Since the fetus does not have, or need, a functioning digestive system that early in its development (since all nutrients come to it from the mother, through the umbilical cord) these enzymes must have another function. Dr. Beard’s conclusion was that pancreatic enzymes, in addition to their obvious digestive role that they later play, are also involved in “digesting” trophoblasts or (later in life) trophoblast-like cancer cells.
He decided in 1905 to test his theory and injected trypsin into a mouse. He reported in the January 20, 1906 issue of British Medical Journal that the results were a success.
Thus, given the perceived similarities in cellular morphology and behavior of trophoblast and cancer, Dr. Beard postulated that pancreatic enzymes of mammalian origin should be used in cancer patients. He surmised that enzymes would prove to be an effective and non-toxic natural treatment for cancer. Beginning in 1905, some doctors began using trypsin as a proteolytic enzyme to treat cancer. Dr. Beard eventually became involved in planning the treatment of several patients with reported antidotal success.
It is clinically observed that many cancer patients also have a malfunctioning pancreas, and consequently, do not produce sufficient pancreatic enzymes to adequately digest food or function as metabolic enzymes, or to break down the protein-coat around cancer cells. Thus, supplementation of pancreatic enzymes as an adjunct cancer treatment has been advocated by numerous physicians since Dr Beard; most notable are Dr. William Donald Kelley (1925 – 2005) and Nicholas J. Gonzalez, M.D., (1947-2015).
In 1905, Dr. Beard presented a lecture at the Liverpool University Anatomical Society, on Germ Cells in Relation to Malignant Disease in which he explains his trophoblastic theory of cancer. At this time Beard stood at the apex of his career. At 47 years of age, he had an excellent teaching position at the prestigious University of Edinburgh that allowed him the time to pursue research and publish numerous scholastic works. However, he had little notion that his passionate interest into cancer research would cause a worldwide controversy and ultimately damage his scientific reputation. Between 1905 and 1909, Dr. Beard’s ideas were intensely debated in leading magazines and newspapers, and even on the floor of the House of Commons. At first, the enzyme controversy did not immediately damage Dr. Beard’s reputation, and in 1906 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in medicine.
In 1906, Dr. Beard published The Action of Trypsin upon the Living Cells of Jensen’s Mouse-tumor, in the British Medical Journal, the official publication of British medicine. However, during the period from 1905 to 1909, there was an increasing amount of hostility to Beard’s theory, particularly among British cancer surgeons. Against much opposition, Dr. Beard continued to defend his position on proteolytic enzymes as a treatment for cancer until his death in 1924. In 1909, the New York Times wrote “In spite of the present condemnation of trypsin, there is still a large chance that time will tell another story.”
In 1911, the respected book publishers Chatto & Windus of London published Beard’s one full-length book, The Enzyme Treatment of Cancer. A Chicago edition followed in the following year, although the editions were not big sellers. After the book’s publication, Beard almost stopped publishing and in the decade after 1911, this once prolific researcher published only four articles. His last publication in a German journal was in 1913, just before the outbreak of WW1. His final paper, a spirited defense of the trophoblastic theory, appeared in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science in 1919.
In 1920, at the age of 62, Dr. Beard’s health began to deteriorate, most likely due to progressive cardiovascular disease. In 1921, he took early retirement from the University of Edinburgh and spent his last 3 years at home. On November 24, 1924, Dr. Beard suffered a stroke; he died at home on December 2 at the age of 66.
Dr. John Beard, DSc is rarely remembered today even though he made outstanding contributions to life sciences. He was the first to describe the evolution of the nervous system of elasmobranch fishes as well as demonstrated the morphological continuity of germ cells in several vertebrate species. He co-discovered the large, transient sensory cells of the spinal cord, still known as Rohon-Beard cells. He was the first to suggest that the corpus luteum was responsible for the inhibition of ovulation during pregnancy and was among the first to describe programmed cell death, or apoptosis. He was the first to describe the thymus as “the parent source” of the lymphoid structures. Dr. Beard has been designated as a forerunner of the present-day theory of the cancer stem cell theory. He was the first to point to the parallels between cancer and the trophoblastic cells that envelop and nourish the embryo, characterizing cancer as “irresponsible trophoblast.” He pointed out that the initiation of fetal pancreatic function coincided with a reduction in the invasiveness of trophoblast, which otherwise might progress to clinical cancer (i.e., choriocarcinoma). He astutely recommended the therapeutic use of pancreatic enzymes in treating cancer and other diseases. Proteolytic enzyme therapy then and even now still is shadowed with worldwide controversy but has become an important therapeutic tool in bioregulatory medicine today.