Promising Cancer Treatments

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Promising Cancer Treatments

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If scientists had “most wanted” posters for diseases that they try to prevent and treat, cancer would definitely have one of the highest rankings. Regardless of what type it is, cancer always seems to finds its way on the infamous list of most fatal diseases in the world, besides coronary artery disease, COPDs, and strokes. 12.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year and around half of these people unfortunately don’t survive the battle with one of the most vicious diseases known to mankind. Some common types of cancer include: lung, breast, thyroid, and prostate cancer.

The frustrating issue with cancer is that all it requires to destroy a person and his/her family is a “spelling mistake” in our DNA in the form of a mutation, which causes cells to divide in an uncontrollable fashion, leading to a tumor mass that steals the necessary nutrients and oxygen resources from the healthy surroundings or blocks important passageways in the lungs or other organs. It isn’t even a pathogen that our body can kick out or kill; it is our body fighting itself. There can be some measures taken that can diminish the chances of developing cancer, especially exercising, healthy diet, and avoiding smoking, excessive drinking and caffeine intake. However, in the end, a spelling mistake may randomly happen in the sequence of billions of nitrogenous bases that our DNA forms. Then what?  

The current treatments that we’re most familiar with include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery that removes the tumor. However, we have put our minds to good use and come up with some amazing new treatments that could potentially be approved and be used to save more lives after extensive preclinical and clinical trials. Below are a few developing treatments for certain cancer types that I found interesting.    

Polio Virus Treatment

I don’t think I will ever stop being fascinated by the innovative idea of using viruses to treat cancer. Cancer cells are normally problematic because they cannot be detected by the immune system, as they have a protective shield around them, and therefore can’t be destroyed. However, scientists at Duke University overcame this problem by using the infectant polio virus. That is the exact virus that causes poliomyelitis. However, the scientists modified and reengineered the virus so that it no longer causes paralysis or death but once it attaches to the cancer cells, it releases toxins that poison the cell. In addition, this therapy triggers an immune response as the cancer cells are now infected, and therefore leads to their destruction.

This treatment has already undergone some successful clinical trials, specifically for glioblastoma brain cancer patients, who normally only have a few months to live after diagnosis. The treatment either shrinks the tumor size significantly or removes it completely. There are plans to work on using reengineered viruses for other cancer types as well. The advantage of this treatment is that it avoids exposure to radiation in radiotherapy and uses the body’s own immune system to eliminate the cancer.

Immunotherapy

This type of therapy uses substances made by the body’s natural immune system to fight cancer. It includes monoclonal antibodies, T-cell therapy, and cancer vaccines. In all cases, immunotherapy aims to stop or reduce cancer cell growth, stops metastatic growth (prevents cancer spread), and improves the immune response to destroy cancer cells.

Monoclonal antibodies attach to specific proteins on cancer cells, which makes them a target for the immune system to find and destroy. There are also specific antibodies called immune checkpoint inhibitors which block the pathways that cancer cells use to escape the immune system. Through these, the immune system can respond to and slow down or stop cancer growth.

In T-cell therapy, T-cells, which are immune cells that fight infection, are removed from the patient’s blood and modified in the laboratory to have a receptor part that helps T-cells recognize cancer cells. These modified cells are grown in large numbers and injected back to the patient’s body where they eliminate cancer cells. Currently, this form of treatment is available in clinical trials and other ways of changing the structure of T-cells are being researched.

In vaccine therapy, the treatment takes advantage of how often cancer cells have certain cancer-specific antigen molecules attached to their surface. Healthy cells don’t have these antigens and therefore when these molecules are introduced into the body through vaccination, they stimulate the immune system to recognize and fight the cells that carry them. However, this type of treatment is normally given with other forms of cancer treatments such as radiotherapy because it is not very powerful for larger and advanced tumors.

Ultrasound Treatment

High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) is a potential treatment that uses high frequency sound waves directed at tumor cells to generate heat (80°C) that destroys them. This treatment is shown to be effective so far for prostate and bladder cancer. The advantage is that it doesn’t use any radiation and is very targeted, reducing damage to healthy tissue. So far, this treatment is only shown to be effective for localized cancer in its early stages.  

Overall, these treatments may still have their drawbacks and are far from perfect at this stage, but they show an astounding advance from the situation we were in a few decades ago. Life expectancy, research, technology, and side effects keep on improving, which creates immense hope that we should never forget about. A few years ago, leukemia seemed incurable, however, with the help of stem cell therapy that restores healthy bone marrow tissue in body, many more people survive this cancer type nowadays. A longer time ago, smallpox, malaria, and the bubonic plague seemed to threaten all of humanity. But now they are eradicated, maybe not everywhere, but in many places. Who knows? With enough persistence and support in cancer research, it may one day, in the near future, be a word that ceases to exist in our dictionary and memory.