WHERE WE STAND ON THE SCIENTIFIC WAR ON CANCER
Cancer is statistically the most prolific killer in the world, and there are so many different kinds of cancer that it can be difficult to keep up. There’s a wealth of literature out there about what people can do to avoid getting a variety of different cancers, and it’s clear that this is one of the primary focuses of the entire medical science community worldwide. The question at this juncture with all the advancements that have been made already in modern science, especially with regard to cancer, is: how close are we to a cure?
A cure may not be forthcoming per se, but many expect treatments for all kinds of cancers to be way more effective in the near future. The World Health Organization reports 1 in 6 deaths in the world are cancer-related, and in the US by itself, the National Cancer Institute estimates almost 1.7 million new cancer cases emerged in 2017 along with 600,920 cancer-related deaths in a population of about 325 million people. That’s why researchers are going all out in virtually every corner of the world to find innovative ways to drastically improve treatment options as fast as humanly possible.
For the most part, the world relies on radiotherapy, chemotherapy, tumor surgery and hormonal therapy; the latter primarily applies to breast and prostate cancers specifically. That’s actually a pretty short list of treatment options, yet when you look at all the published research out there in the last few years, you realize just how many incredible insights are on the horizon as we speak. Immunotherapy is, perhaps, the most popular of the newcomers to the cancer treatment options list. It’s a means of bolstering our own bodies’ abilities to fight harmful cells and foreign agents; as its name implies, it’s all about improving the natural immune system’s response to cancer tumor proliferation.
The problem here is that so many cancer types find ways to deceive the immune system into either discounting cancer cells as friendly or non-threats. Some cancer cells even garner the assistance of the immune system for that matter. In vitro and in vivo studies, however, are teaching scientists all about how to turn those cancer cells’ protective systems off. A 2017 study illustrated as much, published in Nature Immunology; it found that white blood cells, which usually clean up cellular debris by consuming it along with other harmful agents, often can’t get rid of the most aggressive cancer cells.
The reason for this apparently is that, when they engage said cancer cells, the white blood cells receive not one but two signals intended to stave off their refuse-collection behavior. This understanding shows scientists that, if they can block both of those signals — which they can — white blood cells won’t be fooled and will get rid of even the most aggressive cancer cells. It’s a minute yet very significant finding. From there, medical science is also investigating the vaccine route, which has turned up some awesome results, too. Dendritic vaccines, to be precise, are currently the favorite solution for the vaccination direction, and it promises improved control for both chemotherapy and immunotherapy in the future.
On top of these things, though, the nanoparticle revolution, as it’s often called, appears to be the newest and most rapidly developing line of investigation, and some increasingly astounding discoveries are made far more quickly than can be implemented in real practice so far. One example comes from a research team at the NCI’s Endocrine Oncology Branch who published a new study this month in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute findings showing they can now efficiently administer nex-gen nanomedicine directly to pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors and metastatic thyroid cancers without any toxic threats.
That direct delivery comes by way of nanomedicine — nanoparticles that carry unimaginably tiny molecules of certain biochemical substances — and it’s only recently become possible. Moreover, to target solid tumors for direct delivery in these cases, in particular, have typically been fairly toxic and, thus, harmful to patients. The University of Virginia’s Dr. David Kingston and his team proved with lab mice that CYT-21625, the new nanomedicine, can carry two supplementary anti-cancer agents on a single nanoparticle straight to the tumor in question, and consolidating nanoparticle use inherently makes for less toxicity.
“We already knew that our 1st generation nanomedicines could deliver high doses of the otherwise toxic Tumor Necrosis Factor, which effectively cracks open solid tumors,” according to CytImmune CEO Dr. Larry Tamarkin. “This study demonstrates that CYT-21625, one of our 2nd generation nanomedicines, not only can deliver TNFa but can increase the efficacy of cancer-killing agents like paclitaxel by carrying them safely into cancerous tumors — all on the same nanoparticle.”
David Oarr, chief communications officer for CytImmune, adds, “We believe this technology offers a clear path forward to making cancer treatments more effective and less toxic to patients, and we look forward to working with our partners, including scientists, doctors, and patient advocates, to prove the potential of this technology in human clinical trials.”
Beyond this, similarly groundbreaking research is going on in China whose National Center for Nanoscience and Technology just succeeding in making and testing the first ever autonomous DNA nanorobots for fighting tumors, first reported by Xinhua. They did it with the help of a team from Arizona State University and demonstrated successful use of these nanobots in lung-cancer, breast-cancer, melanoma and ovarian-cancer mouse models, publishing their findings in Nature Biotechnology.
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