Few are the diseases which humanity has had a harder time fighting than cancer. It is estimated that globally, approximately 10 million people have died from cancer or cancer-related issues in 2020 alone. Science is still far from having the upper hand in the battle against the disease, as even defining its characteristics is nearly impossible, when different types of cancer seem to have almost nothing in common (other than them all being a result of abnormal growth of cells).
With that in mind, there have been several advancements in the fields of research and treatment, which sometimes can change a patient’s life – or even save it. The past year has been especially fruitful, with achievements which can be considered landmarks in the evergoing battle against cancer.
Changing Treatments According to Genetics
Cancer is a result of the altering of human genes, resulting in the cell growing in an abnormal manner. However, recently, scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research in London have discovered that specific changes in genes can determine exactly how aggressive the cancer can get, in the case of rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) in children. This means that a study of the genetic change over time can better help fit a treatment to a patient, taking into consideration the child’s age and stage of the disease as well.
RMS in general is a cancer more common in children, and survival rates depend greatly on its type and how early it is diagnosed: While low-risk patients have a survival rate of around 75%, in the medium- and high-risk groups (the majority of cases) that rate drops below 50%. Treatment for this tissue cancer is also more complex, requiring a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, medicine and physiotherapy.
“By looking at the genetic features of different tumors, we can divide children into different risk groups more easily, to help guide their treatment,” explained Prof. Janet Shipley, the study’s leader. “This work will hopefully lead to better outcomes for children with those types of cancers, not just in survival but in the impact the cancer treatment has upon the rest of their lives,” added Sheona Scales, pediatric lead at Cancer Research UK, one of the sponsors of this study.
Cutting Off the Cancer’s Energy Source
There’s another common characteristic about most types of known cancer, and it is the fact that the cancerous cells thrive from an energy source – the amino acids. These acids enable the protein in the cell to synthesize and, subsequently, enable the cell’s growth. For years, scientists have experimented with disrupting this process in order to “starve” the cancer, and lately a New Jersey based biotechnology company has made great progress in the field.
Tyme Technology has developed several cancer metabolism-based therapies (CMBTs), and has recently marked an important milestone. CMBT is based on the idea of feeding the tumorous cells with an element which will prevent their growth and multiplication, thus killing them. Its SM-88 therapy is administered orally, and is in clinical phases for treatment of breast and pancreatic cancer – all, of course, with proper FDA authorization.
Alex Shnaider, an investor in Tyme Technologies and other U.S. and Canadian healthcare companies, said, “it’s very important to find ways to treat cancer with the least possible adverse side effects”. Shnaider invests in companies searching for cures to the most widespread diseases today, such as cancer and diabetes. “Alongside developing life-saving remedies, research should focus on making the lives of those living with cancer and other chronic diseases and their families easier” he added.
Using Bacteria to Battle Cancer
The idea of using bacteria instead of, or supplementing to, chemical elements to weaken and destroy cancerous cells has been around for quite a while. However, a significant advancement in the field has recently been made in ETH Zurich, a Swiss research university. One of the missing links has always been how to guide the bacteria to the right areas in the body, but researchers at ETH are now using magnetism for that.
“We are improving the efficiency of bacterial delivery using safe and scalable magnetic stimuli to these therapeutic platforms,” explained Prof. Simone Schurle-FInke, one of the researchers in this study. In other words, they are taking a form of bacteria aimed at attacking the problematic cells and altering the cells’ components, and using an outside trigger source to guide the bacteria in the right direction – just like a magnet.
With that in mind, we must remember that this experiment is only in its very initial phases. It has not been tested on any specific cancer, meaning there’s a long way to go until we see this technology implemented – and that’s without even mentioning pricing.
While these three developments are good news in their essence, they are just a drop in the bucket in the struggle to defeat cancer. It can take years for these experiments to become common treatment methods, and they are not a solution for all types of cancers out there. With that in mind, the real good news here is the fact that science is finding new ways and methods to overpower cancer. It is too soon to bid farewell to the pain and discomfort of chemotherapy, for example, but the fact that alternatives are being developed is certainly comforting for many patients.