To mark World Cancer Day, we asked our experts to inform you of the 5 biggest cancer developments happening right now.
Cancer is a disease that has touched almost all of us. Whether it is your friends or family that have been affected, or you are a survivor yourself, it is a disease that is unfortunately getting more commonplace. In fact, 1 in 2 people born after 1960 in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime.
With the number of new cancer cases set to rise to 22 million over the next 20 years, things don’t look great on the surface. But with breakthrough technologies currently at the research, development and implementation stage, there is hope when it comes to early diagnosis, more eﬀective treatment and ultimately a cure.
So what are these new technologies, and what eﬀect can they have on cancer going forward? Here are the 5 most exciting cancer developments happening right now:
Biotechnology companies across the globe are developing new therapeutics that have the potential to be breakthrough therapies of the future. The use of nanoparticles in particular is an exciting area.
Nanoparticles are being developed as drug delivery agents where they can be co-administered with chemotherapeutic agents and stimulated to induce rapid change. This fluctuating rapid change acts to physically push chemotherapeutic drugs into previously inaccessible areas of cancer tumours.
Equally interesting is the development of nanoparticles that are linked to biologically active molecules. These particles seek out tumours within the body where they are taken in by tumour cells. This type of drug delivery results in a type of cell death that encourages a cancer patient’s body to launch its own immune response — further increasing the eﬀectiveness of the particles.
Initial results from nanoscale therapeutics look incredibly promising, and we are encouraged that with further research and development, they could be a key weapon to fight cancer in the future.
2. CAR-T Therapy
CAR (Chimeric Antigen Receptor) T-cell therapies are a rapidly emerging approach to cancer immunotherapy. In this approach the patient’s own T cells are collected and are genetically engineered with the CAR gene construct using retroviral vectors, plasmids or gene editing so they express receptors specific to the tumour.
They are then grown ex vivo before being administered back to the patient by infusion. CAR-T cells combine the specificity of an antibody with the cytotoxic and memory functions of T cells. These therapies have seen excellent responses in some patients for whom other treatments were no longer working.
CAR-T therapies are currently in clinical trials in the UK for cancers such as leukaemia, myeloma and neuroblastoma. In the USA the FDA approved 2 CAR-T cell therapies in 2017 — one for the treatment of children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and the other for adults with advanced lymphomas.
With research, development and treatment currently well underway, CAR-T therapy could have a big impact on fighting cancer both now, and in the future.
3. CRISPR Genetic Engineering
A big buzzword in the world of cancer science is CRISPR. Though it is unproven in many cases, some within the science community believe that this genome editing tool has the potential to help fight cancer. Little wonder that it has caused such interest in the media.
CRISPR is a molecular toolkit that can precisely edit DNA. With CRISPR technology, it is possible to disrupt the function of genes — making intricate changes to a DNA sequence or inserting new genes. Allowing scientists to quickly edit DNA, without huge costs, it can be adapted to treat diseases that we’ve not yet considered.
As cancer is caused by defective genes, using CRISPR to recreate these in a lab environment lets researchers examine in-depth the disease to understand its essence and how it develops. In China, CRISPR is already being used for lung cancer. Meanwhile, in the US, trials are underway on a number of cancers.
Whether CRISPR will live up to its hype is a question that is yet to be answered. But there are signs right now that it could have a big impact in the fight against cancer in the future.
4. Minimal Invasive Surgery
Minimal invasive surgery (MIS) is changing the landscape of cancer treatment. With the rise of robotics and computer-assisted instruments, it is possible to be more precise than ever during surgeries. Not just for cancer, but for almost all medical operations.
MIS can not only be used for surgery, it can also be used to diagnose and assess tumours that are in hard to reach places. But perhaps more significantly, minimal invasive surgery can remove localised tumours in risky areas — such as the respiratory tract or in the digestive system.
There are many new surgical approaches using MIS technology. From interventional radiology, to electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy, to laparoscopy, MIS is already being used in revolutionary ways in cancer science. And with advances in robotics happening every day, minimal invasive surgery is sure to help prevent and treat cancer eﬀectively in the future.
5. Blood Test Detection
One of the latest breakthroughs in the drive to fight cancer is an innovative blood test that could identify tumours before a patient is even aware of any symptoms.
The blood test is sensitive to mutated DNA and cancer proteins, and was developed by Nickolas Papadopoulos, professor of oncology at John Hopkins University. With over 70% success rate across eight of the most common cancers, it certainly points the way to a more positive future — especially if it was used across all conventional scans. It could potentially spot cancerous cells in your body before they have the chance to develop.
There are some caveats with the trial, particularly as 80% of the cases tested were already stage two or three cancers. The test was also more successful with ovarian and liver cancers, than lung and breast cancers. Despite this, many companies in the clinical sector are working on technologies of this kind, which should improve the method going forward.
The research isn’t going to solve all of our problems right now, but it could, with further research and development, help to detect cancers earlier, saving lives in the future.
For more fascinating insights into the ever-changing world of the life sciences sector, stay tuned to all SRG Blogs.