Research funded by taxpayers over the last 50 years has revolutionized cancer treatment, and now scientists are targeting mutations in patient DNA with tailored therapies.
One treatment involves training a patient’s own immune cells to identify and kill tumors; this approach has proven successful against blood cancers but delivering this therapy to solid tumors remains challenging.
The National Cancer Act of 1971 inaugurated an unprecedented period of cancer research. Nowadays, technology advancements like big data analysis and next-generation DNA sequencing allow doctors to gain an in-depth knowledge of each patient’s genetic make up and its correlation with disease progression.
Genetic mutations play a key role in many forms of cancer. Researchers are actively searching for strategies to exploit them – either slowing cell division or alerting immune cells about potential threats – potentially saving lives.
CAR T therapy, for instance, uses drugs that activate an individual’s own T cells to fight their tumor. Another approach, bone marrow transplantation with their own T cells as therapy to cure leukemia; and surgeons can implant pumps which deliver chemotherapy directly during cancerous surgeries so as to provide higher doses than would be achievable through systemic treatments.
One of the greatest breakthroughs in cancer treatment involves harnessing our immune systems to identify and destroy cancerous cells – this has contributed to an amazing decrease in overall cancer death rates.
Immunotherapy drugs are designed to assist the body in recognizing and combatting cancer cells, either by strengthening existing immunity or directly targeting tumours. Some examples of immunotherapy drugs include targeted antibodies or cytokines which boost the immune system or checkpoint inhibitors which block proteins which prevent tumour growth.
Immunotherapy also holds great promise with CAR T cell therapy, a technique in which T cells derived from patients themselves are genetically modified to recognize cancer-specific antigens and then reinfiltrated back into them to hunt and kill cancer cells.
Others researchers are working to advance immunotherapy by increasing T cell activity and developing better ways of detecting cancerous cells. Another exciting development is photoacoustic imaging, which uses sound and light waves to provide detailed images of tissues and organs without the radiation risks of X-rays or CT scans.
By employing three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (IGRT) and intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), doctors can accurately target cancer cells while protecting nearby healthy tissues. Furthermore, this technology enables smaller doses to be delivered over several weeks so that healthy cells have enough time to recover.
Researchers can now more efficiently use radiation therapy to treat hidden tumors. For instance, they can inject radioactive microspheres directly into a person’s bloodstream during surgery to cut off its blood supply and starve off tumors.
However, City of Hope scientists cannot take this approach to all tumors because some strains with mutations of KRAS gene break free from normal controls that govern cell growth and death. Therefore, researchers at City of Hope are working on ways to detect such cells so they can use immunotherapy treatment to boost patients’ own immune systems in hunting down and eliminating them.
Scientists have made great strides toward understanding cancer’s rogue genes and turning off those responsible for unchecked growth and damage to the body, but that is just part of the equation; other mutations enable cancer cells to flourish unimpeded by new therapies.
Researchers are developing techniques to highlight tumor cells during surgery, making it easier for surgeons to see and destroy. Furthermore, they’re working on ways to condense weeks of treatment into just a few days while using new imaging technologies that detect cancer early.
City of Hope scientists are also taking on issues related to patient adherence with treatments, including genetic factors that impact whether someone responds positively. Furthermore, they’re working toward making clinical trials more diverse by recruiting more people of color as researchers in clinical trials studying various therapies.