One of the worst news you’ll ever hear in your life is a cancer diagnosis. Even if yours is detected early and can therefore be treated quickly, the fact that you developed the disease is heartbreaking all the same. Sadly, cancer doesn’t choose an age, gender, or lifestyle. Even little children are killed by it, and so are the people who take care of their health well.
But on the bright side, many advances in cancer drug discovery have occurred lately. Thanks to technology, cancer research is continuously improving, and we may just be getting closer to discovering a drug each day. From cutting-edge cytotoxicity assays to immunotherapy, scientists are increasing every cancer patient’s chances of recovering.
Early diagnosis and prevention techniques have leveled up as well. But perhaps the most interesting news is about the COVID-19 vaccine technology’s potential to fight cancer.
Advances in Cancer Drug Discovery
For a long time now, cancer patients may receive other treatments besides chemotherapy or surgery. Although those treatments still play a vital role, they are currently administered together with more sophisticated drugs and immunotherapies. In fact, it is believed that there are now five pillars to cancer treatment: surgery, radiotherapy, cytotoxic chemotherapy, precision therapy, and immunotherapy.
However, immunotherapy, in particular, still only works on a few patients and against certain cancer types. As such, work is now being done to harness the power of immune cells for all types of cancer.
As its name suggests, immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that helps your own immune system fight off cancer. Your immune system produces antibodies that respond to a presence of a foreign body, like cancer cells. It is made up of white blood cells and organs and tissues of the lymphatic system. If they sense an infection entering your system, your antibodies will prevent your body from being very sick.
Against cancer, your immune system will work just as it does when it detects any infection entering your body. But immunotherapy, as of now, doesn’t work on all types of cancer because it can’t fight off certain tumors. If a tumor has cells called tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), it means the immune system is responding to that tumor. Hence, cancer patients whose tumors contain TILs fare better with immunotherapy.
To increase immunotherapy’s effectiveness, Alena Gros of the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology in Spain is studying T-cell therapy. The treatment is aimed at identifying tumor-reactive cells from a patient’s peripheral blood. In addition, it should be able to recognize mutations in a tumor without performing surgery.
So far, T-cell therapy research is bearing promising results. Gros’ team was able to identify critical cells in six of the seven patients they studied. This suggests that it is possible to develop personalized T-cell therapies for those patients. But more research is still needed to discover why other types of tumors don’t respond well to T-cell therapy.
Innovations in Cancer Diagnosis and Prevention
Imaging techniques have been helping many individuals discover their cancer or cancer risks for a while now. They’ve also been essential in guiding cancer treatments, determining the effectiveness of cancer therapy, and monitoring cancer recurrence. Early detection through imaging tests is a significant contributor to saving more lives from certain types of cancer.
To further improve oncology imaging technology, in vitro biomarkers have been incorporated in it. This allowed imaging scans to examine and diagnose the exact size of a tumor and its stage. If a tumor is malignant, biomarker assay tests will determine what stage it is already.
COVID-19 Vaccine’s Potential in Fighting Cancer
Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA technology in developing a vaccine against COVID-19 opened a new possibility for cancer drug development. Scientists are now exploring the same technology to make the body’s immune system recognize cancer cells and kill them. But as with immunotherapy’s shortcomings, some cancer types may also resist mRNA vaccines, so the vaccine must be versatile.
Scientists see potential in mRNA technology because cancer cells make proteins that mRNA vaccines can target. In fact, progress in this area has already been reported in treating melanoma. Plus, this isn’t the first time a vaccine against cancer is being created. Ten years ago, a vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, has been developed and has been saving countless women since.
As of now, though, mRNA technology is filled with challenges in terms of treating cancer. One of those challenges is the fact that mRNA doesn’t last in the body before deteriorating. Until this can be fixed, the mRNA cancer vaccine will remain a work-in-progress.
Despite the persistent challenges in cancer treatment technology, prospects are still looking bright, and cancer patients now have higher chances of surviving than before. As technology presents more opportunities, more discoveries will be made, and we may soon see the ultimate drug for all types of cancer.