Monday, November 4, 2013

The Cancer Blog: Recovery Month 4

On Wellness

Today is Day 322 since I have been diagnosed with cancer, and Day 112 living with chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), a side-effect of chemo treatment. My last CT scan in September showed that I am clear of cancer; and I had my Port-A-Cath, used to deliver chemotherapy, removed on October 30th. Both are good news. I have another CT scan, on my lungs, scheduled for the middle of December.

Medical Research Focuses on Better Therapies

I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation
is you fund research and you learn the basic facts.
Bill Gates

I read over the weekend about some new highly promising cancer therapies that target cancer cells more efficiently. As most people know, cancer is an intelligent disease that targets the human body’s immune system, essentially switching it off and thus preventing it from responding sufficiently to the growth of abnormal or cancerous cells. Conventional therapies, like the chemo I recently underwent, tend to “kill” such cancerous cells, thus preventing them to multiply.

Thus, in conventional therapies it’s a race to see who gains the upper hand—the invading cancer cells or the body’s immune system. Newer therapies, however, remove the restraints imposed by cancerous cells on the human body’s immune system and allow it to do its job.

An article, by Gina Kolata, in The New York Times explains how researchers are doing this with drugs in what are called new immunotherapies.

Kolata writes:
Researchers discovered that cancers wrap themselves in an invisible protective shield. And they learned that they could break into that shield with the right drugs.
When the immune system is free to attack, cancers can shrink and stop growing or even disappear in lucky patients with the best responses. It may not matter which type of cancer a person has. What matters is letting the immune system do its job.
So far, the drugs have been tested and found to help patients with melanoma, kidney and lung cancer. In preliminary studies, they also appear to be effective in breast cancer, ovarian cancer and cancers of the colon, stomach, head and neck, but not the prostate.
It is too early yet to determine how effective this therapy will be, but it not only shows promise, it might also be, as the article suggests“the start of a new era in cancer medicine.” As a replacement (or complement) to conventional therapies like chemo, however, it would have to be at least as effective as these currently are.

Early indications suggest that this might soon be the case. An article in ScienceDaily also discusses the implications of boosting the body’s immune system through the p53 gene, a well-known tumor suppressor, it citing research by A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN):
Also known as the "Guardian of the Genome," p53 fights cancer by causing damaged cells to die or by halting the growth of mutant cells before they become cancerous and spread to the rest of the body. Ironically, because of its pivotal role in coordinating a range of cancer-fighting mechanisms in the human body, it is also one of the most important cancer-causing genes when mutated. Studies have shown that more than 50% of all human cancers carry defects in the p53 gene, and almost all other cancers with a normal p53 function carry other defects which indirectly impair the cancer-fighting function of p53.
Such fundamental research will eventually lead to better more targeted therapies with little or no side effects. Consider the clinical trials currently taking place in Israel by the company Vaxil on its drug/vaccine, ImMucin, science website, BioTiesdays reported:
Vaxil contends that ImMucin teaches the patient’s immune system to identify and destroy cells that display the cancer marker MUC1 on the cell surface. Because MUC1 appears on over 90% of all cancers, ImMucin has the potential to be used as a vaccine against a wide range of cancers.
Perhaps in the near future, cancer will be treated with an injection or a series of injections, thus reducing its deleterious effects, and thus joining the many other diseases that once caused fear and terrorized the human body but are no longer doing so.