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  • Ekroop Kaur

Advancements in Cancer Treatment



In the United States, cancer was the second leading cause of death in 2020. There were around 1.8 million cases diagnosed with around 606,000 cancer deaths just in that year alone. Looking at cancer worldwide, it was the leading cause of death that accounted for almost 10 million deaths.


While that is a significant amount of cancer cases, the cancer death rate has been decreasing over the years. According to the CDC, cancer deaths went down 27% in the past 20 years, from 2001 to 2020.


Up and coming innovations are changing the game for cancer treatment. Technologies such as checkpoint inhibitors and gene therapy are just some that are paving the way to help people fight cancer more efficiently.


Now, let’s take a dive into some of the technological advancements that have been made to improve cancer treatment.


Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that enhances your immune system’s ability to fight against infections and diseases. It helps target specific cancer cells, rather than harming the normal ones. There are various ways that immunotherapy is used to fight cancer, one of which is immune checkpoint inhibitors.


Immune checkpoint inhibitors are used in the form of a drug that blocks T-cells from binding to their “partner proteins”, some of which could be tumor cells. This prevents the tumor cells from stopping the immune system from destroying cancer.


The FDA approved the first immunotherapy drug for metastatic melanoma in 2011 and since then, eight more drugs have been approved to treat 18 different cancers.


The president of the American Association for Cancer Research, Dr. Lisa Coussens said in an NBC article, “Our ability to utilize or leverage the power of the immune system to fight cancer is huge. It’s why you are seeing much more significant survival rates in many cancers, such as lung and kidney cancers and melanoma.”


According to UT Southwestern Medical Center, the survival rate for metastatic melanoma increased 13% from 2010-2015 and the death rate decreased 7% from 2013-2017, after the FDA approved the drug. Not only has immunotherapy driven the decline of deaths with melanoma, but also lung cancer as well with a decrease of deaths by 4-5% from 2016-2017.


New treatments like these are significant in the fact that it is opening doors for scientists and doctors to study the drug and for patients to benefit from it.


Gene Therapy

Gene therapy, another advancement in the biotech field, is used to modify cells by injecting a vector, tiny cells that helps carry a new set of genes to treat a disease. It has many uses such as replacing or adding genes that are missing or turning “off” genes that are problem causing.


While there are a range of types of gene therapy, one is proving to be valuable in cancer treatment: CRISPR.


CRISPR is a gene editing technology that introduces efficiency by locating specific site mutations and helps add or silence specific genes. This gives power to the scientists to easily modify DNA and the gene function.


Since CRISPR is fairly new for curing cancer, clinical trials are being conducted to study the effects that the technology has on patients. The US’s first clinical trial for cancer therapy began at the University of Pennsylvania in 2019.


In the trial, T-cells were designed to infect the cancer cells and cause them to die. The process to make the edited T-cells went like this: T-cells were removed from the patients through their blood, genes were inserted and deleted to make CRISPR-edited T-cells, millions more of the CRISP-edited T-cells were grown then infused back into the patient to test if the T-cells will be able to bind to and kill the cancerous cells.


But the treatment did not have a drastic effect on patients’ cancers. Dr. Edward Stadtmauer of the University of Pennsylvania stated, “Although the trial shows that CRISPR-edited cell therapy is possible, the long-term effects still need to be monitored.”


Using CRISPR for cancer treatments is a step towards a future where doctors can use more precise techniques to treat and maybe cure cancer.


Though CRISPR is not the only type of gene therapy; scientists and researchers are studying different ways to use gene therapy to precisely kill cancer cells.


Overview

Many scientists, researchers and doctors are continuously finding new ways to use other techniques rather than radiation to gain more success in terminating cancer from the patients. While these technological advancements are an achievement in their field, there is still a long path ahead to reduce the cancer deaths worldwide.


 

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/research/update-on-cancer-deaths/index.htm#:~:text=Is%20cancer%20increasing%20or%20decreasing,cancer%20deaths%20per%20100%2C000%20population

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer

https://www.cancerresearch.org/en-us/immunotherapy/what-is-immunotherapy

https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/immunotherapy-and-vaccines/what-immunotherapy

https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/immunotherapy/checkpoint-inhibitors

https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/crispr-cancer-research-treatment



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