Breakthroughs in cancer research such as gene-altering treatments and the discovery of nanomachines have made waves in the past few years, persistently leading humanity through not-so-tiny victory after not-so-tiny victory in a battle between human and disease that has spanned decades. Just this month, a drug specifically targeting a fused gene found in several cancer types resulted in a 93% response rate among children.
“In some cancers, a part of the TRK [tropomyosin receptor kinase] gene has become attached to another gene, which is called a fusion. When this occurs, it leads to the TRK gene being turned on when it’s not supposed to be and that causes the cells to grow uncontrollably. What’s unique about the drug is it is very selective; it only blocks TRK receptors,” said lead author Dr. Ted Laetsch, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.
Most drugs that are already known and used to cure cancer usually target a particular location or organ in the body. According to the researchers at UT Southwestern’s Simmons Cancer Center, Larotrectinib is the first cancer drug designated for people with TRK fusions, or the fusion of two genes in the cancer cell, regardless of whether their cancer is in the lung, colon, or other areas.
“…none of the patients with TRK fusions had to quit the study because of a drug-induced side effect. Equally important, the response was long-lasting for most patients.”
The TRK fusions tend to occur mostly in certain types of pediatric cancer. This implies that, despite also being 75% effective in adult cancers, Larotrectinib is a bigger breakthrough in pediatric cancer research. This is a hopeful and life-giving discovery for children, or the people most capable of giving us hope in our own lives.
After delivering her baby brother, 12-year-old Jacee Dellapena decided she wanted to be an OB-Gyn. These dreams are not so uncommon. For 24-year-old Montana Brown, realizing her dream of becoming a nurse doesn’t seem simple at all. A two-time cancer survivor, Brown decided she would pay it forward in the very hospital she was treated in.
When she was 2 years old, Brown was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of childhood cancer of the connective tissue. She underwent chemotherapy for a year at the AFLAC Cancer Center.
Brown had gone into remission, only to later find out, at the age of 15, that her cancer had returned. The same nurses that cared for her 13 years prior were once again by her side. Brown has since expressed her deepest gratitude for their compassion.
“The nurses here, as great as they were when I was 2… they were extremely loving and caring and compassionate. And, just the love they showed me and my family in our time of need just really helped me,” she said. “It helped me want to become as kind and as caring and as compassionate as they were for me.”
Brown has come full circle and is now a pediatric oncologist at the AFLAC Cancer Center. I suppose that sometimes, the best way to pay it forward is to have a look back.
Each year we are a step closer to finding a cure for cancer. Whether by gene altering cells or hoarding avocado husks, the ultimate goal is to efficiently remedy the disease. However, diagnosing cancer can be equally as difficult. Thanks to science, a new pen technology can detect cancer in mere seconds.
The MasSpec Pen can recognize cancerous cells nearly 150 times faster than existing technology and has a more than 96% accuracy rate.
Um, wow? The pen can also identify exactly which tissues are affected by the cancer during an operation. Patients can now bid their fear of “not removing all the cancer” goodbye. The pen has a straightforward interface.
The pen works by releasing a tiny droplet of water onto the tissue, which soaks up chemicals inside the cells.
The water is then sucked back up and analyzed by an instrument known as a mass spectrometer, which can detect thousands of molecules and identify compounds associated with cancer.
Surgeons are optimistic that the MasSpec Pen will be available to use next year. Hopefully, it isn’t too long of a wait for patients.
Parents do a lot for their children and, occasionally, the children of others. This generous mom donated 5,000 pints of breastmilk to parents in need. 37-year-old Carrie Deklyen saved her baby’s life — and she didn’t even know it. Deklyen chose to forego cancer treatment in order to protect her unborn child, giving birth while in a coma.
Dekylen… discovered she was pregnant in April, just two weeks after being diagnosed with glioblastoma. She underwent two surgeries to remove the tumor and, along with her husband, Nick, chose to forego a clinical trial in order to protect the baby.
The miracle baby was born at 24 weeks and conveniently named Life. Weighing only 1 pound and 4 ounces at birth, Life has progressed immensely, according to doctors. Unfortunately, they couldn’t say the same for Dekylen.
Dekylen’s tumor was showing rapid growth, and doctors were forced to drain fluid from her brain several times. Doctors had hoped to delay delivery until 28 weeks gestation, but a decline in both Life and Dekylen’s health had forced them to act earlier.
Alongside Life, Dekylen will be survived by five other children. As proven by Dekylen, nothing compares to a mother’s love.
Finding a cure for cancer has been a dream for doctors and patients alike. Over the years, scientists have made progress using gene-altering treatments, which reprograms T-cells. However, it seems nanomachines may be the answer, as they can destroy cancer cells in mere seconds.
The tiny spinning molecules are driven by light, and spin so quickly that they can burrow their way through cell linings when activated.
A broken outer membrane means a cell is no more. While I can only speak for myself, I think that’s pretty killer. Researchers are developing light-activated methods using the nanomachines for non-invasive treatments.
“These nanomachines are so small that we could park 50,000 of them across the diameter of a human hair, yet they have the targeting and actuating components combined in that diminutive package to make molecular machines a reality for treating disease.”
Not initially meant for medical use, this application for nanomachines is certainly a game-changer. Great things do come in small packages.
In the past years, cancer treatments have flourished in abundance and effectivity. Experimental medications such as personalized vaccines and gene altering have made for smoother recoveries. At any rate, discovering such conditions remains tricky, if not for a simple blood test. The new method can detect eight common but evasive cancers.
“The sort of ultimate vision is that at the same time that you are getting your cholesterol checked when you are getting your annual physical, you will also get your blood screened for cancer,” said lead study author Joshua Cohen.
The test, CancerSEEK, sifts through cancer compounds that allow for early detection. It can even pinpoint cancers without current screening tests — that is, ovarian, stomach, esophageal, liver, and pancreatic. The process is a melting pot of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and algorithms.
“The test needs to be validated in a large-scale study that would evaluate tens of thousands of healthy individuals to confirm the sensitivity and specificity,” Cohen said.
Though CancerSEEK’s accuracy levels for early testing remain at 60%, it’s a step up from having no means of diagnosis to begin with. It’s a slow and steady affair that will hopefully, one day, win the race.
Nothing compares to the heartbreak of a cancer diagnosis. Every year, 12.7 million people fall victim to bad news, of whom 7.6 million don’t make it. Though breakthroughs such as personalized vaccines have been gradual, nonprofits have been helping to ease the pain of chemo. And, of course, nothing beats the support of family and friends. To help recovering leukemia patient Bridget Kelly feel at home, hundreds of neighbors welcomed her back to school.
“Her classmates wanted to let her know, ‘You were out for 15 months, but we absolutely did not forget about you,” [said] Kristin Healy, a school parent who helped organize the gathering.
The 8-year-old, diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia in 2016, underwent chemotherapy for 88 days. Bridget’s then-3-year-old sister acted as donor for her stem cell transplant. For over a year, the bright second-grader caught up with studies at home. The massive welcoming committee was more than well-deserved.
“It was almost overwhelming,” Bridget’s mother, Megan Kelley [said]… “She felt so special and so welcomed after such a long and hard road.”
Understandably, surviving the trying condition is every patient’s ultimate goal. Life is just a little less bitter with a hand to hold.
Moderna’s personalized cancer vaccine may be a leap towards a cure, but the wait is long from over. Until then, a select few have been making life more comfortable for cancer sufferers. Zach Bolster, a former hedge fund vice president, is the founder of ChemoCars — a ride service for chemo patients.
“My family was shocked by how many cancer patients had difficulty getting to their chemotherapy treatments. We soon realized what a huge financial and family burden transportation during cancer treatments can be. Some patients resorted to riding the bus, others, unfortunately, missed their treatment altogether.”
Inspired by his late mother, a victim of pancreatic cancer, Bolster and his wife Patricia have offered over 2,000 free rides. Many users have become regulars, avoiding the hassle of buses and transportation expenses.
“ChemoCars gives patients a chance to do something for themselves. They rely so much on family that this means they can use family or friends for other things and – not for the daily chore of getting treatment,” [nurse Pam Gwaltney says.]
Though business-minded, Bolster doesn’t see dollar signs on the horizon. ChemoCars has become a tribute to his mother and a symbol of hope for many.
Yet to conjure up a cure for cancer, researchers are relying mainly on radiation therapy and implant technology to treat patients. Dietitians are even promoting unusual superfoods such as avocados, whose husks can treat harmful diseases. However, a breakthrough by Moderna may soon see individualized vaccines on the market.
With the right combination of letters, Moderna says it can hijack a cell’s protein-making mechanisms to create a drug within the body. If it works, mRNA could have many applications: The company also has programs for infectious diseases, cardiovascular disorders and rare diseases.
Testing the vaccine on a single patient, the research has a lot to prove. Moderna’s current tester vial is a result of meticulous work arranging DNA based on target proteins. While it seems promising, there are still a lot of risks to consider.
“The tumor has all kinds of tricks to fight back,” said Greg Lizee, an associate professor at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center who specializes in melanoma. “Cancers can reduce targets on the surface or secrete nasty stuff that’s toxic for the immune system.”
To play it safe, Moderna is experimenting with patients who are already clear of tumors. Though the stakes are high, the research may be worth (literally) a shot.
Medical e-skin sensors have made it easier and more affordable to detect illnesses. Devices such as nanochips have made treating these illnesses even simpler. Still, not every health condition is easy to pick up. To rule out melanoma, students from McMaster University have created Skan, which uses heat to test for skin cancer.
It works using a series of thermistors, which are inexpensive and highly accurate temperature sensors, to detect the temperature response of a patch of skin to sudden cooling.
The readings are then processed by an algorithm that uses time, temperature, and spacial readings to create a heat map, and show any spots with heat irregularities that could be a melanoma.
It is important to tackle melanomas in their early stages as they metabolize faster than normal cells. But as with most outdated technology, current detection apparatuses cost more than an arm and a leg.
There are already detection methods using thermal imaging, but they currently use thermal imaging cameras that cost upwards of $26,000.
Estimates project Skan to cost $1,000, truly a fraction of the price of traditional machines. Considering how quickly survival rates drop when melanoma gets its way, investing in Skan may be the way to go.