The Oncology team at HC Marbella, led by Dr Hernán Cortés-Funes, believe there are many reasons to be positive about future cancer research. Here we share 5 promising advances which are transforming the way we think about cancer and its treatment options.
-Precision medicine will offer more people personalised treatment based on personal history and genes.
-Two forms of immunotherapy – checkpoint inhibitors and CAR therapy – are using the power of the immune system to fight cancer.
-New epigenetic drugs could return cancer cells to normal instead of directly destroying them.
-Scientists are learning more about genes and the pathways which lead to metastasis, the process through which cancer is spread.
Although history related to the understanding and control of cancer is littered with disappointments, in the last few years very significant advances have been made. Despite the obstacles, Oncologists at HC Marbella firmly believe that we are on the cusp of a brighter era in cancer research and treatment.
Nowadays, we have more reasons than ever to be hopeful. Here are five of them:
We have yet to understand the potential of precision medicine, but significant advances are being made. The options available for many people with cancer have significantly improved through targeted therapy which reverses the effects of specific genetic mutations in tumour cells. Scientist are working tirelessly to be able to translate precision medicine for use in patients with all types of cancer. Expert diagnostic pathologists are using a powerful, tumour DNA sequencing test to guide therapy in patients with advanced disease, irrespective of the type of tumour. Furthermore, they are developing new research methods, perfecting clinical trials in which patients can participate, based on the mutations present in their tumours.
Use of the patient’s immune system to combat cancer, known as immunotherapy, is the fruition of a century-old idea. Currently both the FDA and the European Medicines Agency have approved several drugs which enhance the fight against cancer by the immune system’s T cells. These drugs belong to a class of immunotherapy treatments known as “Checkpoint Inhibitors” which help to boost the immune system’s function. Until now they have obtained significant results, achieving complete elimination of cancer in some patients with advanced melanoma. Some of these drugs have been tested in other types of cancer including lung and kidney. Promising results have also been shown in cancer of the bladder, head and neck, triple-negative breast cancer and others.
However these therapies do not work in all patients, scientists are working hard to remedy this. Recent research has delivered significant clues as to how these drugs function and how they could be improved.
In addition to these drugs, other immunotherapy strategies are being developed, in which the patient’s own T cells are manipulated to more readily attack cancer cells. In this treatment, called chimeric antigen receptor therapy, or CAR therapy, T cells are taken from the patient’s blood, genetically engineered so that they are capable of recognising certain proteins on the cancer cells, and infused back into the patient’s bloodstream.
This approach is showing promising initial results for relapsed B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and some other blood cancers, and could also potentially be useful in the treatment of solid tumours.
“Living drugs are being created,” states Dr. Cortés-Funes, Head of Oncology at HC Marbella, about CAR therapy. The concept of these drugs/treatments in which living cells are infused or transplanted into patients, is very exciting as the cells are presumed to be more agile than chemical or biological components. For example, they can detect multiple signals in their environment and respond appropriately. Scientists are still working to guarantee the safety of cellular therapy and control its side effects.
For a long time cancer has been controlled by the excision of tumours, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. But, what would happen if the cancer could be treated in a different way, with transformation of cancer cells back to normal instead of their destruction?
Epigenetic research, or research into how genes can be activated or deactivated depending on external influences, is changing our understanding of cancer and many other diseases. Instead of destroying cancer cells, epigenetic therapies try to return them to their normal growth path.
One of these drugs is being tested in people with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndromes, with a response rate of 38% in patients whose AML had recurred and was resistant to treatment.
Scientists have been working for more than 200 years to understand metastasis, the process which allows some cancer cells to leave their tumour of origin and take root in a different tissue. Today, the problem continues to be as urgent as ever, metastasis still causes nine out of every ten cancer deaths.
The process has been difficult to research and control for many reasons. One of them is that metastatic tumour cells are very rare in the body in comparison to the millions of tumour cells that do not cause metastasis, and therefore they are difficult to detect and isolate.
But this is finally changing. In the last few years, scientists have identified genes and pathways which cause the spread of breast cancer or neuroblastoma to the brain, and of kidney cancer to other organs. In 2014 it was discovered that metastatic tumour cells have a notable tendency to adhere to blood vessels, a survival mechanism which could be significant for the propagation of many types of cancer.
Research has also delivered clues on how cancer cells hide and remain undetected by our immune system, which opens up a new, promising line of treatment.
Come and see us about your or your loved one’s case. In Spain, our Oncologists and Specialist Consultants are leaders in their field, with recognition throughout Europe. They work in multidisciplinary committees with the aim of obtaining the best results for you.
September 14, 2020
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