Cancer Research Milestones: 4 Updates This August

Cancer has likely been around for as long as humans have. But our technology and ability to diagnose the disease and treat it has greatly improved. More cancer patients are living longer. Some even enjoy life completely cancer-free after treatment. Exciting advances are paving the way to better therapies and possibly more cures. Among them are these milestones in cancer research we’ve seen in the past month.

New Pancreatic Cancer Drug Shows Promising Results 

A phase 1 clinical trial observed AZD1775, an inhibitor made to stop a Wee1, an enzyme that plays a role in repairing DNA damage. The trial continues from an almost 20-year study at the University of Michigan set on advancing therapy of pancreatic cancer that can’t be treated with surgery. 

The chemotherapy medication called gemcitabine, as well ass as radiation, are both standard treatment for pancreatic cancer. Their main job is to cause damage to DNA. However, pancreatic cancer has a way of fixing that damage, which disrupts these therapies and their efficacy.  

Rogel Cancer Center laboratory scientists, led by Meredith Morgan, Ph.D., saw the potential of AZD1775 to block pancreatic cancer from shielding itself against the effects of gemcitabine and radiation, while leaving healthy cells relatively unaffected.

Lead research author Kyle Cuneo, M.D., associate professor of radiation oncology at Michigan Medicine, says, “If we can disable the DNA damage response in pancreatic cancer cells, it might eliminate treatment resistance and sensitize cancer to the effects of both radiation and chemotherapy.”

The study looked at 34 patients with locally advanced pancreatic cancer. They were administered AZD1775 in addition to gemcitabine and radiation. The goal of the trial was to know the maximum tolerated dose of the drug in this combination. Results revealed that this combination helped improve the patients’ expected overall survival. 

Nanoparticle Treatment Destroys Metastases In Lymph Nodes

Metastasis is the spread of cancer cells from the site they were first developed to another part of the body. They travel through the blood or the lymph system and form a new tumor in other tissues. The lymph nodes – glands of the immune system situated throughout the body – are usually these malignant cells’ first destination. This is a problem that’s been plaguing medical researchers for decades. 

Jin-Zhi Du, Hong-Jun Li, and colleagues had previously invented a nanoparticle delivery device, called iCluster, that travels through the bloodstream to a tumor. Its acidic environment causes the bundle of nanoparticles to separate into its smaller parts. These tiny nanoparticles then penetrate deep into tumors to distribute chemotherapies. While that’s a promising strategy, the team also explored the idea whether these little vessels could also pass through the lymphatics that connect the lymph nodes to the tumor.

To find out, the group injected iCluster, labeled with a red dye, into the bloodstream of mice with transplanted tumors. Results from the experiment showed that vessels carrying the chemotherapy medication cisplatin could indeed travel to adjoining lymph nodes through the lymphatics from the tumor.

In another test, the scientists tended mice with primary tumors before metastasis with iCluster. They also removed the primary tumors a couple of days later, similar to what would be done for cancer patients. About 40 percent of the mice that received iCluster were still alive 110 days later in contrast to the untreated ones that died within 51 days of surgery. 

Novel Nano-Vaccine For Melanoma

Melanoma is the most aggressive type of skin cancer. The war against this disease has advanced over the years through various therapy options. Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro of the Laboratory for Cancer Research and Nanomedicine at Tel Aviv University and Prof. Helena Florindo of the University of Lisbon are among the ones looking for a way to prevent this disease.

The team worked on a vaccine that taught the immune system to identify and attack melanoma cells. The research opens the door to a completely novel approach – the vaccine method – for effective treatment of this deadly skin disease. 

Healthy mice received the vaccine, followed by an injection of melanoma cells. Results revealed that the test subjects did not get sick, meaning that the drug prevented the disease. While clinical trials are yet to come, this platform creates a solid foundation for the development of other cancer nano-vaccines. 

Artificial Intelligence Help Diagnose Breast Cancer With Better Accuracy

According to a study published in JAMA Network Open, the new AI system helps interpret medical images used to diagnose breast cancer. It can detect details that can be difficult for the human eye to detect, and it does so nearly as accurately or as better as highly skilled pathologists.

Correct diagnosis can significantly help a patient with his or her treatment. It serves as a guide for finding the right options, removing ambiguities and making therapies more effective. An earlier study led by the same author, Dr. Joann Elmore, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, found that doctors often disagree on the interpretation of breast biopsies. That’s surprising considering these procedures are performed on millions of women every year. 

The study showed that half of all patients with breast atypia experience diagnostic errors. The case is the same for every one out of every six women who had a noninvasive type of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ.

The new artificial intelligence program was able to perform as well as human doctors in differentiating cancer from non-cancer patients. In fact, the system even outperformed doctors when classifying atypia from ductal carcinoma in situ, which is considered the biggest challenge in breast cancer diagnosis.

What These Studies Mean

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death across the globe. Scientists continue to lead meticulous studies focused on stopping this deadly disease in its tracks. Incorporating artificial intelligence in healthcare and developing new drugs have significantly helped doctors diagnose and treat patients. While we might still need more time to come up with a complete cure, the efforts that these researchers have made improve our overall standing and give us hope. 


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