There were many notable cancer research innovations that happened in 2018, with great strides made in detecting and treating some of the world’s most fatal diseases. According to the chief medical officer of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Dr. Richard Shilsky, there have been more cancer medications approved by the FDA in the past five years than at any time in history. As 2019 settles in, here are revolutionary cancer studies to look out for.
Liquid Biopsy Tests – Greater Clarity and Improved Precision
For years, scientists have been trying to look for better ways to check if a person has cancer and to discover it when it’s most curable. They want a screening exam that is faster for doctors and easier on patients. One idea claims exactly that – the liquid biopsy test. This industry exploded in 2018, with its market share expected to rise to over $2 billion annually by 2022.
A biopsy is a sample of cells or tissue taken from almost any part of the body and delivered to a lab to test for cancer. The liquid, in this case, is your blood. The promise is that doctors may one day be able to take a simple blood test to diagnose cancer even before symptoms start to surface. Liquid biopsy tests are looking to be less expensive, more convenient, and more accurate than any of the screening tools we have today.
Research also shows that we could even use these tests to monitor the response of tumors to therapy, as well as when and if cancer returns. However, the number of news releases, presentations, research papers, and conferences by the dozens of companies presently innovating these technologies can make it a little overwhelming for the public to figure out.
Undoubtedly, they have the potential to live up to their hype, but as of date, the field is quite complicated and difficult for oncologists, scientists, and patients. Hopefully, the new year brings greater clarification about how liquid biopsy tests can fit into the detection and treatment of people with cancer. This should also allow the American Society for Clinical Oncology to review their proposition accordingly.
Immunotherapy – Identifying Patients Who Will Respond And Those Who Won’t
The immune system has a remarkable ability to identify, locate, and attack foreign invaders in the body. The problem starts when our own cells mutate and become cancerous. Once malignant tumors develop, they can formulate a variety of evasion strategies to outwit the immune response. This is where immunotherapy comes in. Also called biologic therapy, this type of cancer treatment increases the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. It may work by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells, helping the immune system work better, and stop cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.
Over 2,500 clinical trials using immunotherapy are now registered worldwide, but as the practice grows, more questions need to be clarified. One particularly major concern to the use of immune checkpoint-blocking drugs such as those which target CTLA-4 or PD-1 is about determining which patients can actually respond to this expensive therapy.
Several research groups are grappling with this question, which is unlikely to have a single, clear answer. Still, we hope that more studies will be published this year that will start to benefit patients by identifying which of them will and won’t respond to these medications.
Cancer And The Microbiome
The microbiome revolution has been around for quite a while now, but only recently did cancer chimed in for its benefits. Research shows that cancer has some provocative connections to the gut’s composition of microbiomes. With immunotherapies on the rise, scientists are taking a closer look at how the gut microbiome might predict who is likely to respond to anticancer drugs.
In a study published in Nature Communications, it was revealed that a specific bacterial strain common in the human microbiome could affect the immune system to drive the progression of a currently incurable type of blood cancer. This report raises the possibility that targeting these bacteria with medication could slow or halt the disease.
A Deeper Look Into The Disabling Side-Effects Of Cancer Treatment
For many cancer survivors, 2018 has been an extraordinary year for research into the various and often disabling side-effects of cancer care. For decades, the healthcare industry has understandably been focused on making sure as many patients survive the disease as possible. However, with now millions of survivors in the world, a new field in medicine is being dedicated to researching what happens to those past the “all clear.”
In 2018, a study revealed that some women with early-stage breast cancer can take less radiotherapy without compromising their chance of survival. Another work aims to find a cure for male infertility caused by childhood cancer therapy. Stanford University researchers also suggest that “chemo brain” may be treatable. With all the current cancer survivorship research, 2019 shows a brighter future for all cancer survivors.
Organoids – A Potent Weapon In Modern Cancer Medicine
Organoids are tiny lab-grown organs created from patient tissue samples. The amazing thing about them is that they allow researchers to test medicines on patient tumors before determining which to give the patient. The resistance of cancer cells often hinders treatment, specifically chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Scientists use organoids to study the mechanisms of resistance of cancer stem cells as potential treatment targets.
But this technique is by no means perfect. For instance, it can be difficult to create organoids from brain tumors compared to other tumor types. Lab-grown organoids are not connected to a body system nor they have a blood supply. These factors may affect the response of a patient to anti-cancer drugs. This year, we hope to see more progress in organoid development and culture them to make more accurate models.
While the “cure for cancer” still seems quite elusive, every year modern medicine becomes more innovative. In 2019, expect to gain access to earlier detection, more effective therapies, and better management of side effects.