Cancer treatments are not guaranteed cures, but they are becoming more advanced as research gains momentum. Traditional chemotherapy and tumor removals are not the only options in treatments. Creative approaches to studying cancer and curing it can take treatments far. The National Cancer Institute has announced that it will experiment with treating cancer by focusing on the genetic mutation behind the tumors. Melanoma treatments could be developed with genetically modified herpes simplex virus combined with immunotherapy. Another immunotherapy treatment is in the works for treating melanoma as well.
The National Cancer Institute will be launching a nationwide trial to test out the new method of researching and treating tumors. Since research on molecular abnormalities has become more advanced thanks to DNA sequencing, scientists can work on attacking the mutations involved in cancer. The trial is going to be one of the most demanding oncology trials ever attempted. However, the trial is more than worth the energy that will be invested in it. The research can help scientists figure out which medicines will be the most effective in treating cancers. With the universal dismay over the prices of treatments and medications, it is necessary that patients take the medicines that will be the most effective. James H. Doroshow, the director of the Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis at the NCI says that the refined approach to studying and treating tumors is a “paradigm change.”
Melanoma treatments are also advancing. Scientists developed a genetically modified version of the herpes simplex virus, known as T-VECH, and researchers injected melanoma patients with the virus as a part of a trial. The results of the trial showed that 16 percent of patients who were injected with the virus had long-term remission and even a removal of the disease versus two percent of patients showing positive results without being injected. Scientists anticipate that the therapy will show even better results when combined with immunotherapy. This approach to treating melanoma is an excellent example of pinning two evils against each other to find a positive result.
Researchers have found another melanoma treatment breakthrough with an immunotherapy cocktail. The combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab have been shown to slow 58 percent of patients’ melanoma for a year. However, side effects pose a major issue. About 36 percent of the people who tried the combination had to stop because of the side effects it brought about. Furthermore, immunotherapy cannot be used alone; chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery would still be crucial for patients. However, immunotherapy is a powerful weapon to pair with treatments for patients who have cancer that it otherwise difficult to fight.
In order to understand the background of immunotherapy, people have to understand how cancer works at a basic level. Unlike viruses, which come in as foreign substances and invade the body’s cells and immune system, cancer cells are the body’s own cells that exhibit abnormal characteristics and form tumors which attack the body. The body’s immune system is designed to fight foreign substances such as viruses, and will not attack its own native cells, even if they are abnormal. Immunotherapy works by switching the immune system back on to fight abnormal cells.
It is not only about studying a sickness and how to cure it, it is about how that sickness is studied. Similarly, it was discovered that the very language used to describe HIV affected the way it was studied, and how treatments were approached. Initially, it was believed that the virus attacks the body’s cells, and so that virus should be done away with. However, a new perspective shed light on the idea that maybe the virus attacks the body’s cells because it wants something, and if the needs of the virus are fulfilled with medication, then the virus will not resort to attacking the body’s cells to fulfill its needs. This idea wound up creating breakthroughs on HIV research and treatments.
Scientists have come a long way in their research, and the innovative developments open doors for doctors and patients. There are multiple angles from which to study a disease, and so, there are multiple ways to find a cure. Though scientists can only do so much, they have already done a lot. It can be expected that scientists will find even more amazing breakthroughs in the future.
By Tania Dawood
The Washington Post- Cancer trials are changing. That could mean faster access to better drugs
CNN- Researchers hail new cancer treatment: Unlocking the body’s immune system
USA Today- Virus versus cancer: Modified herpes virus attacks melanoma
Photo Courtesy of Ed Uthman’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License