Claiming around 5 million lives worldwide each
year, cancer is the second most life-threatening disease after cardiovascular
ailments. Though medical innovations and technology have made enormous
advancement and cancer is now curable, the best is yet to come.
Cancer tumors start with one particular cell in
the body going rogue due to one or more mutations. These mutations help the
cell divide indefinitely or stop the immune response from destroying this
mutated cell. On further divisions, even more mutations take place, all of them
closely similar to the body's genes. This similarity is what may actually help
determine how the mutation is likely to progress, and how resistant it is to
different treatments and even its spread.
Maintaining such gene records may help develop
tailor-made treatments and drugs for patients, rather than the
one-size-fits-all treatment, thus improving the odds of survival, even in stage
3 and 4 cancer patients.
Breast cancer affects 45000 women in UK alone
and claims around 13000 lives of women under 50 years of age. The tricky choice
facing these women is whether to consider a follow-up of chemotherapy post
tumor removal, to ensure freedom from metastasized cells or to avoid that
grueling option and hope for the best. That's exactly when these tailor-made
drugs come in.
According to the recent research conducted in
the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, there exist 2 genes (found in 20
percent breast cancer patients), that can make several commonly used drugs
ineffective. Spotting these 2 genes could increase your chances of getting a
proper treatment, What's more is that these genes can now be detected easily
with a small kit.
Though sequencing the cancer genome is a long
and tedious process, in the future it will surely help us understand more about
different gene mutations that we were previously blind to. Also, it has already
helped many patients receive targeted drug therapy, which is much more
beneficial and effective than other therapies.
Gene therapy has achieved remarkable feats in
the field of preventive medicine, especially cancer. It has reduced the death
rates and opened a whole new unexplored world to the scientists.
Patients undergoing gene therapy are injected
with genetic material (DNA or RNA) that improves the patient's ability to
combat certain special diseases. Currently, these procedures are carried out
under controlled clinical trials by using different approaches-some acting on
affected cells thus preventing their growth, while some others targeting
healthy cells and make them strong enough to combat cancer.
The introduction of 'suicide-genes' requires a
round of applause. This commendable advancement involves the introduction of
'suicide genes' in the cancer cells. This gene then causes the cell to undergo
self-destruction, killing many cancerous cells in the process.
Yet another amazing effort by the scientists is
evident by the introduction of a new form of gene therapy, wherein the cancerous
cells are injected with certain substances that make it more sensitive to
chemotherapy, radiations and medicines, thereby easing up the treatment
These therapies, however, require a long
approval process and are required to undergo a number of evaluations, approvals
in terms of social and ethical issues etc. It may take a few years for these
treatments to reach us, but in the end, the wait will be worthwhile.