Advances in Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis
In 2015, President Barack Obama announced the launch of the Precision Medicine Initiative — an innovative research effort to revolutionize health care and treat disease. Cancer MoonShot 2020 was initiated in January of 2016; the coalition has the stated goal of finding vaccine-based immunotherapies against cancer. At the time of the announcement, the President pledged a concerted effort – these two strategies together present the promise of curing cancer or, at least, changing its identity into a manageable illness.
Discussions are ongoing to decide which research trends and areas deserve the most support. Only disruptive innovations will have the capability to revolutionize the status quo in cancer treatment, resulting in patients getting more personalized and faster cancer care, while allowing doctors to practice more effectively. Cancer diagnosis must be early and accurate. At the moment, some cancers are not able to be detected early enough, while experts agree that some cancers, wile detected in a timely manner, are then treated too aggressively given the situation. Some promising new treatments and technologies to address these concerns and others include:
- Fluid biopsy – Multiple biopsies are often needed during treatment, but the current invasive procedures are challenging for patients to endure. Fluid biopsy utilizes blood samples to extract cancer cells, making this procedure the likely most promising new development in oncology.
- The iKnife – this intelligent surgical knife heats tissue to make incisions with less blood loss, just like the current methods. However, the iKnife takes it a step further, analyzing the vaporized smoke to identify malignancy in real time. The technology, developed by Zoltan Talcats, is likely to be a huge time saver for surgeons.
- Advances in identifying genetic markers is the focus of Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Grand Challenges; the end game is meant to identify more precise or previously unknown carcinogenic events or genetic markers for the earliest possible detection.
- Taking a cue from successful AIDS treatments, research shows that combining drugs and therapies can have a significant impact on the disease. However the process has been slow due to the sheer number of possible therapy combinations, so new approaches utilizing computer models to predict the effects of combinatorial drug regimens promises to shorten the process.
- Immunotherapies, which will allow the patient’s immune system to begin to fight back against cancer are also being developed.
- Foundation Medicine is one of the companies on the forefront of creating personal treatment plans based on the DNA makeup of the patient’s tumor. They sequence genetic material from the tumor to match key mutations to current available drugs on the market or upcoming clinical trials.
- Artificial intelligence will be exceptionally helpful in sifting through thousands of clinical trials and matching them with patient parameters and mutations; allowing for finding the appropriate treatment for each patient within minutes. Supercomputers will also be utilized for in silico (“organs on a chip”) trials that will significantly trim the time and expense required in getting cancer treatments to market.
- In an effort to protect healthy cells when destroying cancerous ones, DNA cages are expected to be in clinical trials soon. Drugs will be delivered to the system in “cages” that only open when they encounter cancerous cells, limiting impact on surrounding healthy cells.
After a cancer diagnosis, patient care becomes a primary concern. Although patients are often with their doctors, they are also alone much of the time, coping with pain and medicines on their own. However, new advances and technologies are changing the face of ongoing patient care. For instance, skin sensors can monitor temperature; digestible capsules can perform digestive track checkups without having to go into the office; and implanted sensors can alert patient and physician immediately if there is an issue with important vital signs. Similarly, labs are rolling out plans that will allow patients to check and monitor blood cell counts from the comfort of home.
Pain management is being transformed by wearable technologies that ease symptoms and side effects with nerve stimulation, allowing patients to dial way back on reliance on powerful pain medications. And social media networking sites are being cultivated as places where patients can reach out, share stories, get support and ask questions, allowing patients to feel less alone and isolated in their journey.
All these technologies and advancements represent new found hope for patients, and medical professionals need to keep pushing the envelope to find new ways to change a cancer diagnosis from one of fear to one of a manageable situation.