According to the American Cancer Society, about 1.8 million cases will be diagnosed in 2020 while over 600,000 people will die from the dreaded disease.
Cancer treatments are just as tragic. On average, a cancer patient spends $150,000. That’s about four times the treatment cost of other common health issues. In a 2016 University of North Carolina research, one in five patients cannot afford prescriptions.
Thus, every positive development in this field count toward better cancer screening and care as well as more affordable and flexible treatments. Overall, it is a potential win toward saving countless lives.
Fortunately, despite the coronavirus pandemic, the year 2020 provides some of these amazing breakthroughs:
1. A Blood Test for 50 Cancer Types
Early in November, the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK announced that it’s about to begin its pilot run of a blood test that may be able to detect at least 50 types of cancer.
This is huge since many cancers with poor prognosis or survival rates, such as pancreatic cancer, don’t have screening tests. Usually, patients know they have the disease when they already show symptoms. By then, the disease may already be in the advanced stages.
In this landmark study, the NHS will use the Galleri blood test among 165,000 patients, of which 140,000 will be healthy men and women between the ages of 50 and 79. They will undergo the same blood test within three years.
Meanwhile, the remaining participants will be cancer patients. The researchers will offer such a test to see whether it can hasten the diagnosis.
The program will start in the middle of 2021 and will run until 2023. If the results are excellent, the test may become available for commercial purposes in 2025.
2. Kinase Assay Screening to Detect Small-Molecule Inhibitors
Cancer may be a common disease, but it’s not the easiest to treat. In fact, in some cases, well-known protocols like chemotherapy or radiotherapy won’t work. Reason: cancer is complex and affects down to the cellular level.
Take, for example, the signaling pathways of kinase. A kinase is a protein enzyme that introduces phosphate groups from the energy carrier of the cell called adenosine triphosphate to other molecules. These include other amino acids or proteins, fats or lipids, or nucleic acids.
Depending on the structure, they can create signaling pathways, which help determine how the body’s cellular components behave. Cancer cells usually have malfunctioning kinases.
Fortunately, new studies show that experiments using tools like in vitro kinase assay screening can identify mechanisms that can control this misbehavior. In particular, the test can help spot small-molecule inhibitors, such as CDK10/CycM, according to a Frontiers study.
These are cellular substances that will prevent a poorly functioning signaling pathway from doing its job. In turn, it may delay the progression or even stop the growth and spread of the cancer cells.
One well-known inhibitor is CDK4/6, which now helps breast cancer patients. Overall, the discovery of these inhibitors can lead to more therapeutic drugs that may be gentler than chemotherapy but more effective in disease management.
3. Plant-Based Gel That Can Grow Small Organs
Although labs and healthcare facilities still study the diseased organs of cancer patients, many now rely on organoids, mini organs the researchers can grow. Usually, these come from stem cells of animals or humans since they can manipulate these cells to develop into specific tissues.
While this works, it is both labor-intensive and costly. That’s why the new product by Monash University is a game changer.
In November 2020, the Australian university researchers revealed that they created a bioactive nanocellulose or plant-based gel that could promote the growth of organoids. Further, not only are they fast, but they are also cheaper. A 10ml of it costs only cents compared to at least $500 when labs buy or use stem cells.
Moreover, this gel is cruelty or animal-free and is, therefore, more ethical and humane. The gel is also reproducible, which may allow the researchers to meet the possible high demand. This way, the price can remain low.
If the remaining study shows positive results, the gel may be available in 12 months. Either way, its potential contribution to cancer research is significant. Labs may be able to test more drugs or study more cancer types. It may also make funding research and development easier.
No scientist can say that the world can eradicate cancer. However, many are working on studies that may support its effective screening, treatment, and management.
Hopefully, in time, these types of research will make cancer care more affordable and prevent the disease from taking more lives.