A Sample of Modern Cancer Research

A fair amount of the most interesting and inventive modern biotechnology work is taking place in the cancer research community - and the technology platforms demonstrated this year will come to be used for many other purposes in medical science in the years ahead. All this activity and progress is a very good thing, because cancer is as fundamental for mammals as rust is for iron; absolute victory over cancer will require the development of greater capabilities in biomedical science. The faster the better so far as that is concerned.

With the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research underway, more examples of ingenious research are finding their way into the popular science press.

Cancer vaccines - Taking a jab at cancer by stimulating the immune system:

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the Gunma University School of Medicine have developed a vaccine that enlists multiple parts of the immune system into targeting p53 in head and neck squamous cell cancer. A phase I clinical trial of the vaccine is currently underway at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

According to researchers, this is the first vaccine that takes a multi-pronged approach to stimulating the immune system with derivatives of wild type - or non-altered - p53, a tumor suppressor gene. Loss of suppressor function or alteration of the p53 gene factors into nearly 80 percent of human tumors. Tumor cells with altered p53 generally tend to accumulate the protein, which led the researchers to create a strategy that would allow the immune system to destroy tumor cells by targeting p53.

"Instead of creating a vaccine based on mutant p53, which would require a custom vaccine for every patient, our strategy is to target parts of the unaltered p53 protein that can best activate the immune system," said Theresa Whiteside, Ph.D., professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "We are using different unaltered portions of the p53 molecule to entice the immune system into attacking tumors."

Pancreatic cancer vaccine halts progression of disease in some patients:

"Pancreatic cancer is extremely resistant to chemotherapy and radiation and, as a result, has a very high mortality rate," said Andrew Lepisto, Ph.D., first author of the study and post-doctoral researcher, department of immunology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "One strategy to improve the odds of survival is to help the immune system recognize the presence of pancreatic cancer cells and attack them. Our study, although small, demonstrates that this strategy can be used with some success in pancreatic cancer patients by slowing down, or even stopping, the progression of cancer."

Gene therapy, cancer-killing viruses and new drugs highlight novel approaches to cancer treatment:

Researchers in Germany have hidden vaccine-grade measles virus inside artificially generated blood cells in order to devise a search-and-destroy therapy for human brain cancer that can’t be "seen" by the immune system.

They say their mouse experiments show a proof of principle that this non-pathogenic virus can attack glioma by getting inside tumor cells and replicating, destroying the common brain tumors from the inside out.

This last one is particularly illustrative of mix-and-match cleverness in biotechnology - you should follow the link and read the whole description. Scientists are uncovering all sorts of tools, and those with an engineering bent are assembling new machinery to accomplish tasks never before attempted. We should all be very concerned about cancer and our future - more clearly, we should be very concerned with keeping this sort of progress in medical science moving ever faster towards prevention and cure for the cancers that wait for us in the years to come.

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