The defeat of cancer is an important part of any comprehensive approach to repair the damage of aging. Ultimately, we'd all like perfect cancer prevention, but it may be that comprehensive and effective cancer cures will be enough to sustain the first few additional decades of the longevity revolution. That would put us at around 2040, entering "sky's the limit" territory with biomedicine and molecular nanotechnology. Cancer will go the way of smallpox shortly after that.
With regard to cancer cures, two of the most interesting lines of research at present involve engineered viruses and dendrimer-based therapies, both of which I've noted in past months:
Forced to pick the most promising technology base, I would have chosen dendrimers - they offer comparative efficiency in the process of producing new therapies because many components can be attached to a single dendrimer. Complex theraputic concepts - such as seeker molecules or two-stage toxins triggered by biochemicals specific to cancer cells - can be developed in isolation by specialists and the end results combined or built upon by other groups.
A virus doesn't have to be a one-trick pony, however. Engineered viruses that can do more than one job are examined in a recent Wired article:
Researchers at Stanford University and Jennerex Biotherapeutics have tweaked the cancer-killing vaccinia virus JX-963 so that it also stimulates the body to generate cancer-fighting white blood cells. The company intends to take the virus into clinical trials based on a promising animal study.
Scientists claim to have made recent progress targeting cancer cells with modded cold, herpes and smallpox viruses. These viruses infect and kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.
With the new JX-963 therapy, the virus doesn't have to do the work alone -- it elicits the body's own defenses to mop up cancer cells. The chemical that the virus secretes, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, or GM-CSF, is a protein that stimulates the production of white blood cells.
Interesting stuff. In theory, a virus could be altered to produce a range of useful proteins once it has access to the cellular environment - that might be good enough to give dendrimer therapies a run for their money if widely used engineered virus platforms emerge in the near future.
The existence of multiple competing technologies is one of the most promising signs of progress in any field. Competition turns the wheel, and it's good to see it here - that cancer with your name on it isn't getting any further away in time.