There is no denying that curing cancer is one of the biggest challenges of our 21st-century world. It’s unfortunate, then, that cancer research has been placed on the back burner due to the COVID-19 crisis, which the medical world deems more urgent. And it’s not surprising, especially the pandemic’s 3.5 million (and counting) death toll. However, there are plenty of promising and fascinating new technologies that might just positively transform the future of cancer care. Here are some of them.
Orthotopic tumor models
The orthotopic tumor model or mouse model involves implanting tumor cell lines in their organ of origin or their natural tumor habitat. This process is key to test new drugs and therapies, and they provide high predictive therapeutic value. To understand different cancer types, researchers and scientists need to see how tumors interact with complex microenvironments found in humans. This specific microenvironment can only be observed and created in the organ where the tumor developed in the first place. These models are necessary for clarifying the next course of action, targeting metastatic mechanisms, and monitoring how patients respond.
Since cancer is formed through genetic mutations that convert healthy cells into tumor cells, it’s no wonder that researchers place a premium on understanding or attacking these mutations, which become the new center for cancer therapies. The challenge is that mutations are incredibly random, and no two cancer patients are the same in how their cells mutated. This is why German immuno-oncology company BioNTech is in the process of developing therapeutic vaccines that can specifically address each tumor, which means every patient gets a tailor-made cancer vaccine just for them.
The researchers compare the DNA sequences of the healthy cells and the tumors, which can help them determine various cancer mutations and choose from ones that are the most likely to aggravate a strong response from the body’s immune system. The vaccines provided for in the form of RNA then work to prime the body’s immune system against the tumor. Thankfully, early clinical trials show incredible promise, and BioNTech projects that the impressive technology can be ready in the market in the earlier part of the decade.
Teaching immune cells to attack
Cell therapy for cancer, also known as CAR-T cell therapy, was first approved in 2018. This technology works by taking the body’s immune T-cells and using genetic engineering to teach and guide them to target specific cancer antigens. The goal of the developers behind the technology is to establish targeted and precise modes of treatment that eliminate the disease while still protecting and caring for healthy tissue.
While the clinical trials have also shown impressive results, some patients have also experienced relapse, with some succumbing to severe side effects. Since the therapy is known for being incredibly potent, researchers have to work extra hard to ensure that they’re not targeting normal tissue. Making that mistake can wipe out healthy organs, leading to the patient being handicapped or even dying.
Not many people know that when patients are in treatment for cancer, they need to undergo a biopsy several times. This is because samples from the ever-evolving tumor must always be obtained and monitored so that oncologists know which steps to take next. But because our current biopsy process is incredibly invasive, it can be a challenge for cancer patients and their care providers.
Thankfully, a new technology called fluid biopsy is currently making the rounds. It’s the process of extracting cancer cells from simple blood samples. And since DNA sequencer giant Illumina recently announced that they would make this technology more commercially viable, it might just be the next big thing in cancer care.
Real-time cancer diagnostics
Developed by Imperial College London’s Zoltan Takats, the iKnife combines old and new technology. It works by making incisions with as little blood loss as possible. The iKnife’s vaporized smoke is inspected by a machine that detects the chemicals in any biological sample. Thanks to this technology, doctors and researchers can now identify malignant tissue. Some have called it the surgical Jedi knife, which significantly decreases the time it takes to operate during cancer surgery.
Curing cancer has been one of the biggest and most pressing issues in the medical world, but we need to remain optimistic. Skilled scientists and researchers across the globe are working hard and utilizing every technology available to ensure that we can significantly decrease, if not eliminate, cancer cases across the globe.