Technology has disrupted healthcare. Its rapid advancement has facilitated a better understanding of cancer. This, in turn, has allowed researchers to develop innovative therapies and drug delivery systems.
While we have made tremendous progress in the past decade, research is fuelling continuous transformation in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the many different types of cancer. Here is a look at some of the latest cancer research trends.
Immunotherapy treatments reactivate your immune system, allowing it to recognise and attack cancer cells. They have been a game-changer in cancer treatment. In 2015, the immunotherapy drug nivolumab was approved for use in the treatment of both lung and skin cancers in the UK. Several other immunotherapy treatments have been approved for different types of cancer since then.
Unfortunately, not all patients respond to immunotherapy treatments. Additionally, not every tumour responds as expected.
We are now seeing more studies and advances in immunotherapy aimed at increasing the number of cancers and patients responding to this treatment approach. One of the avenues being explored is the use of new combinations of immunotherapies to beat the resistance of corrupted cancer cells. For instance, doctors from the Royal Marsden Hospital have found that a combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab immunotherapy drugs boosts the long-term survival rates for melanoma patients significantly.
Researchers are also developing new immunotherapies to potentially heal more types of cancer. A study by a group of researchers from the University of Cardiff has found newly-discovered T-cells to be capable of treating significantly more cancer types than existing T-cell immunotherapies like TCR and CAR-T. Ervaxx, a cancer vaccine developer, is collaborating with the Cardiff research group to create a universal immunotherapy based on the T-cell discovery.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Cancer Diagnosis
AI possesses analytical abilities that are far greater than human capacity. Therefore, it can be instrumental in the diagnosis of cancer.
An NHS team ran AI software developed by tech start-up behold.ai on 1,513 chest X-rays to rule out or confirm the presence of lung cancer. The software accurately detected and located 10 of the 11 cancer incidences that were histologically confirmed later. It delivered a triage of each chest X-ray in a few seconds.
The rising rates of X-rays have made some NHS hospitals report backlogs in delivering results. Therefore, AI could help hospitals shorten the turnaround time for people needing the most urgent lung cancer care.
An AI model developed by Google in conjunction with a leading charity can detect breast cancer better than clinicians. It spots the disease more accurately and with fewer false negatives and positives. That implies that AI technology could make breast cancer screening more effective and take some of the pressure off the NHS, where there is a severe shortfall of radiologists.
There is ongoing work in the use of AI technology in understanding, diagnosing, and treating cancer. The early results show the technology’s enormous potential to revolutionise hospitals and improve the lives of patients. With the government setting aside a £140m AI award to accelerate innovation, the research and utilisation of AI are sure to keep expanding.
Liquid Biopsy Tests
Liquid biopsies involve the use of blood tests to detect alterations and mutations that are critical to the growth of cancer. Cells that have entered the bloodstream from a tumour can be detected using the tests.
It may not be possible to carry out traditional solid tumour biopsies as cancer progresses or if a tumour is hard to reach, for example, in the lung. In such cases, liquid biopsies would allow doctors to monitor tumours, the effectiveness of treatments, and if needed, switch treatments early.
In a study of 101 UK women at the ICR (Institute of Cancer Research), liquid biopsies spotted the signs of breast cancer recurrence 10.7 months, on average, before clinical diagnosis. This suggests that liquid biopsy tests could enable breast cancer therapy to be offered at an early stage before symptoms appear and even prevent some patients from relapsing.
A number of liquid biopsy tests are in development. Researchers from a leading cancer charity are working on a blood test that can detect rare mutations in patients with advanced breast cancer, potentially facilitating faster access to effective treatments. If several studies that are more extensive prove liquid biopsies effective, more people could survive advanced cancer.
As cancer research matures, better therapies and cures will be achieved. That will require researchers to have quicker access to resources, develop more sophisticated cancer models using innovative technologies, and streamline the tough process of moving drugs that are hugely promising to clinical trials. This needs robust, sustained funding.
There is a cheaper approach to dealing with cancer — prevention. The good news is you can help create a new world in which far fewer people are diagnosed with the disease by donating to our charity.
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