Cancer Treatment

A New Hope

In my last article, Cancer Treatment: More Harm than Good? I painted a rather bleak picture for those battling cancer. The truth is anyone afflicted with cancer is in for the fight of their lives and the outcome is never guaranteed; however, developments in cancer research have given us new hope in the direction of cancer treatment. Treatment will become more personalized to each individual’s genetic disposition, body chemistry and disease process rather than the current model of shoot from the hip and hope for the best.
 
Until recently, conventional cancer treatment has consisted of surgical resections, radiation and/or chemotherapy to defeat the cancer; all of which are quite invasive and harmful to even healthy tissue in the body contributing to post treatment morbidity. On the other hand, advancements in cancer research are showing promise in alleviating the post treatment illness one may encounter. In addition, much consideration is being given to precursor disease and conditions that may increase ones chances of becoming afflicted with cancer.
 
For example, the FDA recently approved a vaccination for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). It has been recognized that there is a strong correlation to HPV and cervical cancer; therefore, the HPV vaccination was developed as a preventative measure to developing a type of cancer that plagues approximately 12,000 women annually. Despite the moral/ethical controversy within political-religious communities, the concept is revolutionary! Vaccinating against cancer – who would have thought that possible? (Well, obviously the scientists who worked on this, but still!) I am humbled by the innovative thinking and dedication to defeating a disease that causes so much suffering.
 
In addition to this groundbreaking vaccination, new treatments for those already afflicted with cancer are being explored and developed. Aside from genetic profiling, which can give a patient a risk assessment of developing certain types of cancer, Antibody Drug Conjugates (ADCs) are the latest development in cancer treatment that are showing the most promise.
 
Antibody Drug Conjugates are an innovative approach to attacking the cancer cell without harming healthy tissue around the tumor. The concept, in its most simplistic terms, arms an antibody with a chemotherapy molecule that is stabilized with a linker so that the chemo-molecule (also referred to as a cytotoxic agent) will not be released until it has entered into the cytoplasm of its targeted cell. Upon absorption into the tumor cell, the ADC complex breaks down to release the cytotoxic agent. This process, known as the lysosomal degradation of the complex, allows the release of the cytotoxic agent that will thereby trigger apoptosis (cell death) of the tumor cell.
 
In keeping with the metaphor of the “War on Cancer”, essentially, if chemotherapy were like an airstrike that leaves a ton of collateral damage, an ADC would be like snipers or the Navy Seals who stealthily take out their adversary with very little damage to innocent bystanders. For a more informative video about how ADCs work, visit Genentech’s website.
 
Essentially, the advancements being made in biotechnology research and development offer a new hope to those lives affected by cancer. No longer will there only be a few options, neither of which is less volatile than the other. There is hope that cancer treatment will not make patients just as sick as the cancer has and that maybe one day, we will actually outsmart this obstinate opponent we call cancer.
 
 
References:
HPV Vaccination – CDC
Antibody Drug Conjugates – Discovery Medicine
ADC picture
ADC elements
HPV fact sheet