The Latest on Health Technology and Cancer Treatments

The Latest on Health Technology and Cancer Treatments

The National Cancer Institute estimates that nearly 1.7 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States in 2016. Cancer has a huge impact on individuals, populations and society as a whole, and remains one of the most feared and challenging diseases. Scientists have been making a lot of progress in recent years, and new health technology is constantly being trialed and developed, bringing new hope to millions of people affected by cancer.

Nanoparticle Generator for Better Delivery of Cancer Drugs

An article published in Nature Biotechnology on March 14, describes a novel way of delivering cancer drugs. For the first time, scientists used an injectable nanoparticle generator (iNPG) that can overcome biological barriers and ensure the administered dose reaches the tumor. Tests were performed on mouse models of metastatic breast cancer that received a standard chemotherapy drug (doxorubicin). The drug was absorbed into a porous silicon material and travelled in the bloodstream to reach the cancerous tumor where the silicon then broke down. This enabled the nanoparticles to the kill cancer cells. Forty to 50 percent of treated mice were considered cured, and the research team attributes the astonishing result to the innovative drug delivery mechanism. Tests on humans might begin as early as next year, and scientists hope they could use this technology to target metastatic cancer of the lungs and liver.

Re-engineering Patient’s Own Cells To Kill Cancer

Immunotherapy is emerging as a new branch of cancer therapy that could help patients with previously incurable forms of cancer. Professor Waseem Qasim from Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, UK, explains that doctors can already harness cells from the immune system, re-engineer those cells and give them back to the patient.

Cells can be re-programmed to kill cancer and also to “memorize” cancerous cells in case they return. Treated immune cells have already been used to treat melanoma and non small-cell lung cancer. Now, this therapy is also being trialed on patients with blood cancers. A research team led by Professor Stanley Riddell from Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle successfully treated 27 out of 29 patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia who did not respond to conventional treatments. Research on the immune system’s ability to cure cancer is still in its infancy, but doctors are excited about the potential of genetically engineered human immune cells. There is, however, some danger this therapy carries: after being injected, re-engineered cells remain in the body and keep searching for cells to destroy. Scientists need to make sure these engineered cells go after the right unhealthy cells and do not destroy healthy tissue.

Another novel way of destroying cancer cells is by using a vaccine-like method that was first developed in Cuba.

The FDA has so far approved a cancer vaccine that targets metastatic prostate cancer. This type of treatment does not cure cancer per se, but it turns it into a form that can be controlled, similar to the ongoing treatment regimens for other chronic diseases.

New App for Cancer Patients that Could Personalize Treatment

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is daunting and throws one into turmoil. Once diagnosed, a person is faced with a completely new and alien world. He or she then needs to learn how to navigate their “new normal.” Cancer treatment, and the often lengthy recovery process, require a lot of physical and psychological stamina. Doctor’s appointments and hospital visits become a part of the new routine, and daily life can be dominated by the needed adjustments. To support patients and their families who find themselves in this difficult position an oncology specialist from Australia, Dr. Nikhil Pooviah, created a new application called CancerAid. The CancerAid app aims to empower cancer patients on their journey as well as personalize their care. It provides information on treatment options and care pathways and offers a way to plan and record the person’s individual treatment and medication regimen. It also comes with a 24-hour telemedicine option that allows patients to access medical and psychological support any time of the day or night. The app is currently being tested in several cancer institutions and if successful, could be used worldwide in the near future. According to the founder, the app’s initial version will be free for all patients and caregivers.

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