War on Cancer: The Future of Cancer Treatment

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 4th year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

800px-Cancer_cells_(1)

Cancer cells. Image credit: National Cancer Institute (Wikimedia Commons)

In this fifth and final post of the War on Cancer series, I will discuss the future of cancer treatment. I will also tie in my previous posts of the series, which include:

  1. How Can We Win the War on Cancer?
  2. Targeted Therapy
  3. Tumor Relapse
  4. Tumors as Ecological Systems

As I mentioned in Part 1, cancer is not one disease, but thousands, and these thousands of different diseases evolve as time goes on. Current treatments have improved greatly over the years, meaning people with cancer are living longer than ever before. New ways of treating cancer, however, will be needed to ultimately cure it.

Current research suggests that there will likely be three stages to the future of treatment: (1) discovering more vulnerabilities to target, (2) quickly mapping the genetic profile of individual tumors, and (3) developing drugs that will not only combat a tumor, but keep it from relapsing.

War on Cancer: Tumors as Ecological Systems

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 4th year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

Creative Commons

Cancerous cells. (Creative Commons)

The War on Cancer series has so far covered: How Can We Win?, Targeted Therapy, and Tumor Relapse.

In this fourth part of the War on Cancer, I will discuss a phenomenon that has only recently been pushed to the forefront of cancer biology, and it both complicates and opens new doors to treatment strategies. That concept is “tumor heterogeneity”—a tumor that is comprised of multiple types of transformed cells.

The traditional view of tumor formation is simple: DNA within a single cell is damaged, causing it to escape biological constraints and proliferate unchecked. Many tumors do behave like this. However, it has recently come to light that tumors can also be much more complicated. They can be populated by not just a single cell population, but a multitude of cell populations, causing some tumors to behave more like complex ecological systems rather than simple out of control cell divisions.  In fact, some very basic ecology concepts you’ve learned in high school biology may be surprisingly similar to how researchers are beginning to view tumors today.

War on Cancer: Tumor Relapse

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

764px-Chemotherapy_vials_%281%29Chemotherapy is one of the most important aspects of cancer treatment. Although an undesirable, draining procedure, it has extended the lives many cancer patients over many decades.

However, there are significant limitations to drug therapy treatment for cancer. The biggest limitation is the fact that many tumors relapse (return) after treatment. Many don’t understand, however, why or how this happens. How does a tumor come back after it has been treated? And why do promising chemotherapy drugs usually cease to work after relapse?