Modern Medicine’s 3 Hit Combo may have Cancer on the Ropes by Understanding Protein Structure

Every age has its trials and tribulations.  Even if diseases are still relevant, they seem to fall out of the public consciousness.  Even in our fiction, these particular diseases represent a standard conflict in that seems to become a cliché in its own era.  In the early 1900’s it was Tuberculosis, as seen in Crime and Punishment and Les Misérables.  The eighty’s and nineties had a strong focus on HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment, brought into relevance in movies like Philadelphia and the Broadway play Rent.  Currently, our culture has shifted focus to cancer.  We see cancer being the antagonist in movies like 50/50, The Fault in our Stars, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl to name a few. Because of this, hearing your doctor say the “c word” is traumatizing.  The advantage to the light shining on cancer is the increased funding and interest in cancer research and, thanks to all that research, we’re learning more and getting closer to ending the threat of cancer forever.

Hit 1: Prevention          

For more than 2000 years people have been trying to determine the cause of cancer.  In 168 B.C. it was determined that an unhealthy diet was at the root of it.   As far back as 1761 research indicated a connection between tobacco products and lung cancer.  In 1911 we found a virus that seemed to cause cancer in chickens.   Starting in 1996, we’ve made discoveries every year.  And these aren’t just informational.  In 2002, after realizing that the HPV infection was related to the onset of cervical cancer, a vaccine was shown to be effective in preventing HPV and, therefore, preventing cervical cancer in those that received it.  In 2006, the FDA approved the vaccine and in 2007 widespread vaccination was recommended.

Hit 2: Early Diagnosis

Anyone will tell you, the key to surviving cancer is to find it early.  The process for diagnosing cancer has changed significantly.  Typically, this involves a cancer screening.  In the past, we’d have to wait until symptoms normally associated with the cancers before we’d test using full body scans and biopsies.  Now we can detect many cancers using simple blood tests.  These have become a standard part of many yearly check ups.  As amazing as this advancement is, it’s not the end of the line.  Japanese scientists and engineers have developed an AI that has been able to diagnose colorectal cancer with 94% accuracy in less than a second.

Hit 3: Treatment

As effective as the first two steps have been, people are still getting cancer.  Research is helping there too.  As we understand more and more about cancer and how it works, we’re better able to counter act its methods.  While chemotherapy has proven to be one of the most effective treatments, we can still learn from research.  When one existing treatment was proving to be less effective than expected, it was found that bacteria surrounding the cancerous cells were actually consuming the drugs before they were able to be effective.  Upon discovering this, doctors began administering antibiotics with the drugs and overcame this hurdle.  We’re also developing new methods of delivering drugs.  As we understand more and more about protein structure, we’re able to find ways to use it to deliver medications with new protein based drugs.  We’re even now able to treat blood-based cancers like leukemia and lymphoma by taking a patient’s immune cells and reengineering them to know how to attack the cancerous cells.  We’re actually able to reprogram our bodies to better fight cancer!

Cancer has been ravaging the human body for thousands of years.  We must assume that, even in prehistory, humans were felled by cancer without knowing what it was.  The truth is, there is no silver bullet.  There are many different forms of cancer, brought on by a plethora of causes that we are still struggling to understand.  But, as we focus on our three hits and continue to advance them through research and funding we gain more knowledge about how what causes the different cancers and how we can prevent them.  We find ways to discover the cancers earlier and earlier so that we can attack them before they spread.  And, when we do find it, we’re learning more effective ways to deal with the debilitating disease.  Hopefully, we can find the perfect combination to deliver the knock out punch before cancer fades out of the limelight and goes on killing in the shadows.

 

Image courtesy of Toeytoey at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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