Your 2020 Cancer Research Update

The last decade was a remarkable one in the scientific effort to overcome cancer, with investigators making a series of high-profile breakthroughs. Not only are we now looking at the prospect of cancer survivors living longer, but also healthier too. New techniques that make use of the body’s immune system can fight off cancer without the need for potentially harmful radiation therapies. 

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It’s not all good news, though. While researchers have made tremendous advances, the depth of the technologies they have developed are immense. Things like immunotherapy and CRISPR have a long way to run before we exhaust their potential. 

Here are some updates on cancer to take with you into 2020. 

The Microbiome Plays A More Important Role

Researchers are coming to learn that the state of a person’s gut health is fundamental to their overall wellbeing. We’re not just humans, but rather vessels for colonies of trillions of microbes that live in the gastrointestinal tract. The health of those microbes can determine overall health outcomes, including cancer. 

Research, for instance, shows that the microbiome can influence the response of several chemotherapy drugs. Animal orthotopic models and human trials both reveal that certain bacterial strains living in the gut are powerful immune signals. The higher the concentration of beneficial bacteria, the more likely the body is to sweep away dysfunctional cells that could turn cancerous. 

Already researchers, for instance, have identified a strain of bacteria that could alter the makeup of the human gut microbiome and promote the spread of a type of blood cancer. In the future, they hope to target these microbes with selective antibiotics, wipe them out, and then wait for the body to return to health. 

CAR T Doesn’t Work In Everyone

While CAR T-cells have proven effective in small scale trials and on individual patients, the data from larger studies is less dramatic. While a segment of cancer patients see a total reversal of symptoms on the CAR T protocol, many do not show any improvement at all. 

Researchers believe that the problem here is subtle. They think that the principle of CAR T therapy is correct and that altering the immune system to go after cancer cells is a powerful tool. But they are increasingly coming to realize that they need to tweak the immune system in different ways, depending on the type of cancer the patient has. 

Tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, for instance, is another approach that managed to kill all tumors in a woman with metastatic breast cancer. However, we’re still waiting for more extensive trials to see whether doctors can repeat the performance of the therapy en masse. 

Liquid Biopsies Are On The Way

Traditional cancer biopsies are invasive and, in some cases, dangerous. The hope is that with liquid biopsies, doctors will be able to improve patient safety.

For those of you who don’t know, a liquid biopsy would essentially be the same as a blood test. Doctors would send a sample to the lab, and then technicians would look for the telltale genetic and chemical markers of cancer.

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