Gene therapy for cancer
Being one of the potent killers of mankind; cancer has no known, completely effective cure. Although treatments aimed at managing cancer and reducing mortality have been around for some time and have improved over the years; till now, the best prescription for cancer cure is early detection, something that is left to wild chance, because most cancers are asymptomatic. This calls for preventive screening, but this is neither foolproof nor riskless.
The new line of approach
One approach that could offer new hope for cancer treatment is gene therapy. It is not a generalized set of medicines or treatments; rather, it is a new approach that looks at the treatment of cancer in a different way altogether.
What is it?
Gene therapy can be defined as a set of records and databases with which to identify treatments specific to the individual's genetic setup. In order to understand this approach, one has to get a basic understanding of how cancer cells work. Cancer usually starts with a single cell. It then grows within the body by multiplying. This multiplication is done by a process called mutation, during which it not only divides indefinitely; it also renders the immune system powerless in stopping it. This is because it is so similar to the healthy genes that the immune system cannot distinguish between it and healthy genes.
A set of records
Understanding the similarity between the malignant and healthy genes is the key to stopping the growth of cancer cells, because it helps understand many aspects about the mutation, such as how it is likely to grow, how it responds to various treatments, and so on. Gene therapy aids this process significantly by compiling and matching the patient's gene records. These records help doctors prescribe the right kind of treatment, based on a study of the gene records. This is likely to make treatment more targeted and specific and more importantly, effective. It prevents the patient from being subjected to generalized treatments that are often harsh and come with many side effects.
Scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston have identified two genes that are what may be termed rogue genes in that they prevent treatment from working. Spotting these two genes is an important premise to coming out with tailor-made, effective treatments. This can be carried out with a simple toolkit.
In patients undergoing this line of detection; genetic material such as DNA or RNA, which improve the body's ability to fight malignant cells, are injected into the body through a number of approaches. One of these is to inject these DNA so that they target at the malignant cells and destroy them in a process being labeled 'suicide genes', meaning making the malignant cells destroy themselves. One other approach is to inject DNA or RNA on healthy genes to make them stronger and resistant to future attacks. Yet another is to make existent cancer cells stronger and more sensitive to chemotherapy, thus drastically improving the success rate of treatments like chemo.
It may be a while before people afflicted by cancer can receive the full benefits of this line of treatment, because most of these are in the trial stages and will require approvals and need to be weighed for risk-benefit analyses. Yet, that a new and revolutionary line of treatment is on the horizon cannot be denied.