Monday, December 30, 2013

Cancer Immunotherapy - Breakthrough of the year


"This year marks a turning point in cancer, as long-sought efforts to unleash the immune system against tumors are paying off - even if the future remains a question mark" stated by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel in the article published in Science on 20th December, 2013. With the ending of this year the Science magazine has surveyed the outstanding works done in the whole year. Out of many speculations and expectations, the panel chose Cancer Immunotherapy as the breakthrough of this year. Is it really worth to mention as breakthrough? Let’s see.

"Cancer", one word that kill the patient psychologically than the actual unwanted mass of cells in his/her body. The patients have in mind that day by day they are reaching to the end of their life. May be this can be avoided in the developed countries but it is prevalent in developing and underdeveloped countries. Novel therapeutic ways, targeting sites, therapeutic materials are being explored from a long time by researchers around the world with the millions of dollars as funding from the governments. Still for the researchers’ the disease is a mystery.

The panel has found some light in this deep dark unsolved puzzle for decades or say centuries! So, the breakthrough of this year "Cancer Immunotherapy" is the new field where the immune system is treated to kill cancer cells. Up to now the cancer cells are treated directly without affecting the immune system. This is a strategy where, say, ‘x’ is treated to kill y.  ‘x’ will signal a cascade of changes that result in the killing of ‘y’ rather than directly giving a molecule to kill ‘y’. Though this kind of treatment strategy is new, it is working. In this article, published in science, the author pointed some potential antibodies that target different sites on the T-Cells. They are Cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4), Programmed death 1 (PD 1) and Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) therapy. 


The pink color antibodies are binding to the blue color receptors
signalling a cascade of events killing the cancer cells
(J Couzin-Frankel Science 2013;342:1432-1433)
Courtesy: Science magazine (AAAS)

The basic working principle of all these therapies is to target the T-cells with the antibodies to specific receptor marker on the T-cells. These antibodies block the targeted receptors and then signal a cascade of events that result in the killing of cancer cells. The clinical trials done on these strategic treatment modalities showed successful development in the patient’s survival rate and decrease in the tumor size. The recurrence of the disease is also decreased significantly. The peculiarity of these treatment modalities is that they can be used in any kind of tumors either benign or metastasis without potential side effects. The researchers are trying to decipher the mechanism of activity, the role of various molecules in killing the cancer cells.

Hoping for a cancer free society, the Cancer Immunotherapy, breakthrough of the year (agreeing worth to mention as breakthrough) should be materialized and also available to millions of cancer patients around the world. 

I wish you all Happy New Year.