Finding New Solutions in the Fight Against Cancer Through Research

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While the most overt cancer research news usually comes from efforts to derail the progression of the deadly disease, research into the development of alternative pathways to finding an ultimate solution to cancer often go unnoticed or fail to receive the same level of notice among the public. Advances are being made in new techniques to improve the effectiveness of traditional treatment protocols, the utilization of non-traditional or culturally specific treatment methods or identifying dietary or physical behaviors that may lead to increasing or decreasing the risk factors associated with cancer.

An innovative new treatment for an aggressive form of blood cancer has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. According to Mounzer Agha, Director of the Mario Lemiuex Center for Blood Cancers at Hillman Cancer Center, the cell based therapy produced a 51 percent remission rate among patients with a strain of lymphoma that didn’t respond well to traditional chemotherapy or radiation. “There was no treatment that could possibly put them into remission, so to get a 50 percent remission rate with this kind of treatment is a major accomplishment,” Agha said. This is a breakthrough for patients and physicians, according to Agha. The treatment is customized to each individual’s immune system. “This type of therapy represents a paradigm shift in the treatment of blood cancer and it will completely change the landscape of how we approach and treat blood cancers in the future,” he said.

In oriental medicine, treatment using acupuncture needles has been commonly practiced for thousands of years in the fields of treating musculoskeletal disorders, pain relief, and addiction relief. Recently, it has emerged as a promising treatment for brain diseases, gastrointestinal disorders, nausea, and vomiting, and studies are under way to use acupuncture to treat severe diseases. A research team lead by Professor Su-Il In, through joint research with Dr. Eunjoo Kim of Companion Diagnostics & Medical Technology Research Group at DGIST and Professor Bong-Hyo Lee’s research team from the College of Oriental Medicine at Daegu Haany University, has published a study showing that the molecular biologic indicators related to anticancer effects are changed only by the treatment of acupuncture. The research was published in the online edition of Scientific Reports, the sister journal of the globally renowned academic journal Nature. Professor Su-Il In said, “This research, which combines nanotechnology and oriental medicine technology, is a scientific study that shows the possibility of using acupuncture as a method to treat severe diseases such as cancer.”

For decades researchers have known that dietary issues can often be a factor in the incidence of cancer. In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from VIB, a life sciences research institute, and Vrije University in Brussels found that a compound in sugar stimulates aggressive cancer cells and helps them to grow faster. Led by Johan Thevelein, a microbiologist with VIB, this research builds on what scientists already knew about the Warburg effect, where cancer cells rapidly break down sugar for energy and to fuel for further growth. While the research identifies a link between sugar and the aggressiveness of cancer cells, it doesn’t mean that eliminating sugar from one’s diet will eliminate the likelihood of getting cancer. “We have no evidence of this effect happens in healthy people,” Thevelein says, but “Reducing sugar intake during cancer treatment might help the system to overcome the cancer and it might facilitate the action of chemotherapy because it’s difficult to kill the cancer cells if they’re always activated [by sugar],” he says. “Providing sugar to cancer cells carries a greater risk of stimulating their aggressiveness.”

In Queensland, Australia scientist Georgia Chenevix-Trench has uncovered an additional 72 genetic markers that can indicate an increased likelihood that a patient may be more susceptible to getting cancer in their lifetime.  The discovery may lead to the development of a more definitive predictive test for breast cancer in women.

While most of us hope for quick and all-encompassing cure for cancer, the complexity and the infinite variety of cancer types indicate that a single solution is more than unlikely. The ultimate solutions will come from a combination a multitude of treatments and advances in early prediction and detection.

Gettysburg Cancer Center is actively involved with a consortium of doctors offering clinical trials for patients seeking alternative solutions and therapies.  For more information on the current clinical trials available, visit