Matt Kaiser
Posted by
Matt Kaiser

The current state of play in cancer research

Matt Kaiser
Posted by
Matt Kaiser
11 Jun 2014

The journal Nature has published a supplement on cancer. It’s a broad-ranging look at personalised treatment, prevention, big data and other approaches in the effort to beat cancer. And it’s open access so free to read.

I’ve picked out some key highlights and points particularly relevant to blood cancers:

Herb Brody introduces the challenge: “In 1900, the leading causes of death in the United States were pneumonia, influenza and tuberculosis. A century later, they are heart disease and cancer.”

Lauren Gravitz takes a look at the promise and challenges of personalised therapy – the idea that if you can find the key molecular faults that drive the growth of a cancer in a particular person, you will be able to target the disease more selectively and with fewer toxic side effects. The article uses examples that sing some major messages for us: blood cancers are leading the way; targeted drugs developed in blood cancers are useful in other diseases; and, cell-based immune therapy have potent potential and particular promise in blood cancers.

Jessica Wright describes advances in using nanoparticles to deliver toxic drugs precisely to cancer cells. This is done by either attaching a drug to an immune protein that specifically attaches to molecules on the surface of cancer cells (pioneered in lymphoma) or by wrapping the drug up in a ‘nano’ coat.

As part of a person's cancer care, they might have a series of blood tests detailing suites of biochemical signatures, their genome sequenced several times (one cancer + normal genome = 1 terabyte), an e-record reporting the entire medical history including other diseases, diet and lifestyle, and CT or MRI scans (one high quality image = tens of gigabytes). And that's just one person – multiply by over 330,000 diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK alone (14m worldwide), and that's a lot of data. Big data. Neil Savage explains how bioinformatics is making sense of it all and revealing “a whole new set of blueprints for how to treat patients”.

Katherine Bourzac starts: “even as cancer therapies improve, basic questions about drug resistance, tumour spread and the role of normal surrounding tissue remain unanswered.” And ends it: “Twenty years ago, I would have thought some of these problems were intractable. But now, I don't.”

Sarah Deweerdt talks naked mole rats. They have been described as "freaks of nature" and looking like "a wrinkled finger with teeth" – they’re neither mole nor rat, they're short-sighted, spend their lives in underground ant-like colonies complete with workers and a single breeding queen, they don't feel pain in their skin, they tolerate chokingly low oxygen levels, have bizarrely rubbish sperm, are the only mammal that is unable to regulate its body temperature and can live for more than 30 years. But the weirdest of all? They don't get cancer. Really. Could these creatures be the key to cancer prevention?

Finally, the excellent Naked Genetics podcast has an episode on cancer and the advances in cancer genetics – a great introduction to the topic.



Cancer. Nature. Vol. 509 No. 7502_supp ppS49-S



Hi Matt,

Thanks so much for drawing everyone's attention to this. Great to see that blood cancer and the incredible research that's being done to help beat it is getting the coverage that it deserves. Sounds like there are some interesting projects on the go.

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