At present, there are two new technologies in cancer treatment that is promising much hope for cancer patients. They are nanotechnology and gene therapy.
The three main types of treatment available for cancers at present are surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. All the three types of treatment can cause damage to normal tissues. Besides, the cancer may not be cured completely and there is chance that the cancer may come back after treatment.
Nanotechnology uses a new technology that will deliver therapies directly and selectively at cancer cells without damaging the normal healthy tissue. Nanotechnology aims to provide treatment at molecular and atomic levels. This technology can also detect cancer-related molecules very rapidly and accurately. This will help scientists and doctors detect molecular changes in the cells even when they occur only in a small percentage of cells. Thus nanotechnology is going be a very useful tool in early and accurate detection, treatment, and monitoring of cancer.
We know that cells grow and divide to form new cells. When these cells become old or damaged, they die and are replaced by new cells. This process is controlled by genes. But sometimes, this orderly process does not take place. Old and damaged cells do not die and new cells keep on dividing even when the body does not need them. This process will lead to development of malignant tumours or cancers.
Scientists have found that a protein called XIAP (X linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein) blocks the death of cells. Some cancer cells produce too much of XIAP and as a result, the cells do not die even when they become old.
Doctors are now trialling a gene therapy to treat cancer. Small pieces of DNA or RNA called antisense are given to the patient to treat cancer. This antisense can change the genetic material (DNA) inside the cancer cell, so the cell is no longer able to make as much XIAP. Doctors believe that if they can reduce the amount of XIAP produced by cancer cells, the cells will die and cancer can be stopped. One such antisense agent called AEG35156/GEM640 is now used in clinical trial for the treatment of advanced solid tumours and lymphoma.
There are also other researches being done on gene therapy for cancer. Some therapies are aimed at blocking abnormal genes in cancer cells or replacing or repairing abnormal genes so that the cancer cells go back to normal. Other gene therapies encourage more genes to become abnormal in cancer cells so that the cells die or become more sensitive to other types of cancer treatment. Yet another type of gene therapy aims at making a change in virus gene so that the virus kills cancer cells but not normal cells.
The combination of nanotechnology and gene therapy for cancer treatment sound very fascinating and exciting. It is hoped that many patients will be able to use these treatment within a few years time. These technologies will not just help detect cancer at the earliest possible but also help patient avoid the agony of going through a battery of tests and procedures and the side effects associated with these procedures, not to mention the fact that it saves millions of dollars spent on costly tests and drugs.
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