December 2020 Notable News

This month there is a lot of promising news giving hope to the possibility of a brighter, better new year. A better understanding of why humans are prone to advanced cancers and more knowledge about obesity as a risk factor, coupled with advances in targeted therapies and combinations of medications to better treat myeloid leukemias, breast cancer, and get the immune cells involved are all helping to bring about better treatments and outcomes for cancer patients. However, the technology used to create the vaccine for the novel coronavirus Covid-19, that dominated the year and changed the world for us all, just may be the biggest game changer of all. It could revolutionize the way we treat cancers and many other diseases.

The Covid-19 vaccines use a technology that could lead to managing other diseases, like cancer and heart disease, reports bloomberg.com. The technology, called mRNA therapeutics, uses messenger RNA in the vaccines to turn the body’s immune system into a factory with the healthy cells producing viral proteins that create a strong immune response. The approach has never-before been used outside of clinical experiments, and many researchers are stunned by how well it works. Cancer researchers have been studying the technology for 20 years, and the vaccine was able to be created so quickly due to what they knew from working on developing cancer vaccines. These vaccines could lead to a whole new field of medicine, with mRNA drugs for treating cancer expected to be approved in two or three years. It’s possible all infectious disease vaccines will use the technology in the next ten to 20 years, as the method is faster and cheaper than current options. The hope is to use mRNA to create flu vaccines, heart failure treatments, an HIV vaccine, and much more. Learn more about the exciting mRNA possibilities here.

When compared to our closest cousin, the chimpanzee, humans have a high risk of developing advanced cancers, and researchers now think they know why, says sciencedaily.com. New research shows that there is an evolutionary genetic mutation that is unique to humans. The SIGLEC12 gene was eliminated by the body because it lost its ability to distinguish between self and invading microbes. However, it’s not completely gone from the population, and it can be a problem for the 30 percent of people who still produce SIGLEC12 proteins. Those people, when compared to people who don’t produce the proteins, are at more than twice the risk of developing an advanced cancer during their lifetimes. Researchers are hoping to use the information to help determine who is most likely to get advanced cancers, and have developed a simple urine test to detect the proteins. Learn more about this evolutionary snafu here.

In another story about cancer risk from sciencedaily.com, researchers better understand the relationship between obesity and cancer. Obesity is linked to increased risk for more than a dozen types of cancer, as well as a worse prognosis and chance of survival. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have discovered that obesity provides the right environment for cancer cells to take fuel away from cancer-fighting T cells. Cancer cells respond to increased fat availability by reprograming themselves to eat fat molecules and thus deprive T cells of fuel. Get more information here.

When it comes to treating cancer, better therapies are discovered all the time, and now researchers have found a new class of targeted cancer drugs that may effectively treat some common types of leukemia, reports medicalxpress.com. The drugs target and eliminate leukemia cells with TET2 mutations, which are one of the most common mutations found in myeloid leukemias. The findings show that a synthetic molecule called TETi76 can target and kill cancer cells in both early and fully developed phases of leukemia and may be more effective than current targeted therapies. Find out more here.

Speaking of more effective treatments, it turns out that some women with breast cancer might not have to undergo chemotherapy for treatment, reports nih.gov. Initial results from a clinical trial show that postmenopausal women with hormone receptor (HR)-positive, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER 2)-negative breast cancer that has spread to one to three lymph nodes and has a low risk of recurrence won’t benefit from adding chemotherapy to hormone therapy. The trial also showed that premenopausal women with the same HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer characteristics did benefit from chemotherapy. The trial was made up of more than 9,000 women who were monitored for an average of five years and will continue to be followed, so more insights about breast cancer are expected to come out of the trial. Get more information about the trial here.

Another advancement in breast cancer treatment was reported by cancernetwork.com. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved margetuximab-cmkb (Margenza) in combination with chemotherapy to treat patients with metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer who have received 2 or more prior anti-HER2 regimens. A study showed a 24 percent reduction in the risk of disease progression or death. More information is available here.

Immunotherapies have helped change the way many cancers are treated, and the process is still evolving. Researchers at Purdue University have created a new immunotherapy treatment, reports purdue.edu. The new treatment focuses on the immune system and has been shown to work in six different tumor types by reprograming the immune cells within the tumor to kill the tumor rather than giving it the chance to grow. The technique could be used to treat many types of cancers because the nonmalignant immune cells that are in the different types of tumors tend to be similar. Folate, a type of vitamin B, is used to deliver the anti-cancer drugs to the cells. The new therapy could be available within ten years. Learn more about the new therapy here.

Immunotherapies used to treat advanced cancers don’t always work for everyone, but now researchers have found that two cholesterol lowering drugs might improve the effectiveness of these therapies, reports cancer.gov. Studies show that when evolocumb (Repatha) and alirocumab (Praluent) are used on their own and in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors, they slowed the growth of tumors. The drugs, approved by the FDA since 2015 are considered safe, can be taken at home, and are less expensive than many cancer therapies. Learn more here.