There have been many new advancements made in cancer treatment over the past couple of years. Many of these advancements were made in part by the research that has been put into understanding how cancer is caused and how it affects the human body. By examining the human genome, and by analyzing DNA sequences, scientists have been able to isolate genetic mutations that lead to the devolopment of tumors. How can this help? Now that we understand specific mutations that occur, we can target these specific mutations and possibly reverse them. This would bring an end to the tyranny of cancer.
What Causes Cancer?
It seems like every day scientists release a new study that shows how something in your everyday life causes cancer. The probability that each of the studies being accurate is very slim; however, there are many factors that scientists can agree on. Radiation is a very prominent factor. Whether it is radiation given off by a nuclear reactor, or just the radiation from the Sun, radiation has the potential to alter the genome. The majority of the time the genome is altered, it will not have a major impact on you; however, these mutations have the possibility to have severe consequences on your life.
What Happens When You Get Cancer?
Cancer is caused by a genetic mutation that occurs in the genome of an individual. Your genome is a set of instructions telling your cells how to grow and divide. Mutations occur all the time in your genome; however, your cell usually corrects the problem or dies. In the case of cancer, this mutates cell is not corrected and in causes it to grow very rapidly. This is what causes the tumor to form. In order for a tumor to form, tumor supressor genes must become inactive. These genes are used to monitor the genome and make sure that any mutations that occur are properly taken care of. When a mutations causes tumor supressor genes to become inactive, the cell loses the ability to correct the problem.
The Use of Viruses
There have been many different methods that have been used to attempt to reverse or single out this process. One of these methods is by the genetic mutation of a virus. Scientists have decided to use the destructive power of a virus to try to treat cancer patients. We are now able to go into a virus's genome and plant DNA in it that will cause the virus to target receptors that are characteristic to cancer cells. Because these receptors are characteristic to cancer cells, the virus will single out cancerous cells and will only attack them, leaving healthy cells untouched.
You would think that with all of these advancements, we would be able to cure any type of cancer. The problem that arises from this is that not every type of cancer is the same. Take breast cancer for instance. There are hundreds of different mutations that can cause breast cancer. And each of these mutations will cause a different receptor to form on the cell. With a different receptor each time, it creates a guessing game to try to figure out which gene to inject into the virus. And there are some mutations that do not create receptors that differ from those of a normal cell, making the virus an impossible remedy.
This is a topic that really seems to cause everyones blood to boil. It seems that the use of stem cells to try to help in the treatment of certain diseases. This battle seems to have been set up between the Church and those outside the church. Now, personally I am a Southern Baptist and I support the use of stem cell research. You may ask something along the lines of "How can you be a Southern Baptist and support stem cell research at the same time?" This is because there have been advancements in the way that we can do stem cell research. Scientists can now take a cell from my body and reverse the process of growth by turning on certain genes and turning off others that will cause that cell to become a stem cell. With this technology available, the debate should be over on whether or not to pursue the possiblity to use stem cells in treatment. This means that we will be able to grow healthy cells that will replace those cells that are cancerous. This treatment will not only be able to be used in the treatment of cancer, but also in the treatment of many other diseases.
With all of these advancements in mind, remember that these advancements have only taken place within the last year. If we were to devote time, money, and effort into the research of these revolutionary techniques, imagine what we will be able to do in ten years. It is amazing to think about, isn't it. We will be able to have so many different techniques that this web page would not be able to contain all of the possibilities. But as for now, all we have are these few possibilities. However, a year ago, chemotherapy was essentially our only possiblility to try to fight cancer. Now, with the help of these advancements, we are able to fight cancer without risking the health of the patient. Just imagine what tomorrow has in store for us.
"Common Virus Becomes a Target for Cancer Treatment." Science Daily. 7 Mar. 2005. 28 Nov. 2008 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050223131140.htm>.
Preidt, Robert. "Partnerships Effective Communicators of Cancer Advances." Medicine-Net. 16 May 2008. 18 Nov. 2008 <http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=89572>.
Stricherz, Vince. "Genetic engineering could salvage once-promising anti-cancer agents." Bio-Medicine. Spring 2008. 18 Nov. 2008 <http://news.bio-medicine.org/biology-news-2/genetic-engineering-could-salvage-once-promising-anti-cancer-agents-7409-1/>.