Glowing Fruit Flies and Other Unusual Ways to Fight Cancer
Despite the fact that it’s not a global leading cause of death, cancer remains one of the most feared diseases in the world. Perhaps that’s because although we know a great deal about it, there’s still no cure or fool-proof way to prevent it.
After a cure, the next best thing is early detection. A successful fight against cancer is boosted by diagnosing it as soon as possible. Unfortunately, cancer almost never involves pain in its early stages, and even preventative measures like mammograms are imperfect. Even once detected, removing it from the body presents another set of challenges, making remission difficult to predict.
So the medical community is getting creative, joining efforts with technology developers who are crafting the gadgets of the future. In a couple of decades, it’s possible that one of the below techniques could be the key that unlocks the door to a cancer-free world.
Cancer-Sniffing Fruit Flies
In the past, we’ve reported on dogs who can alert doctors to the presence of bowel and lung cancer, but what about a much smaller animal? A team from the University of Konstanz in Germany recently discovered that fruit flies are able to smell five individual lines of breast cancer cells, and with a little tweaking, communicate their findings to human observers. “To create an indicator, Dr Galizia’s team developed a genetically mutated variant of the little guy, where its antennae would take on fluorescent properties if as little as a single molecule carrying the odor hit the fly’s receptors,” reports Dvice.
Removing a malignant tumor is far from an exact science. Because it’s so difficult for surgeons to tell the difference between healthy and cancerous cells, it’s common for some to get left behind. This makes it necessary to undergo a second painful procedure. New wearable technology from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis could change this. By combining “custom video technology, a head-mounted display and a targeted molecular agent that attaches to cancer cells,” researchers are able to make cancer cells glow when viewed with the glasses. Increased visibility means no cancer cell left behind.
Researchers in North Carolina have developed a technique for creating nanoparticles that can carry two different cancer-killing drugs into the body and deliver those drugs to separate parts of the cancer cell where they will be most effective. The technique can overcome the cancer cell’s natural resistance to chemotherapy, resulting in significant improvement in tumor reduction when compared to traditional practices.
In 2012, research out of Northwestern University suggested that in the future, treating skin cancer could be as simple as applying moisturizer. The study showed that cancer-fighting drugs can be infused into a commercial moisturizer or a phosphate-buffered saline. Once applied, the drugs can freely penetrate human skin within hours. Once the agent has crossed into the skin, it can selectively target and abolish the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene while sparing normal genes.
Cancer-Destroying Blood Cells
What if, instead of using some outside technology to eradicate cancer, we could train our own bodies to go on the offensive? Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle report stunning success after using gene therapy to transform patients’ blood cells into soldiers that seek and destroy cancer. “The treatment involves filtering patients’ blood to remove millions of white blood cells called T-cells, altering them in the lab to contain a gene that targets cancer, and returning them to the patient in infusions over three days… At least six research groups have treated more than 120 patients with many types of blood and bone marrow cancers” with a majority achieving complete remission.
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