Our 1st prize winner is:
Originally from Somerset, Kathy is currently in her third year studying Biomedical Sciences at University of Manchester. She has had ambitions of going into cancer research throughout the course of her degree, so is intending on further study post graduation. Next year, she hopes to be studying a Master’s degree with the intention of PhD study afterwards. Congratulations, Kathy!
Cancer Research: Why we should ignore what we already know
One of medicine’s biggest challenges in the modern world is the fight against cancer. Nearly every person on the planet will have an experience with cancer of some description, which emphasises the scale of the impact of the disease and the devastating consequences that come with it. In the field of biomedicine, cancer research is one of the most exciting, yet challenging of its divisions. Researchers are discovering new mechanisms and pathways which enrich our understanding of the ways in which cancers can proliferate and sustain, however we still have a long way to go before we can overcome this deadly disease.
There are many different ways in which cancers manifest in the body, and as a result there are many different obstacles to overcome when considering therapeutic research. Much has focussed on the six biological hallmarks which are considered homologous in all cells defined as cancerous (Hanahan and Weinberg, 2011), however more recent research has pinpointed mechanisms unique to individual cancers, which may provide better treatment for sufferers. A prime example of this is ongoing research into pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC).
PDAC is known as one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, and is one of the least well understood. Gemcitabine and fluorouracil chemotherapies, along with pancreatectomy surgeries are often rendered unsuccessful due to a number of factors contributing to the aggressive nature of the disease, such as difficulty in early detection and strong metastatic activity in early stages of the disease. Four critical gene mutations have been defined (KRAS, CDKN2A, P53, SMAD4) and the role of inflammation has been touched upon by laboratories amongst a number of discoveries, yet the survival rate of PDAC has failed to improve over the past 40 years, and remains at a steady 5% (CRUK, 2017).
Researchers have found aspects of PDAC pathophysiology that contradict some of the things we accept to be true about cancer cells and their behaviour, and others that appear to be unique to this particular cancer. For example, rather than increased angiogenesis surrounding the tumour, there seems to be decreased vascularisation, and the extracellular matrix consists of a heterogenous stroma, which reduces treatment viability by limiting drug delivery to the tumour. As a result of this and other recent findings, many labs working on PDAC have moved their attention to targeting the stroma and the mechanisms through which it sustains tumours of the pancreatic ducts, and exploiting the unusual lack of vascularisation to improve chemotherapy (Gore and Korc, 2014).
These breakthroughs suggest perhaps the direction to be heading in with cancer research is to identify unique aspects of each cancer and target these directly, rather than using broad spectrum approaches. Cancers should be treated as unique to organs or systems and therefore treatments need to be refined using new, unorthodox approaches. For example, manipulating upstream open reading frames with respect to the DNA sequence of a particular cancer to influence proliferative activity – such as the ERCC5 polymorphism identified in carcinoma cells, or identifying stem cell niches within particular tumour regions to target the origin of sustained proliferation (Yang, 2011).
Following these breakthroughs, and with help from the power of multiple approaches to research, we have the ability to be steps away from beating cancer once and for all.
- Cancer Research UK. (2017).. [online] Available at: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/pancreatic-cancer/survival#heading-Zero [Accessed 22 Dec 2017].
- Gore, J. and Korc, M. (2014). Pancreatic Cancer Stroma: Friend or Foe?. Cancer Cell, 25(6), pp.711-712.
- Hanahan, D. and Weinberg, R. (2011). Hallmarks of Cancer: The Next Generation. Cell, 144(5), pp.646-674.
- Yang, S. (2011). Role of ERCC5 polymorphism in risk of hepatocellular carcinoma. Oncology Letters.