Even as the unrollable cell growth of cancer cells has been a puzzle to solve for scientists and oncologists, some of the crucial studies have brought cancer research closer to early detection along with a hope towards cure for cancer.
Here are five technological interventions in cancer research that have changed the way cancer prognosis over the years:
1. NeXCAR19, CAR-T cell therapy for blood cancers Leukemia and Lymphomas
India’s first indigenously developed drug using CAR-T cell, a gene therapy, has now got approval from Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDCSO) and is available for the needy. This has given tremendous hope and is a game changer for life-threatening conditions of Lymphoma and leukemia.
CAR T-cell therapy — or chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy — is a type of gene therapy in which an affected person’s own immune cells are re-engineered to fight with cancer cells. NeXCAR19 is the result of a collaborative research of ImmunoACT, a start up incubated by IIT Bombay in collaboration with TATA Memorial Centre, Mumbai. The single time drug is given in the form of intra venous infusion. Within 30 days, the cancer cells disappearing can be determined by PET scan (in case of lymphoma) and the bone marrow biopsy will show the disappearance of cancer cells in case of leukemia.
“This has given us tremendous hope. We have provided a technology platform for gene therapy for the first time. This success is no less than man reaching the moon,” says Rahul Purwar, associate professor, IIT Bombay, who spearheaded the cancer research.
2. Seven minute injection to fight cancer
Tecentriq, the seven-minute jab against cancer, which is currently available in the UK, for those enrolled with National Health Services. The drug administered as subcutaneous injection (under the skin) will cut short the treatment period and is used for those suffering from liver cancer, bladder cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer. The drug recently received the nod from Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), UK, after which the NHS had said in August 2023 that introduction of this seven-minute cancer drug would mean that hundreds of patients can spend less time at the hospital and will free up valuable time in NHS chemotherapy units. NHS was the world first rollout of cancer jab that cuts treatment time by up to 75%, the press release about the cancer research had said.
3. Low dose immunotherapy to fight head and neck cancer
Monoclonal antibody drug Nivolumab used in low-dose immunotherapy has been found to be effective in fighting and destroying the cancer cells in Head and Neck cancer (HNC). That’s as per a study conducted by researchers at Tata Memorial center in early 2023 where the study included a cohort of 151 persons with HNC. The study concluded that the treatment with low-dose Nivolumab is an alternative standard of care for those who cannot access full-dose checkpoint inhibitors (the full dose immunotherapy). On the same lines, Bangalore’s HCG Cancer hospital conducted a ‘Pilot study on Low Dose Immunotherapy on Head and Neck Cancer Patients’, covering 14 persons who were battling head and neck cancer in the third and fourth stages. The drug was effective in shrinking the tumor by almost 90 %.
Speaking to Happiest Health, Dr U S Vishal Rao, chief of head and neck surgical oncology and robotic surgery at HCG Cancer Centre, Bangalore said that low dose immunotherapies are talked about today. It is an extended spectrum of an aspect of the nano world. In nano-technology, the biological behavior of a molecule changes. “There is a lot of shift in our understanding of the biology of tumor, as well as our approach in treatment. More need not be better in cancer care. Using high dose chemotherapy does not mean that you would kill more cancer cells. Infact it may lead to more resistance,” Dr Rao said.
4. Simple anesthetic intervention significantly increased breast cancer cure & survival rate
Administering injection of local anesthetic agent Lidocaine in the peritumoural area (surrounding the tumour) just before the surgery of breast cancer significantly and substantially increases the cure rates with a benefit that persists for several years after surgery. That’s the conclusion of a 2022 randomized controlled trial conducted by Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai, which has shown a promise in cure of breast cancer. The 11 year cancer research was conducted between 2011-2022 in 11 cancer centres including TMC, Mumbai.
Dr Sudeep Gupta, Professor, Department of Medical Oncology and Director, Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer, TMC, Mumbai, who is also the one of the co-investigators of the study said that the study provides an inexpensive and immediately implementable treatment in breast cancer which can be practiced by every surgeon who treats this disease. “Some of the innovations have been in the way we look at or understand cancer. Some of them have been the use of novel techniques which are also cost effective and have improved the outcome,” he told Happiest Health. Essentially these are studies with large randomized trials that have defined the way cancers have been treated in these particular situations worldwide.
5. AI to predict likelihood of lung cancer
Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Massachusetts General Cancer Center innovated an AI tool called Sybil, in early 2023 which can accurately predict a person’s lung cancer risk for upto six years. Sybil is designed to take low dose computed Tomography scans of lungs without the assistance of a radiologist and predict lung cancer vulnerability for anyone including smokers and quitters. The cancer research study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in January 2023. The AI intervention can lead to early detection, reduce future risk of cancer through personalized screening.