Science Snippet: Winning the War Against Cancer?

Are we winning the “war” against cancer? No, but we are winning some battles. Cancers are generally treated in four ways: surgery (used for compact tumors); directed radiation; chemicals (used to kill all rapidly dividing cells, both cancerous and normal); and targeted therapy. Targeted therapy is the newest approach and usually involves “killer T-cells” produced by the patient’s immune system. Killer T-cells recognize and eat cancer cells. Unfortunately, some cancer cells have surface proteins that bind to and inhibit T-cells and prevent them from going into action. These proteins are called “check point inhibitors.” Recently, drug firms have isolated two of these checkpoint proteins and made antibodies to them. When these antibodies are injected into patients with certain kinds of cancer, they latch onto and block their specific checkpoint proteins. This prevents cancer cells from “turning off” T-cells. As a result T-cells and the immune system are unleashed and mount a massive campaign to look for and devour cancer cells. This approach has benefited patients with dreaded melanoma cancer. (K. Hale, 2014, MD Anderson Cancer Center OncoLog; The Economist, June 6, 2015;, 2015;, 2015; other sources)

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