In today’s world, scientists and researchers are constantly focusing their work on finding new treatments and cures for a wide range of conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. Cancer remains one of the world’s leading illnesses, with nearly 1.7 million new cases reported in 2015 alone. As such, there have been countless international research efforts designed to develop new and enhanced treatments to better help patients with this condition.
Here are seven of the most innovative cancer treatments that have revolutionized patient care:
While it can simply signify a high body temperature, hyperthermia is more commonly known as a treatment for cancer. In the past, this therapy offered varying degrees of success. However, new high-tech tools have allowed doctors to provide more precise and effective treatments than ever before. Doctors use hyperthermia to treat cancer in a variety of ways. Local hyperthermia is one such application that involves the use of extreme heat on areas such as tumorous growths. While they can utilize energy variations like ultrasound and microwave, doctors most often deliver hyperthermic treatment in the form of radiofrequency ablation (RFA). Typically administered as an outpatient treatment, this type of therapy is an effective alternative for those who are unable to undergo tumor-removal surgery.
In most forms of cancer, malignant cells are able to spread rapidly due to the inability of the immune system to differentiate them from the body’s healthy cells. However, immunotherapy offers doctors a way to overcome these challenges by prompting patients’ immune systems to specifically target the cancer cells. Also referred to as biologic therapy, immunotherapy consists of a wide range of treatments that are designed to train the body’s immune system in how to recognize and destroy cancer cells, or simply increase the effectiveness of the overall immune system. Amid therapies such as targeted drugs and monoclonal antibodies, many doctors use vaccines to help meet this end. In recent years, biotech firms such as Inovio have worked on developing revolutionary immunotherapy vaccines to treat prostate, breast, and lung cancer.
3. Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
A truly high-tech option for cancer treatment, PDT leverages both photosensitizing drugs and targeted light therapy to eradicate cancer cells in the body. During treatment, doctors administer this medication either on the surface of the skin or into the bloodstream around the malignancy. Once the cancerous cells take in the photosensitizing agent, the light treatment incites a chemical reaction between the drug’s properties and the surrounding oxygen that destroys the cancerous cells. PDT can also act as a form of immunotherapy by causing the immune system to prevent vessels from supplying blood to the patient’s malignancy. Most effective against local and pre-cancers, PDT offers a number of benefits, including low treatment costs, minimally invasive procedures, and a low risk of long-term adverse effects.
4. Blocking Signaling Pathways
In the last several years, treatments that target the body’s signaling pathways have proven to be among the most innovative and effective treatment for a number of different types of cancer. When cancer cells begin spreading throughout the body, they often use the pathways that typically instruct the body to facilitate cell death. The pathways sometimes malfunction, allowing for the development of cancer in various locations. In recent years, a number of pharmaceutical firms have begun focusing their research efforts on such signaling pathways as PI3K. Successfully blocking cells when they are defective could provide improved therapies for patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and various blood conditions. For example, Gilead Sciences, Inc., has developed the revolutionary Zydelig pill to help inhibit the spread of lymphoma cells in the body.
5. Percutaneous Hepatic Perfusion (PHP)
A more minimally-invasive alternative to the traditional isolated hepatic perfusion (IHP) treatment, PHP employs small needles and catheters to deliver concentrated chemotherapy doses to the liver of patients who have been diagnosed with melanoma. Not only does this option prevent the drug from harming the surrounding organs, but it provides a more focused method of treatment. In 2009, specialists at the Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center and University of Maryland Marlene spearheaded efforts to research PHP’s efficacy in clinical trials. Using chemotherapy doses 10 times more powerful than normal, they were able to shrink tumors or completely eradicate melanoma cells in the liver of trial participants. Such results showed a potential for PHP to treat other types of cancer that have migrated to the liver.
6. Antibody-Drug Conjugates (ADCs)
Sometimes referred to as “cancer smart bombs,” ADCs encompass the variations of lab-generated antibodies that house chemotoxins designed to eliminate cancer cells in the body. Depending on the needs of the patient, these antibodies can prevent specific cancerous mutations or the excess production of growth hormones. ADCs work by attaching to the receptors on the exoskeleton of cancerous cells and penetrating this surface, thereby releasing their chemotherapeutic properties within the individual cells. Perhaps one of the most widely used ADCs is called Herceptin, which targets HER2-affected breast cancer cells. Offered through the pharmaceutical firm Roche, this conjugate targets these cells when they overexpress growth signals. With similarly effective ADC treatments, patients could forego the need for standard chemotherapy.
7. T-Cell Therapy
An innovative variation on traditional immunotherapies, T-cell therapy can effectively retrain cells to target malignancies in patients with leukemia. In a recent set of clinical trials held at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, researchers studied the white blood cells known as T lymphocytes (T cells) in cancer patients. After removing these cells, they changed their genetic makeup so they gained the receptors that focus on the cells that cause a range of refractory B-cell conditions such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia. With the addition of chimeric antigen receptors that heighten the cells’ overall effectiveness, these enhanced T cells elicited surprising success. In fact, more than 90 percent of the patients saw their cancer go into remission after care. While the research study remains unpublished, T cell therapy offers a promising glimpse into the future of cancer treatment.