Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Advances in genetics regarding Cancer.
Description: http://www.mesothelioma-health.org/images/lungcancer.jpgGenetics, as defined by the biology-online dictionary, is “The study of the patterns of inheritance of specific traits. Relating to genes and genetic information.” This specific branch of biology deals with physical characteristics passed from one generation to the next. Recent advances in certain fields of genetics have resulted in huge breakthroughs in areas dealing with disease, mental disorders and cloning and also more abstract areas such as genetic engineering (http://www.globalchange.com/geneticengin.htm). One standout discovery has created a massive breakthrough in treating one of the highest causes of death worldwide, cancer.
When dealing with cancer, a disease that is highly metastatic (can spread from one organ to others), oncologists have learnt not to study alleles passed from one generation to the next, but instead study the genetics of the cancer itself. To first understand how this breakthrough treatment works, one must first understand the properties of a cancerous tumour.
When the word ‘cancer’ is heard, people immediately categorize the disease in relation to organs (lung cancer, brain cancer, testicular cancer), believing the cancers differ to match the organ. This is a mistake. “People aren’t diagnosed with just breast cancer or colon cancer or lung cancer anymore; scientists are discovering there are perhaps dozens of different types of each disease.” (Cancer, one must understand, is not uniform. A tumour exists of many different cell mutations, therefore, one treatment may cure one of the cell mutations, but the others will go unaffected. This is why a cure for cancer does not yet exist.  Now, rather than using treatments such as chemotherapy which may or may not work on a certain patient, oncologists are getting closer to knowing which treatments will improve the state of the cancer, based on the genes of their disease.
Description: http://www.moffitt.org/moffittapps/ccj/v5n5/article3fig2.jpg
The treatment is based upon gene rearrangement. Oncologists have discovered a number of gene rearrangements present in types of breast cancer which ‘drive’ the cancer. By discovering these gene rearrangements, oncologists can now provide a treatment to attack them and substantially reduce the size of the tumour, in some cases the tumour dissipated altogether. “Literally, they are coming off their painkillers; they will start to lead a more active life within days of getting on the drug,” Camidge said. “Sometimes, cancer will die away without even being able to see it on the scan.” So far the method for finding successful treatments has shown great
results, and has the potential to put a severe dent in the number of annual cancer deaths worldwide.
More good news: “Researchers also are attempting to trace the mutations in cancer cells back to their origins. Then people would know exactly what lifestyle decisions or environmental factors cause certain cancer subtypes.”

This new cancer treatment, although already providing significant results, will develop greatly within 10 years. Rather than using chemotherapy, the purpose being to slow or stop cell division, the new treatment targets gene sequences that drive the cancer. We no longer relate cancer to an organ but rather to a gene sequence and as a result can specify treatments to attack that sequence.

Further reading: http://www.mb.com.ph/node/248618/advance (original article)
                              http://www.news-medical.net/news/20091223/Scientists-use-DNA-sequence-to- characterize-genome-rearrangement-in-breast-cancer-samples.aspx

1. Brown, J March 2010. “Advances in genetics gives cancer fight a brighter future.” Manila Bulletin.”
2. Biology-Online.org Nov 2006, viewed 19/03/2012 <http://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Genetics>

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