U.S. scientists are making potential breakthroughs in detecting and fighting cancer. Among the most promising:
An easier test for colon cancer?
Colonoscopies are crucial in early detection of colorectal cancer, but some patients do not have access to the procedure or avoid it. An MIT professor believes that soon a patient can be tested simply by eating a spoonful of yogurt.
Newsweek magazine explains how Sangeeta Bhatia developed synthetic molecules from yogurt bacteria that are drawn to tumors. If cancer cells are present, the molecules break down and the results are detected in the patient’s urine.
The process has only been tested on mice. But the potential benefits are huge. Patients far from screening labs could just snack on yogurt and test themselves. And, presumably, more people are willing to eat yogurt than undergo a colonoscopy.
Google your cancer?
Google searches for nearly everything, so why not cancer?
The search engine giant is developing a pill with tiny magnetic particles that travel through a person’s bloodstream to hunt for cancerous cells. A wearable sensor receives transmissions from the pill with the results, which a patient can upload and send to his or her doctor.
The Associated Press reports that the pill is in experimental trials. If successful, it could improve early detection for many types of cancer.
Finding the cure within
Cancer cells share traits with healthy cells, meaning they go undetected by the immune system. But what if the immune system could be reprogrammed to recognize and attack cancer cells?
Scientists have explored this concept, known as immunotherapy, since the 1980s. Researchers genetically modify a person’s white blood cells — those that fight disease — to attack cancer cells. While questions linger, some experts reviewing promising clinical trials call immunotherapy a possible pathway to a cure. In 2013, Science magazine named immunotherapy the breakthrough of the year.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute’s Center for Global Health provides research funding and medical training in many low- and middle-income countries.