As humans live longer, so are we encountering increasing rates of various different cancers. Research conducted by a team at the Wellcome Sanger Institute will therefore doubtless come as a great relief to anyone with instances of cancer in their families.
During the course of their study, researchers disabled every genetic instruction, one at a time, inside 30 types of cancer and in doing so discovered 600 new cancer vulnerabilities, each of which could be the target of a drug.
Presently treatments for cancer target the whole body with the side effect being that various healthy organs and cells can be affected. This study paves the way for personalised cancer medication that could directly target the cells of the illness themselves.
One of the researchers, Dr Fiona Behan, explained that “the information we have uncovered in this study has identified key weak-spots of the cancer cells, and will allow us to develop drugs that target the cancer and leave the healthy tissue undamaged”.
The treatment would essentially work to dismantle the cancer by destroying the genes only present in the unhealthy cancer cells. Most of the genes dismantled did nothing to the cancer, targetting others would have harmed healthy cells as well as the dangerous cancer cells, and targetting some of the others is currently too hard for science to do. The end result is a list of 600 potential new targets for drugs to attack.
Precision drugs like Herceptin in breast cancer are already working to prove the proof of the concept and researchers say there is no reason the others can’t be targeted the same way.
The ultimate aim of the research is to develop a “Cancer Dependency Map” of every vulnerability in every type of cancer, which would allow doctors to be able to test a patient’s tumour and give them a cocktail of precision drugs to kill the cancerous cells.
Dr Mathew Garnett, a co-lead author of the research, said: “The Cancer Dependency Map is a huge effort to identify all the weaknesses that exist in different cancers so we can use this information to empower the next generation of precision cancer treatments.
“Ultimately we hope this impacts on the way we treat patients, so many more patients get effective therapies.”