Cancer cells are lethal and destructive, but they are stupid. Doctors and scientists using trickery, AI and VR to hack them to death
Trick and treat.
A new art of war is shaping up.
Cancer is estimated to have caused 9.6 million deaths in 2018, with an estimated 18 million new cases reported in the same year.
For once, hackers’ techniques are being put to good use; a camouflaged fight again cancer cells inside victims’ bodies.
Under cancer’s radar screen
A new 'Trojan Horse stealth drug is stealthily disguising chemotherapeutics as fat, catching cancer cells unawares and destroying tumours without triggering a defence response from cancer cells.
The current research is being conducted using animal tests. His follows researchers developing a way to camouflage cancer-killing drug by hiding it in the cells of the tumour.
By binding a chemotherapy treatment to fat, which cancer cells essentially feed on to grow, the new form of treatment can 'outsmart' cancer cells, making them feed on something that will suppress and destroy them.
Science Daily reports the drug is also lower in toxicity than current chemotherapy drugs.
"It's like a Trojan horse," research leader Nathan Gianneschi from Northwestern University told Science Daily.
"It looks like a nice little fatty acid, so the tumour's receptors see it and invite it in. Then the drug starts getting metabolized and kills the tumour cells."
The drug successfully entered and completely eliminated three cancer types: bone, colon and pancreatic.
Going after the tumours’ genetics
Medical researchers have discovered a drug that could potentially help those suffering a wide range of cancers.
Called Keytruda, the drug treats cancer based on a tumour’s genetic markers rather than where it started in a patient’s body.
This activates the immune system to fight cancer cells in more than 20 different tumours including colon, brain, ovarian and prostate cancer, albeit at a price tag of nearly $100,000.
Read: Sneak peek: 3D printing offers new healthcare opportunities
Saying no to Chemo
Researchers are eager to leave behind the brutal side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
Carnegie Mellon professor of biological and chemical engineering Elizabeth Wayne says: “A lot of our (cancer) drugs are warfare drugs that we’re just hoping people don’t die from afterwards,” Wayne explained.
Many researchers and doctors are looking to immunotherapies to wipe out cancers without putting patients through the suffering.
Checkpoint inhibitors such as Keytruda take the brakes off the body’s immune responses in order to more effectively unleash them on tumours, especially those unresponsive to chemotherapy or radiation.
“We believe that in the years to come, more than 50% of cancer patients are going to receive checkpoint inhibitors,” Wayne says.
In the past decade, at least 10 cancer drugs have been developed with input from canine studies. Dogs being tested have already acquired cancer.
Five are using immunotherapy to prime the immune system to kill off tumours.
Clinical trials are conducted on both humans and dogs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham using a genetically engineered virus that infects tumour cells and stimulates the immune system to destroy them.
Funding is funnelled towards genomic sequencing of dogs, which will lead to a better understanding of cancer mutations and how they compare to the human version.
The largest-ever canine clinical trial is designed to prevent, not cure cancer. The Center for Innovations in Medicine at Arizona State University received a $6.4 million from the Open Philanthropy Project to test a universal cancer vaccine in an 800-dog trial that targets tumour cells to stop them from developing into a cancerous growth.
AI, ML and Virtual Reality fight cancer
IBM has released three artificial intelligence (AI) projects tailored to take on the challenge of curing cancer to the open-source community.
The first project, dubbed PaccMann is using an algorithm to automatically analyze chemical compounds and predict which are the most likely to fight cancer strains, which could potentially streamline this process.
The ML algorithm exploits data on gene expression as well as the molecular structures of chemical compounds.
The second project is called INtERAcT, and automatically extracts data from valuable scientific papers related to our understanding of cancer.
Researchers have a hard time keeping up with come 17,000 cancer research papers published every year. ML/AI have no issues.
The third and final project is "pathway-induced multiple kernel learning," or PIMKL. This algorithm utilizes datasets describing what we currently know when it comes to molecular interactions in order to predict the progression of cancer and potential relapses in patients.
Also, Notable Labs has been busy building its artificial-intelligence-based technology that predicts which types of patients are most likely to respond to a drug. The startup is adding $40 million (to its original $10 million funding) as it scales up its capabilities and plans to take its platform worldwide.
“Patients with aggressive cancers are in a race against time, but if we can use technology to identify (within a few days) the best drug or drug combination at the time of diagnosis, there is a much better chance those therapies will work,” CEO Matthew De Silva said in a statement.
Finally, doctors have a new weapon in the fight against cancer: detailed maps of the cells in a tumour that can be explored and analyzed in a virtual reality simulation.
Built by doctors at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute (CRUK), the new virtual lab takes detailed scans of breast cancer tissues and turns them into detailed simulations that doctors around the world can explore, the BBC reports.
Healthy cell vaults
Cell Vault, the world’s first t-cell bank, announced recently it has raised $1 million in an initial round of funding that offers t-cell banking for healthy individuals as a tool in the fight against cancer.
A T cell is a type of lymphocyte which develops in the thymus gland and plays a central role in the immune response.
“Cell Vault is giving people the ability to preserve and bank healthy, strong t-cells for future cancer treatment,” says Cell Vault founder Kevin Kirk.
The process is simple. Cell Vault clients order a kit online, schedule an in-home or in-office blood draw, a mobile phlebotomist completes the draw and sends the collected sample to the Cell Vault lab. The sample is then processed, frozen using liquid nitrogen, and stored in perpetuity.