Is the cure for cancer just around the corner?
Did you know that approximately 39.6% of people alive today will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetime? That’s over 1 in 3 people.
Cancer has been very well documented of late, a disease affecting the way your body copes with reproducing new and replacing old cells. As the National Cancer Institute surmises, a healthy body is capable of growing and dividing new cells as and when the body calls for them, and can even replace old, damaged or dead cells with brand new, heathy ones. However, this process breaks down when there are signs of cancer, as the body reproduces abnormal cells that divide without stopping and spread around the body, and no longer replace the old or damaged cells. The result of the rampant growth of abnormal cells often lead to erratic growths called tumours, which are often malignant and spread into or invade nearby tissues. Thus cancer grows and spreads, a dissemination process that if left undetected can often be fatal.
There are of course many preventative steps can be taken if the cancerous cells are caught early, including a range of therapies like radiotherapy, chemotherapy and biopsies. But what if this deadly disease could be stopped for good? What if there’s a way to stop 1 in every 3 people getting cancer at some point in their lifetime? I know, it sounds too good to be true—but the definitive cure for cancer could very much be on the horizon.
Renowned British bioscientist and senior lecturer of biosciences at the University of Exeter Dr. Edze Westra has said in no uncertain terms that the future of biomedicine to prevent cancer and other inherited diseases come down to one fundamental element: gene editing. By harnessing the revolutionary breakthroughs in gene editing that have only been developed in the last five years, Dr. Westra firmly places his belief in this ground-breaking method: “I think in the coming decades gene editing will become super important, and I think we will see it being used to cure all inherited diseases, to cure cancers, to restore sight to people by transplanting genes. I think it will definitely have massive importance”.
However, many sceptics argue that the ‘unnatural’ act of amending people’s genetic makeup could begin the descent into the likes of “designer babies” with genetically-enhanced features like blue eyes or high intelligence at the request of the parents. Whilst this is potentially a real threat if gene editing becomes a mainstream medical practice, both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine (both highly celebrated American health establishments renowned in the scientific world) have acknowledged that if policed stringently, future use of germline gene editing for the treatment or prevention of degenerative and potentially fatal diseases is a “realistic possibility that deserves serious consideration”.
We’ve heard this before: many tall tales or exaggerated reports of the cure for cancer being imminently close. However, this could be the one that really sticks, the one that could in the future save millions of lives. It could still be decades until gene editing becomes a conventional method of eradicating disease, but one that has definite potential. As one of its biggest supporters Dr. Westra says: “Gene editing is causing a true revolution in science and medicine because it allows for very precise DNA surgery”.
Whether this will be the cure that many are waiting for though, we will have to wait and see. Watch this space…