The latest in cancer research and how Silicon Valley is involved

Jul 8, 2017

The fight to cure cancer is backed by researchers, doctors, federal agencies, and even tech entrepreneurs. While small victories are won each day in labs and hospitals across the globe, the fact remains that there is no surefire way to cure cancer. There are promising new treatments, though, and many on the front lines dedicated to the cause.

Jacqueline Detwiler joins us this week on WRVO’s health and wellness show “Take Care” to speak about what the next steps are when it comes to finding a cure for cancer. She’s a journalist and the articles editor at Popular Mechanics magazine. Detwiler’s article “It’ll Take an Army to Kill the Emperor” (in the June 2017 edition of Popular Mechanics) is the result of three months immersed in the field of cancer research.

It took a lot of time and a lot of research to understand how doctors, scientists, and others are fighting cancer and where they’re headed next.

“Basically what I started off by doing was talking to every major cancer center that I could find and asking ‘What is exciting that you’re working on?’ And I started to sort it into categories, really,” Detwiler says.

Category 1: Precision medicine

Using a genetic test, doctors can find what made cancer cells grow out of control. From there, precision medicine provides a specific treatment that can attack that cause and reverse the problem, Detwiler says.

“Those aren’t available for every type of cancer, obviously, because there are so many types of cancer and so many types of genetic malfunctions that lead to them,” she says. “But there are far more than there used to be.”

Category 2: From full-systemic to targeted

Some of the treatments available today can be targeted to specific areas. Detwiler cites targeted chemotherapy that will kill only the growing cancer cells.

“That means you can give somebody a slightly stronger chemotherapy that can attack their cancer cells directly without really demolishing the rest of the body and having as many side effects,” she says.

They’re working on similar treatments at Los Alamos involving targeting radioactive chemicals.

Category 3: Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy uses the body’s own systems to kill malfunctioning cells. Scientists are “figuring out how to get your own immune system to target the cancer itself,” Detwiler says.

She describes immunotherapy as a shift in thinking, the way chemotherapy was a shift in thinking. Because of this, research dollars are headed in that direction. And the immunotherapy treatments, usually reserved for those who have no other options, are going to be available to the general public soon, according to Detwiler.

Tech money for cancer research

The people Detwiler talked to want to cure cancer. “That’s what they want to do.”

And to do that, they’re willing to partner with others. Some of the top cancer centers -- the University of Pennsylvania, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and more -- have all signed on to work with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

The Parker Institute was established through a grant from The Parker Foundation, and that foundation's president is Sean Parker. Parker’s a philanthropist but he’s also an entrepreneur most famous for co-founding Napster and developing Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg.

Detwiler says, according to her research, this could all be beneficial for cancer research.

“One of the things that tech brings to cancer research is a lot of money, computing power, the ability to create algorithms that can deal with busy work … this is something where the expertise of coming into an established industry and turning it on its head is really something that would be beneficial for everybody.”

Hear more about other developments in cancer, how committed those involved in the fight are to defeating cancer and what Detwiler says is coming down the pike in the full show audio (available at the top of this article). You can also read Detwiler's complete article on disrupting cancer as it appeared in Popular Mechanics.