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After the worrying news that the `wonder drug’ Keytruda may not be living up to its reputation  it’s always good to remember there are many new attack fronts opening up and new treatments being trialled in the cancer war.  A couple of those new and promising developments are detailed below.


Scientists find new method to target hard-to-treat head and neck cancers

(U.K.) Researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust used MRI scans to detect the size and distribution of areas varying in oxygen content, called cycling hypoxia, within head and neck tumours.

They suggest that the amount of variability may be linked to survival and these areas could be targeted by new personalised cancer treatments, such as image-guided radiotherapy where doses can be focused on small areas.

Professor Martin Leach, one of the lead researchers, based at the Cancer Research UK Cancer Imaging Centre at the ICR said: “The unique environment within a tumour is far more complex and changeable than we thought only a few years ago.”

“This is the first time anyone has clinically examined the effectiveness of dynamic Intrinsic Susceptibility (IS) MRI to monitor cyclical changes in tumour oxygenation. The technique has enabled us to learn more about how levels of oxygen vary in tumour cells over time and how this might impact patient outcome.

“If our findings are confirmed in larger studies, then this scan could one day be available at all hospitals with an MRI scanner.”

Anna Perman, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager, said: “Patients with head and neck cancers are more likely to have their disease return, because cells with low amounts of oxygen are harder to reach with conventional treatments including radiotherapy and chemotherapy.”

“Being able to image oxygen levels in this level of detail could help develop targeted treatments and improve the chances for patients of surviving their disease.”

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New cancer drug reduces tumor size by 'up to 50 percent'

(U.K.) New research from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom investigates the way in which cancer takes over certain cell types and uses them as a life support. Finding a way to target these turncoat cells could help to reduce a tumor's success.

One of the many reasons that cancer is so difficult to treat is its ability to hijack normal cellular components and switch them from useful to deadly. Cancer can therefore turn vital, natural cell types against the body.

As Dr. Aine McCarthy, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, says, "Some cancers are incredibly difficult to treat and can use the body's own cells to help them grow, evade treatment, and spread around the body. Researchers have been trying to unlock the secrets behind this for many years."

The findings of the most recent study in this field, carried out by researchers at the University of Southampton, are published this week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

An example of the repurposing of the body's biological mechanisms involves fibroblasts. Normally, these cells make a range of products, such as collagen and elastic fibers, helping to fix organs and cells together. However, cancer can utilize these cells for its own purpose, turning them into cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs).

CAFs support a tumor as it grows and can help it spread. Earlier studies carried out at the University of Southampton have demonstrated that increased CAF levels are associated with poorer survival rates in a number of cancers, including bowel and head and neck cancers.

Recently, Prof. Gareth Thomas, who is chair of experimental pathology at the University of Southampton and his team embarked on a new project looking at the potential of a specific enzyme, called NOX4, to interrupt CAFs. This enzyme is essential for the conversion of fibroblasts into CAFs.

The team demonstrated that by blocking NOX4, the size of tumors in mice was reduced by up to 50 percent.

The drug that blocks NOX4 is currently being developed to treat organ fibrosis, which is a condition characterized by the formation of excessive fibrous connective tissue. If follow-up studies go well, it might be a useful medication to be taken alongside existing cancer treatments.

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