The History and Mystery of Cancer
It is one of the most well-known diseases, with a history spanning thousands of years. In 2016, a 1.7 million-year-old left toe bone discovered in South Africa revealed signs of osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer. Hippocrates, in ancient Greece around 400 BC, named the disease “karkinos” (meaning “crab” in Spanish). At that time, cancers were often found in palpable parts of the body, such as the skin, uterus, throat, or breast, causing the tissues to harden. The origin of its name is debated, but regardless, cancer has persisted throughout time and medical advancements.
The Enigma of Cancer Causes
Cancer occurs when cells in the body multiply uncontrollably and invade surrounding tissues. Surprisingly, the exact causes of cancer remain unknown. However, certain risk factors have been identified, including exposure to environmental toxins, radiation, tobacco or alcohol use, poor diet, and a weakened immune system. Consequently, preventive campaigns emphasize the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. But what about medical research?
The Quest for Cancer Vaccines
While vaccines against infectious diseases have been successful, the same cannot be said for cancer. Despite years of research, finding a cancer vaccine has proven challenging. However, progress has been made. The sequencing of the human genome, for instance, has allowed scientists to closely study tumor cells and their genetic abnormalities, enabling more targeted approaches.
In some tests, new vaccines have successfully activated the immune system of many participants.
Personalized Vaccines and Promising Results
Current experiments with cancer vaccines focus on identifying specific differences between the DNA or RNA of healthy cells and cancer cells. Some COVID-19 vaccines were developed using this approach, utilizing RNA molecules to test messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. Recent breakthroughs in the United States involving 16 pancreatic cancer patients have shown promising results, with the vaccine activating the immune system in half of the participants. Pharmaceutical companies like Moderna and MSD (Merck in the US and Canada) have also announced promising mRNA-based therapies for melanoma. Moderna’s chief medical officer anticipates a personalized vaccine being available before 2030.
The Challenge of Personalized Solutions
The key to these positive results lies in personalized solutions. Each tumor is unique, making the development of a universal solution difficult. Therefore, “à la carte” immunotherapies are being utilized, yielding more promising outcomes. However, these treatments are only accessible to a privileged few. This raises ethical questions about findings that may not benefit the majority of the population.
The Future of Cancer Research
To prevent healthcare from becoming solely a profit-driven industry, continued immunological research in the public sector is crucial. It is essential for treatments to improve and be accessible to all. However, this research must also challenge the pharmaceutical sector, which has faced criticism for prioritizing profits over public health, as noted by Nobel Prize winner Richard Roberts in 1993.