Dianthus Medical Blog Archive

Interesting new cancer research

There's an interesting story in the news today about some recent cancer research. The research, published in Cell, describes investigation of the ability of various molecules to kill cancer stem cells, and comes up with a promising candidate drug for future research, salinomycin.

This is, of course, very early research, so talk of a "breakthrough" would be distinctly premature. Many promising discoveries in the lab fail to make it through to useful treatments in the clinic for a whole host of different reasons.

However, if this research fulfils its promise, it could turn out to be a significant breakthrough indeed. The role of cancer stem cells is poorly understood, and it may be that the ability to kill them won't make much difference to cancer patients. But it is also possible that cancer stem cells play a crucial part in metastasis, and if that's true, then a drug that specifically targets cancer stem cells may be a real advance.

There have been many advances in the treatment of cancer in recent decades, and it's certainly true that many people survive cancer today who wouldn't have survived it a few decades, or even years, ago. However, despite all those advances, the sad fact remains that once a cancer has metastasised, it is incurable, and any treatments from that point on are simply prolonging the inevitable.

Chances are that salinomycin won't turn out to be a wonder drug. But if it does prove to be suitable for clinical use, and if cancer stem cells have the pivotal role in metastasis that has been hypothesised (two really enormous ifs), then it could just be one of the most exciting discoveries in cancer research for a very long time.

As someone once said (I forget who): "science is the process of going up many alleys, to see which of them are blind".

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