Cancer: liquid biopsy, artificial intelligence, antibodies, what are the advances in research?

In France, almost 4 million people are currently living with cancer, according to the Arc Foundation for Cancer Research. And the numbers published this Thursday by the World Health Organization agency, which specializes in this disease, are alarming: around 35 million new cases of Cancer should be detected in 2050, or 77% more than in 2022.

The reasons for this worrying increase are multiple: aging, but also tobacco, alcohol, obesity and air pollution. “I don’t know if we will be able to beat cancer, but we will be able to control it” says about France Bleu Éric Solary, president of the scientific council of the Arc foundation, who recalls that“today we cure 60% of patients”. In the Hello Doctor programthe researcher and hematologist mainly discussed advances in research on the occasion of World Disease Day, this Sunday.

Better understood cancer

“To beat cancer, you first have to understand it” : this is what we can read the Arc foundation website for cancer research. This understanding has “enormously” advanced, guarantees professor Éric Solary, who still considers “let her move forward every day”. “There was first an extremely rich period in the second half of the year” of the 20th century with “the work of genetics and cell biology”. But at that time, “they have not led to therapeutic applications“, recalls the researcher. “Since 2000, we have changed dimensionsexplains Éric Solary. New medicines are constantly being discovered. We are currently testing over 1,000 across the world. Many have become standard practice over the last 20 years.” An observation that delights the teacher: “It’s changing quickly and for the better!”

Researchers are also focusing more about the mechanisms of aging why “The main risk of cancer is getting older” remembers Éric Solary. Three quarters of diagnoses concern people over 55 years of age, according to data from the World Health Organization. “We increasingly understand the mechanisms of aging, what an aged tissue is, continues the teacher. We are in the process of deciphering why tissue aging promotes the onset of cancer.”. Éric Solary explains in particular that “the first trials of preventive aging treatment” emerging. “If we can delay the aging of our tissues, we will reduce the risk of cancer and the risk of chronic diseases that develop with age.” he explains.

Soon a simple blood test to detect the disease?

Dozens of studies are underway to demonstrate the usefulness of using a new tool, the “liquid biopsy”, in monitoring patients treated for cancer. A liquid biopsy is nothing more thana blood test which aims to search a patient’s blood for fragments of DNA from the tumor or cancer cells. According to Éric Solary, this technique is already “used to monitor the evolution of a tumor that we know. And for which we know the genetic abnormalities that we are looking for at the DNA level. We know where it is and we know what we are looking for”, he summarizes. On the other hand, it is not updated regarding tracking: “When you find an abnormality in the DNA in the blood, it doesn’t tell you where the tumor is. There are abnormalities that are found in many different tumors. We have yet to find a way to locate the tumor.” explains the teacher. This technique will present considerable advantages and many observers believe that its discovery would deserve a Nobel Prize in medicine: it is notably much less invasive than a “classic” biopsy, which takes tissue from the body.

There are vaccines, others are still being tested

To prevent certain types of cancer, there are vaccines. “To limit the risk of liver canceryou must be vaccinated against hepatitis B” explains the professor, to which we must add the HPV vaccine, against human papillomavirus which prevents the appearance of many types of cancer, such as cervical cancer. Regarding this latest vaccine, the vaccination campaign for 5th year secondary school students, launched last autumn, is far from expectations, with a first glimpse “disappointing”, lamented at the beginning of January employees of the French Society of Colposcopy and Cervico-Vaginal Pathology (SFCPCV). At least 30% of 5th year students vaccinated at college, “I don’t think we’ll be there“, admitted Aurélien Rousseau, then Minister of Health, to AFP in early November.

Other vaccines may soon be commercialized. Last September, the French biotechnology company OSE Immunotherapeutics presented positive results of its therapeutic vaccine in patients with advanced breast cancer. lung. In mid-December, the head of Moderna, Stéphane Bancel, considered it possible that the therapeutic vaccine developed against skin cancer be approved in 2025, after new encouraging results.

The hope of imaging and AI

Éric Solary also highlights the “progress in imaging (…) particularly thanks to artificial intelligence tools”. According to him, the analysis “thousands and thousands of images” or the grouping of “images we generate at European level” must allow “to announce the appearance of a tumor well in advance.” Experiments are underway in the Nordic countries and also in Denmark, as explained by the member of the Arc foundation: “The Danes worked with health data, consultation rates and doctors’ prescriptions. They were able to create an algorithm that predicts the risks of developing pancreatic cancer.” Éric Solary finds this discovery fascinating: “This means that when we can gather our health data anonymously across Europe, we will make huge progress in terms of preventing and tracking risks.”

Regarding rare cancers, “this must be based on better organization. We must work at an international level”, estimates Éric Solary. Every year in France, rare cancers, including those affecting children, represent 70,000 new cases. A cancer is considered rare when the number of new cases is less than 6 in 100,000 per year.

The monoclonal antibody trail

Much research is exploring immunotherapy, which involves strengthening the body’s defenses against disease, crowned in 2018 with the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Among the new approaches to immunotherapy are monoclonal antibodies. “Antibodies are what our blood cells produce to defend us against infectionsexplains the hematologist from France Bleu. We now know how to produce highly targeted antibodies that, instead of hitting a microbe, will target a cancer cell.. Today it is one of the approaches that is developing at great speed, because the technology is there.” Éric Solary rejoices.

Most involved patients

Advances in research also rely on patient involvement. About France Bleu, Chantal, affected by appendix cancer, says in particular that she benefits from a “immunotherapy clinical trial”. “As of today, I am fine, as my scan on Monday shows a stable aspect of the image,” she rejoices. She decided to embark on this clinical trial despite her fear of side effects: “But I always had confidence, confides this former caregiver. I told myself we needed to help with the research.” “What is being prepared is for patients to be part of research and financing project selection committees,” guarantees Éric Solary. A system that already exists in the Netherlands or Flemish Belgium: “There are patient committees that say whether the projects make sense and that give a rating. It goes beyond the scientists’ rating and the whole is taken into account” to give the green light to a research project.

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