The year of 2015 was a promising one for cancer research. Scientists from around the globe have found new insights into DNA repair, discovered a way to make a sort of plaster out of molecules to defeat the disease, and approved a brand new drug for ovarian cancer. Below are short summaries of each of these three major breakthroughs. If 2015 was this fruitful, we hope 2016 will be just as promising.
The Nobel Prize: DNA Repair
Those in the scientific community have long known that DNA repairs itself. However, the exact mechanism has eluded us until now. Scientists in both the United States and the United Kingdom have mapped the exact mechanism which DNA uses to make repairs, and they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discoveries.
This is important because many cancers are caused by breakage in DNA. This sort of breakage can be inherited, and it also can be caused by exposure to cigarette smoke or any number of carcinogens we run into in our day-to-day lives. And now that scientists can understand how DNA repairs itself, there's hope for repairing damaged DNA - and for curing cancer.
The p53 protein is vitally important to preventing cancer. It senses if a given cell is cancerous or has a dangerous mutation. If the cell is abnormal, p53 causes it to self-destruct, thus stopping the spread of cancer.
However, sometimes, a person's p53 cells are damaged, and they can't sense cell troubles. In these cases, cancerous cells are much more likely to continue to multiply, which often results in a cancer diagnosis.
Some of the world's leading cancer researchers, however, have found a way to make a molecular "plaster," which is essentially a way to repair damaged p53 proteins. And when these proteins are able to function at their best, many more people will have abnormal cells stopped before they multiply and escalate toward a cancer diagnosis.
New Treatments for Ovarian Cancer
The clunkily-named Olaparib may well be a godsend for millions living with ovarian cancer. And because it is the first in a new class of drugs, it may well be the first in a series of lifesaving drugs.
Olaparib is known as a PARP inhibitor, meaning that it targets a cell with a certain DNA defect that often leads to ovarian cancer. Thus, it is able to target these cells and kill them before they multiply. And because it's a targeted operation, this drug will likely have very few side effects compared to broader-spectrum means of treating cancer, like chemo and radiation.
Of course, there are plenty of other discoveries from this past year, but these are three of the most promising. Essentially, the future is looking brighter for further research and treatment of many types of cancer.