Approaching 2023, here are the top 5 cancer research breakthroughs of 2022

Worldwide, cancer research scientists have been busy making exciting new discoveries about cancer. Here are the top five cancer research breakthroughs made by cancer researchers in 2022.

1 Stopping the spread of Breast Cancer

Researchers in Italy have uncovered a new mechanism that helps breast cancer cells to survive the effects of treatment once they have spread to other parts of the body. By targeting these cells while they “sleep” or lay dormant, the researchers hope that they will be able to identify ways to stop people with breast cancer progressing to an advanced stage of the disease.

Looking at this in more detail, the research team found that specific molecules, called DRP1 and NRF2, were responsible for triggering antioxidant release depending on how stiff or soft the tissue is.

The researcher believe that this finding suggests that blocking DRP1 and NRF2 could be a way to target dormant cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body, making them treatable with chemotherapy.

2 Microorganisms in stool samples could offer new way to detect pancreatic cancer early

Cancer Research scientists have discovered a potential new way to detect and diagnose pancreatic cancer early by analysing microorganisms such as bacteria in a patients stool sample. This fast and non-invasive way of diagnosing pancreatic cancer could be a game changer for preventing people dying from this lethal type of cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is a relatively rare cancer type, but survival rates remain stubbornly low. In the UK, it’s estimated that only 1 in 4 people will survive for one year or more after their diagnosis. One of the key reasons for this is that pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed late because the symptoms are hard to spot and may not appear until later in the progression of the disease.

This new research led by Dr Núria Malats from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) and Dr Peer Bork from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, found a molecular signature of 27 microorganisms in stool samples that could predict whether patients are at high risk of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, the most common pancreatic cancer, and even diagnose patients with earlier stages of the disease.

3 Targeting a cancer’s supply of energy

Researchers in Germany have found an innovative way to stop cancer cells spreading. Metastasis – when cancer spreads from where it first forms to elsewhere in the body – is a major cause of death in patients with cancer. This exciting research reveals a new way we could prevent metastasis – by stopping cancer cells producing the extra energy needed to grow and spread. This breakthrough will hopefully lead to new life-saving treatments for cancer patients in the future.

Dr Frye’s study focuses on head and neck cancer as this has a high tendency to spread, and poor survival rates. Currently fewer than 1 in 2 people diagnosed with oral squamous cell carcinoma, the most common form of mouth and neck cancer, will survive for 10 years or more after their diagnosis. This research gives hope that we can improve these survival rates with better treatment options for patients.

4 Breakthrough finds way to improve how radiotherapy is used for people with cancer that has spread to the brain

Researchers in Spain have made a breakthrough that could help treat people with cancer that has spread to the brain more effectively. The potentially life-saving discovery has kick-started a clinical study for a blood test that could help doctors identify patients who will benefit the most from radiotherapy. The researchers have also discovered a new drug, which they say could be used to make radiotherapy work for patients who currently can’t be treated because their cancer is resistant to therapy.

Researchers at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), led by Dr Manuel Valiente, have uncovered how cancer cells that have spread to the brain are able to resist the effects of radiotherapy. The study reveals a new biomarker that could be detected in a simple blood test to indicate whether a patient will respond to radiotherapy. The researchers also discovered a specific type of drug, called a RAGE inhibitor, which can enter the brain and reverse the resistance to radiotherapy.

Combining the blood test with the new drug could help personalise radiotherapy by identifying people who would benefit from the drug prior to treatment. Clinical studies are now being started by the team to validate their findings in people.

5 immunotherapy; Engineering immune cells to hunt down cancer

researchers in Italy have made a breakthrough that could lead to better, more effective immunotherapy options for cancer patients. This important discovery involves engineering a specific type of immune cell to target and kill cancer cells. Not only that, it is possible to boost that ability with a drug delivered with nanotechnology to make it even more effective.

Adoptive cell therapy (also called adoptive immunotherapy, or cellular immunotherapy) is a type of cancer therapy that works by harnessing the cells of our immune system to eliminate cancer cells. This modern treatment approach has proven effective for some cancers such as melanoma, at least temporarily, but it doesn’t work well for many other cancers.

Dr Giulia Casorati and her team at the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy, wanted to try and solve this puzzle and make adoptive immunotherapy work for more patients. They set out to develop a new technique to make this happen, that would genetically engineer immune cells to recognise and kill cancer cells.

In this noteworthy study, Dr Casorati and team focused on a particular type of immune cell called invariant natural killer T cells (iNKT cells). These cells are a normal part of the human immune system – they combat cancer cells by killing other ‘bad’ immune cells that would help the cancer grow.