“We believe we will offer in a year’s time a complete cure for cancer.” This is a bold statement made by Dan Aridor, chairman of the board of an Israeli company known as Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies.
Aridor is talking about a pre-clinical treatment, MuTaTo, which was developed by Ilan Morad and a team of researchers in an effort to revolutionize the way scientists and doctors can trigger apoptosis in cancer cells. But the trouble is, their method so far only works in Petri dishes and animal trials and hasn’t yet made its way to a peer-reviewed publication- just like countless other cancer treatments that the public had set their hopes on.
How do different types of cancer treatments work?
The oft-quoted “cure for cancer” phrase is actually a little misleading, since there are at least 70 (and most likely well over 200) unique types of cancers ( 1, 2, 3). These have different causes, they behave differently, and so it makes sense that they should require different approaches in treatment as well.
To understand how Morad’s approach with MuTaTo is different, it will help to know how the most common types of cancer treatments work today:
- Radiation therapy: More than half of people diagnosed with cancer are given radiation therapy, which directs high-energy particles or waves at a targeted area to cause damage to cell DNA. Radiation takes advantage of how cancer cells behave, specifically that they grow and multiply rapidly. The damaged cancer cells don’t survive DNA damage, while healthy cells, which have a longer life span, are able to recover and multiply normally. However, radiation therapy can slightly elevate the risk of another type of cancer in the long run. (4)
- Chemotherapy: There are over 100 types of chemotherapy drugs which are approved for treating or managing cancer. Generally, a chemotherapy drug works by either damaging cell DNA (alkylating agent), blocking DNA growth (antimetabolite), altering cell DNA (anti-tumor antibiotics), obstructing DNA copying (topoisomerase inhibitors), interfering with proteins needed for cell reproduction (mitotic inhibitors), or a few other techniques. Unlike radiation, chemotherapy damages both healthy cells and cancer cells, so doctors must strike a delicate balance to avoid too much risk. (5)
- Targeted therapy: Technically a type of chemotherapy, targeted therapy works by pinpointing some of the very specific traits of a type of cancer cell and interfering with it, such as with chemical signals or proteins. Unlike standard chemo treatments, targeted therapy does not affect normal cells. However, it can only be used to effectively treat very specific forms of cancers so far. (6)
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a set of treatments that work by boosting the immune system in specific ways to help the body fight cancer cells with its own processes. Usually, your body’s immune system fails to recognize mutated cancer cells as dangerous, but immunotherapy “teaches” it, so to speak, to respond to cancer cells as threatening.
What is MuTaTo?
Aridor claims that MuTaTo (which stands for multi-target toxin) “will be effective from day one, will last a duration of a few weeks and will have no or minimal side effects at a much lower cost than most other available treatments. Our solution will be both generic and personal”. He also stated that “We were doing what everyone else was doing, trying to discover individual novel peptides for specific cancers,” but not long after the birth of Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies, their focus switched to finding a common trait of all cancer cells to target. (8)
The MuTaTo approach intends to simultaneously use multiple peptides to target cancer cells and then kill them with a peptide toxin. This might strike you as being a similar approach to targeted therapy- and you’d be right. Aridor explains his team’s strategy is to limit the chance of adapting and becoming resistant to treatment. “Instead of attacking receptors one at a time, we attack receptors three at a time- not even cancer can mutate three receptors at the same time.” (8)
Why you shouldn’t hold your breath about MuTaTo… and what to do instead
Here’s the surprising truth: according to Pharmaceutical Research And Manufacturers of America, less than 1% of treatments that seem to be effective during mice trials actually make it through the series of clinical trials, peer review, and FDA approval to be used to treat cancer in humans. (9)
Since neither the FDA nor the public nor scientific communities intend to dispense drugs to patients that may end up doing much more harm than good, it’s necessary to use the same precautions and double-checking processes with all potential treatments, even the most promising ones.
MuTaTo is in the very early stages of development (so early that the results of their preliminary animal studies have yet to be published), and even if the treatment works, we can’t be certain for at least another decade or so. In the meantime, you should focus on developing cancer preventative habits, being aware of early cancer symptoms, and working closely with your medical care provider to find appropriate ways to manage a cancer diagnosis.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.
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