Cancer is certainly the biggest enemy of our times. This condition takes a toll on at least eight million lives a year worldwide, making it the leading cause of death in developed countries and the second in developing countries. It is therefore not surprising that today thousands of people work daily in designing technologies that help us prevent and treat this terrible disease.

Currently, cancer treatment requires costly and invasive techniques that cause great harm to our body and its cure depends largely on early detection. The big problem, really, is that this disease often comes without alerting us, as the symptoms of it appear mostly when the cancer has already spread to other parts of our body.

In response to this, several private companies are developing technologies for early detection of cancer. A good example is Miroculus, a company based in San Francisco, California, which is developing a technology platform to analyze biomarkers in the blood and their relationship with different types of cancer.

Biomarkers are indicators of different genetic characteristics between individuals (DNA or RNA sequences). According to some scientific research, the presence of some of these in the blood can be associated with different types of cancer, making this platform a potential prevention tool.

Moreover, the process promises to be simple, fast and economical. Basically, the user would place a blood sample on a small device with a plate, which contains a biochemical formula that reacts to the presence of certain biomarkers, creating a fluorescent reaction that is captured by the camera of a Mobile phone. Subsequently, a software analyzes the results and sends them to a server where they are compared with thousands of samples from other patients. In the end, this tool could determine the probability of developing some type of cancer, helping to get a timely treatment and positively impacting the lives of millions of people.

In January 2016, the genome sequencing giant Illumina invested 100 million dollars in creating Grail; the company bets on prevention with a rather different method. In this case, they intend to use the liquid biopsy technique. The method consists on sequencing blood samples with the intention of finding DNA fragments released by cancerous tumors. The presence of these fragments would evidence the existence of a tumor and / or its development stage.

Unfortunately, not everything relies on prevention. Treatment of the disease is still a challenge to overcome. With invasive, costly and damaging current methods; researchers seek alternatives to find more effective treatments.

This week, a group of researchers from the University of Montreal in Canada, announced that they had managed to use nanobots to directly attack cancer tumors in mice, without endangering other organs or tissues. Certainly, this technique would make cancer treatment more effective and less harmful.

Another alternative is provided by the method of genetic edition CRISPR, which is not a therapy itself but a tool that could work to edit certain genes that improve the immune system of patients and thus kill cancer cells efficiently.

Even if the current situation remains difficult, we can say that we are getting closer to winning this battle. Today, there is hundreds of people researching possible cures and innovative treatments for the prevention of many diseases, something that couldn’t have been carried out without the advancement of science and technology.

Ricardo Celaya
Operating Partner at Break Off Capital
MBA Oxford University

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