Mahesh Memorial Trust

What is Cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells in a part of the body grow out of control. Normal body cells grow, divide and die in an orderly fashion. But cancer cells grow, divide and instead of dying, form new abnormal cells. Cancer cells develop because of damage to DNA. People can inherit damaged DNA or a person's DNA becomes damaged by exposure to hazardous substances.

Cancer is usually found as a tumor but in some cases, like leukemia, does not form tumors and instead involves the blood and blood-forming organs, circulating through other tissues. Cancer cells often travel to other parts of the body where they begin to grow and replace normal tissue. This process, called metastasis occurs as the cancer cells get into the bloodstream.

Who gets cancer?

Over one million people get cancer each year. Anyone can get cancer at any age, though 77% of all cancers are diagnosed in people who are aged 55 and above. Millions of people are living with cancer across the world today or have been cured of the disease. The sooner a cancer is detected and treated, the better a patient's chances are of a cure.

Brief Information about Cancer:

Indian at MIT develops anti-cancer 'smart bomb'

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has engineered what it calls an "anti-cancer smart bomb", thanks to some pioneering work by a team of researchers, led by an Indian professor.

A nanocell, designed by Prof Ram Sasisekharan and his team, has opened the way for a new, effective way to administer existing anti-cancer drugs. The new therapy, successfully tried out on mice, has been found to be safe and potent against the widely prevalent lung and skin (melanoma) cancers.

Now, a cancer drug can burrow into a tumour, seal the exits and detonate a lethal dose of anti-cancer toxins, all of this while leaving the healthy cells unscathed, says an MIT announcement.

The finding, being reported in the July 28 issue of Nature, describes how the new methodology has prolonged the life of afflicted mice. "Eighty per cent of the nanocell mice survived beyond 65 days, while mice treated with the best current therapy survived 30 days. Untreated animals died at 20."

Speaking to Hindustan Times from Boston, Sasisekharan said he would be evaluating options over the next few months for fast track human trials. Since the procedure uses existing drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), he does not anticipate the time lags usually associated with human trials.

"The fundamental challenges in cancer chemotherapy are its toxicity to healthy cells and drug resistance by cancer cells…You can't deliver chemotherapy to tumors if you have destroyed the vessels that take it there," he says while explaining how the nanocell procedure takes care of these problems.

"Once the nanocell is inside the tumor, its outer membrane disintegrates, rapidly deploying the anti-angiogenic drug. The blood vessels feeding the tumor then collapse, trapping the loaded nanoparticle in the tumor, while it slowly releases the chemotherapy."

The professor of biological engineering says the patient survival chances and quality of life inspire his team's research, bringing together three elements: cancer biology, pharmacology and engineering. His team consists of another Indian, Shiladitya Sengupta, a post-doctoral associate, and five other researchers.

The team found that the nanocell worked better against melanoma than lung cancer, indicating the need to tweak the design for different cancers. "This model enables us to rationally and systematically evaluate drug combinations and loading mechanisms. It's not going to stop here," says Sasisekharan