Cancer Research - Highlights and Opportunities

I’d like to draw your attention to a video on YouTube about cancer research. It is produced by the American Association of Cancer Research and it is in part, an advert for the American Association of Cancer Research and (the US) National Cancer Institute. Most of the statistics relate to research in America, however, it is well worth a watch and does raise some very thought provoking statistics. (You can mute the soundtrack if it annoys you, it doesn’t add anything to the video)

I’d like to comment on a few of the statistics raised and give a UK perspective on them.

“Only 3-4 % of adults with cancer participate in a clinical trial (in the U.S)”

The situation in the UK is a lot more encouraging, partly because we have the benefit of a National Health Service, which makes co-ordination of trials much easier.  In the UK about 12 % of people with cancer take part in a trial, for more information on this topic read the following blog post from Cancer Research UK

“now 12 per cent of all patients diagnosed with cancer get involved in trials”.

Cancer clinical trials in the UK – part 2 « Cancer Research UK – Science Update

You can also read more about the differences between the American Clinical Trials system and the UK system , in “Cancer clinical trails in the UK – part 1

As a basic scientist, the statistics that struck me were:

  1. 17,590 p53 papers, but as of yet there are no drugs in use in the clinic as a result of this research (that’s not to say there won’t be drugs in the future, but it does highlight the difficulty of turning lab research into treatment).
  2. The situation is similar for another well studied gene, ras, with 10, 000 published research articles and no drugs currently available.

The fact that half of all published papers focus on 10 % of all genes doesn’t worry me in the slightest, these are the genes we know most about because they are most likely to be important.  In an ideal world, with unlimited money of course we’d like to study all genes equally, but there isn’t an endless supply of money (or scientists) so it makes sense to focus the resources on the genes that are most likely to have a medical impact.

It’s also amazing to think that the 1st human cancer gene was only isolated in 1982 (and now we know of over 500) this brings home just how much we HAVE discovered in the past 25 years. Likewise the increase in cancer genome sequencing is immense, in 2008 only one cancer genome had been sequenced and now 100 have, more importantly, the cost of sequencing is dropping all the time.

Do I think cancer research is worthwhile? yes I do, despite appearances, we ARE making progress, not as fast as we’d like and I don’t believe any one organisation or conference is going to discover an amazing “magic bullet”, but lots of little bits of hard won information DOES add up to a lot of progress and in time we will reap the benefits of this research. What did you think of the statistics, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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