Science is winning the battle with cancer

Breakthrough: This “intelligent knife” can tell surgeons if the tissue they are cutting is cancerous or not. © Getty

Curing cancer is one of the biggest challenges facing medical science. Now, scientists are using AI and smart technology to invent remarkable new weapons – and success is within reach.

What’s happening

In the 1890s, killer diseases tetanus, typhoid, and the plague were neutralised by new vaccines. In 1928, Alexander Fleming created the amazing antibiotic penicillin, which has saved millions of lives. Today, it is cancer that stands on the brink of defeat, thanks to incredible breakthroughs in science.

Find out more

A surge of new technology is changing the way we treat cancer. While current treatments sometimes harm patients, new drugs can pinpoint and attack cancer cells without damaging the rest of the body. An intelligent surgical knife can tell cancerous cells from healthy ones. There is even the xenobot, a robot so small it can live inside us and destroy malignant cells one by one.

In January, scientists in Wales announced they had found a naturally occurring cell that could scan the body for threats, like anti-virus software. When they tested it, the T-cell successfully found and killed cells from dozens of cancers, including skin and blood cancers. Crucially, it didn’t harm any healthy tissue.

Will all cancers be curable one day?

Some say…

Probably not. There are several reasons why it remains unlikely. Firstly, it’s not just one disease we are trying to cure: there are over 100 types of cancer. Secondly, cancer varies hugely between types and people, meaning there can never be a single ‘correct’ treatment. Finally, it is ever-evolving, meaning treatments have to keep changing with it.

Others think…

If ‘cure’ means it won’t kill you – then, yes. With an ever-growing range of therapies available, doctors will be able to treat each individual patient. Meanwhile, using AI technology to spot malignant cells means we will find cancers earlier. As a result, many scientists now predict that cancer will become chronic, not fatal, within a decade.

You Decide

  1. Do you think doctors and scientists are superheroes?

Activities

  1. Design a robot that could live inside a person and kill off cancer. Think about how it would move around the body, and what might help it to kill cancer cells.

Some People Say...

“Within five years, cancer will have been removed from the list of fatal maladies.”

US President William Howard Taft in 1910

What do you think?

Word Watch

Penicillin
The first ever antibiotic. It kills of bacteria and helps people recover quickly from illness. Before it was discovered, illnesses that we no longer worry about, like chest infections, could be deadly.
Treatments
Chemotherapy uses chemicals to get rid of cancer cells, while radiotherapy zaps them with x-rays. Sometimes, though, healthy cells nearby are affected, leading to side-effects like hair loss.
Cancerous cells
Our bodies are constantly creating new cells to produce old ones. Sometimes, this process gets out of control and cells reproduce whether or not the body needs them. These are cancerous cells and they form tumours.
Malignant
Something that is dangerous or uncontrollable. It can also mean something that is evil or negative in its intentions.
T-cell
A type of white blood cell that is of key importance to the body’s immune system.
Chronic
Something that persists for a long term or is recurring. A chronic disease is one that lasts for a long time but does not kill you.
Fatal
This is something that causes or is capable of causing death. The bubonic plague was a fatal disease.

Subjects

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