A current picture of cancer molecular biology, the impact of genomics & strategies for chemotherapy
The presentation will review the current picture of cancer biology with particular emphasis on the impact of genomics and the position with regard to chemotherapy. The underlying questions are 'How well are we doing in terms of treatment?' and 'Are there alternatives to conventional chemotherapy?'
Specific examples will be used to illustrate advances in drug treatment and also the limitations of current chemotherapy and the problem of acquired drug resistance. The power of genome sequencing has lead to the concept of personalized medicine but this raises the question of how long it will take before drug development catches up with the molecular information now available and, even if it does, whether cocktails of drugs will ever establish long-term remission for the majority of cancers.
This leads to the question of whether there are alternative strategies to 'one drug one mutation'. One approach that looks promising so far is 'pan-targetting' and an example of this will be discussed.
The presentation will conclude with the proposition that a different version of personalized medicine might be more productive in the shorter term, namely the isolation from blood of circulating tumour cells, circulating tumour DNA or exosomes. Through remarkable technical confluences of biology, chemistry and physics the possibility of tumour detection perhaps decades earlier than is achievable with current methods may be feasible. If this transpires it in turn may permit chemotherapeutic treatments when tumours are at a much earlier stage of development and therefore perhaps much more susceptible.
Research scientist and author
ROBIN HESKETH has been a member of the Department of Biochemistry, Cambridge and a fellow of Selwyn College for over 30 years, during which time he has also been a visiting Fellow at the University of Toronto, the University of New England and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. His research is concerned with several areas of cancer biology, particularly with strategies for anti-angiogenic gene therapy.
He has published over 100 research papers and written three textbooks on cancer, the most recent being "Introduction to Cancer Biology" (2013). His first venture into popular science writing, "Betrayed by Nature", came out in 2012. Since then he has devoted much of his time to public engagement in science, including talking to schools. He gave the opening lecture of the 2013 Cambridge Science Festival, has participated in panel discussions at Cambridge Wordfest, appeared with comedian Robin Ince in 'Happiness through Science' at the Cambridge Union Society, did a stand-up comedy routine for The Bright Club science cabaret, appeared on The Jeremy Vine Show (BBC Radio 2), completed a lecture tour of Australia in April 2014 and is an invited speaker at the 2014 Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival. His next book "The Secret of Life" is due to be published this year.