This week, scientists from the University of Singapore have published their findings on a novel new system to fight colorectal cancer. In particular, they have found a way to fight cancer stem cells, a small group of cells within a tumor that are considered among the most dangerous part of cancer. These cells can reproduce incredibly fast and, what’s more, they can generate different cell types – therefore escaping the immune system and making it exceedingly difficult to effectively treat the tumor. What their works has highlighted is a new mechanism to block a specific molecular mechanism – known as the Wnt signalling pathway – to force these cancer stem cells to “differentiate”. In other words, cancer stem cells will loose their prerogative to create different cell types and become “regular” cancer cells – which can be more easily treated with traditional chemotherapy. While this discovery is not yet at the stage where it can be freely used in the hospital and directly benefit patients, it represents a huge step forward and will undoubtedly make a great difference to many lives in the years and decades to come.
However, much of the space allocated to medicine in the popular newspapers was occupied by stories that are certainly not helping either patients or those generally interested in science. One of the most flagrant examples was a story covered by the Mirror retailing the story of a cancer patient who abandoned traditional treatment and switched to a vegan diet instead. What is especially troubling is of course not the story itself, but the way the Mirror labelled this turn of events as a “brave decision” and failed to quote any type of medical professional giving a scientific perspective on the potential efficacy of using veganism instead of chemotherapy to treat colorectal cancer.
Nonetheless, science did make some exciting leaps forward this week – in the very same field of colorectal cancer that the Mirror attempted to cover. And while the discoveries of the researchers from the University Of Singapore might not have gotten quite the same amount of press coverage, they certainly will as they become more and more relevant to the day-to-day treatment of patients that the Mirror seems to be so skeptical about.