An image showing cancer disease
By MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT
A petition has been filed in Parliament calling for the establishment of a cancer fund in the country.
The petition which has been filed by the Farmers Party says Parliament should enact a legislation to establish a fund to deal with cancer as a national disaster.
“Parliament should allocate Sh 20 billion annually for cancer treatment and prevention or any other amount the MPs deem adequate,” the petition signed by the party leader David Nduati Kigoshi, says in part.
The party proposes that the Cancer Fund be managed by the national government through a secretariat in the Ministry of Health.
“The secretariat should have branches in all the 47 Counties where it will work hand-in-hand with the County Governments in helping cancer patients’ access drugs and also for awareness campaigns,” the petition adds.
Cancer is a multi-faceted disease known to be caused by both internal and external risks including tobacco, alcohol, chemical substances, radiation and some infectious organisms.
In Kenya, cancer is the third highest cause of morbidity causing seven percent of deaths per year. Statistics show that 50 Kenyans die daily from various forms of cancer.
The Ministry of Health estimates that over 39,000 new cases of cancer are reported each year with more than 27,000 deaths per year.
However, a recent landmark discovery about the genetic make-up of tumors means scientists believe they have now found a way to get the human immune system to recognize cancer as an enemy and attack it.
A team of scientists at University College London (UCL) has found that as tumors develop, they carry “flags” on their cell surface that can be recognized by specialized cells in the immune system.
As cancer tumors grow, they evolve and mutate into groups of very different cells that often look and behave differently, which makes them hard to attack. But the study found that even after that evolution process, all cells within the tumor contain markers of their original state which can act as flags.
The specialized immune system cells, known as T-cells, will attack if they locate the flags, but they are often shielded by cancer defenses or hidden because tumors change and mutate so much.
When the T-cells do find them, the cancer cells are usually able to outnumber or overpower them, especially in the advanced stages of the disease when people’s immune systems are suppressed.
However, now that scientists know that every cell within a tumor contains a flag, they believe there are two new potential ways to successfully treat cancer.
In the first method, scientists could use the flags on the tumor to develop a vaccine made up of the cancer flags, which would train the immune system to spot and attack them.
The second method involves harvesting T-cells that react most strongly to the cancer cells from the body, growing them in a lab and injecting the multiplied load back into the patient.
‘If this doesn’t work I’ll probably hang my hat up and do something else. This is exciting… Now we can prioritize and target tumor antigens that are present in every cell, the Achilles heel of these highly complex cancers,” said Professor Charles Swanton, a leader of the study from the Francis Crick Institute and UCL’s Cancer Institute, in a statement.
Dr. Sergio Quezada, co-author of the study, said: “For many years we have studied how the immune response to cancer is regulated without a clear understanding of what it is that immune cells recognize on cancerous cells. Based on these new findings, we will be able to tell the immune system how to specifically recognize and attack tumors.”
Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said the discovery gave hope of developing better treatment for some of the trickiest cancers.
Scientists plan to develop the research into clinical trials, hoping to be able to test it on patients within two years.
Any future treatment using these methods would be extremely expensive, because it would be bespoke. It would likely take more than a year to develop the treatment for each individual patient.
And it may not even work. Existing immunotherapy treatments which train immune system cells to attack cancer have had some great success, but don’t work on all cancers or all patients.
The treatment is most likely to work on cancers that have a lot of mutations, however, such as melanoma and smoking-related lung cancer
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