Highlights from this week’s American Association for Cancer Research Conference

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    (2015 AACR/Todd Buchanan)

    (2015 AACR/Todd Buchanan)

    Kerry Grens, a regular Pulse contributor and associate editor at The Scientist, joined The Pulse this week to tell us about the 2015 event. 

    The American Association for Cancer Research hosted its annual meeting this week at the Philadelphia Convention Center. About 20,000 cancer researchers and oncologists were there to learn about the latest discoveries in every area of cancer research.  Kerry Grens, a regular Pulse contributor and associate editor at The Scientist, was also there, and joined us this week to tell us about it. 

    Immunotherapy

    The studies from human experiments seemed to attract the most people attending the conference.

    “Some of [the presentations] I heard were standing room only, presenting some of the clinical data, especially about immunotherapy,” Grens said.

    Immunotherapy has been a big topic for the past few years. It’s a treatment that uses the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer as if it was an infection. However, sometimes these treatments are extremely toxic and few people will respond to it.

    “A lot of the discussions were about how we can tweak these therapies to make them less harmful to the patients, to get more people to respond to them and shrink their tumors,” Grens said.

    Obesity and cancer

    Other forms of data that were presented came straight out of the laboratory for pre-clinical data. One of Grens’ favorite talks was about obesity and cancer.

    “It’s been known in humans that there’s this very strong association between obesity and the risk of developing certain cancers,” Grens said. “So the question has been whether losing weight can reduce this risk.”

    The data presented focused on mouse research. The researchers first made the mice obese. Then, they had some of them lose weight while the others remained obese. After that, they gave the animals cancer. What they found was that the tumors in the mice that lost weight grew just as well as they did in the obese mice. Then, they looked inside the animals’ tumor cells. What they found was some of the molecular changes that happened in the obese mice were still there in the mice that lost weight.

    “Hopefully this is not indicative of what would be the case in humans, but this would suggest that at least in mice that there are these cellular changes that go along with obesity that persist even when these animals lose weight,” Grens said.

    New technologies

    Another technology that’s emerging is liquid biopsies. These would be blood, urine or other fluid tests that could give you an indication of the state of a cancer. Grens thinks that our tools to fight cancer are becoming more refined because of next-generation sequencing. It’s a technique that tries to figure out the genetic code inside of tumors and healthy tissues.

    “It allows physicians to really try and personalize treatments,” Grens said. “To try and find out what it is about that tumor that makes it unique to that person’s disease and how you can then tailor treatments to it.”

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