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Outsmarting cancer: Innovative treatments and diagnostics offer new hope

Stanford researchers are devising new ways to tackle cancer through better, more sophisticated diagnostics and treatments.

Researchers at Stanford Medicine are thinking up new ways to tackle one of the world's most daunting diseases: cancer.

My colleague Krista Conger and I tag-teamed an article in the new issue of Stanford Medicine magazine that features some of the latest and most innovative tactics Stanford researchers are pursuing to detect cancer earlier and stop the disease in its tracks.

More than a dozen scientists told us about the impressive research that's helping patients survive what was once a death sentence.

"In biomedicine, we're faced all the time with intractable problems, and cancer is one of these problems that is very difficult to solve," biochemistry professor Steven Artandi, MD, PhD, the Laurie Kraus Lacob Director of the Stanford Cancer Institute, told us. "Often, these problems are solved by thinking about them in a completely different perspective, and that's the kind of attitude and approach that we foster at Stanford."

In this feature, we highlighted a handful of new diagnostics Stanford researchers are developing, such as smart toilets to detect signs of cancer from stool and urine. We also described several treatments that are in clinical trials or under development.

In the lab of of Garry Nolan, PhD, for instance, scientists are using a powerful and complex cell analysis technique called multiplexed ion beam imaging to detect and measure levels of certain molecules, including those that flag cancer. The research could reveal a new, deeper understanding of cancer at a molecular level.

Among the treatments featured in the article is one some people call a "cancer vaccine," a breakthrough from the lab of oncologist Ronald Levy, MD, who has dedicated his career to fighting blood cancers. Unlike a traditional vaccination, which prevents disease before it starts, this one bolsters the body's ability to battle disease that already has a foothold.

Levy injects tumors with an agent that boosts activity of immune cells called T cells, after the T cells have infiltrated the cancer and begun to fight it.

Levy and his colleagues have shown that their strategy could eliminate established human tumors in mice not only at the site of injection, but also at distant sites throughout the body.

Image by Keith Negley

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