At the 12th Trinity/St James International Cancer Conference, the collaboration promotes new approaches and treatments writes Paulie Doyle
AAdvances in cancer treatment tend to occur over the course of a decade. The 1980s, for example, were characterized by significant developments in radiology. This was followed by the 90s and 2000s when scientists began to understand the abnormalities that cause tumors to grow.
The last 10 to 15 years, explains Professor John Kennedyco-director of Trinity/St James’s Cancer Institute, were when patients began to benefit from treatments targeting these specific abnormalities.
“The days of saying a patient had a certain cancer – rectal cancer or lung cancer – are a bit over,” he says, speaking with MIT. “What we’re now trying to tell patients is ‘you have this particular type of cancer, with this particular type of change in the cancer, that’s going to respond to this particular type of treatment.’
Professor Kennedy is among hundreds of experts involved in cancer treatment and research who gathered at the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute last month for the 12th annual Trinity/St. James’s International Cancer Conference — a two-day conference where speakers from around the world discussed the latest advances in cancer research.
Some of the sessions included a discussion of the latest research on the role of hereditary genetics in cancer care Dr. Karen Cadoo, and a presentation on life after cancer by Catherine O’Brien, Advanced Nurse Practitioner in Cancer Survivorship. Other conferences covered topics such as advances in precision targeted radiotherapy.
Promote a multidisciplinary approach
The goal of the conference is simple: to promote collaboration across disciplines, bringing together clinicians, scientists, patients, physicians, nurses and others involved in cancer treatment and research. This approach is crucial to making new advances in cancer treatment, says Professor Kennedy.
Participants heard presentations on the genetics of certain types of cancer. Barely a quarter of a century ago, little was known about this region.
Now, thanks to collaborative research between scientists, clinicians, geneticists, those involved in cancer treatment and research understand the underlying genetics of how and why certain families tend to get these cancers.
“We are able to analyze genes to tell members of these families whether they are going to be affected or not. We are able to intervene with patients and their family members to prevent tumours,” explains Professor Kennedy.
“And most amazingly, we are developing therapies that work for these types of cancers in these families.”
Another commenter reported on the “remarkable” results of a relatively small study in which certain types of rectal cancer patients had a “complete response” to simple immune therapy.
“No radiotherapy, no surgery, no chemotherapy,” says Professor Kennedy. “The disease went into remission – disappeared – as far as we can see – in 100% of the patients.”
Several years ago, Trinity and St. James’s decided to increase their level of collaboration, with the aim of obtaining accreditation from the Organization of European Cancer Institutes (OECI).
Lorraine O’DriscollProfessor of Pharmacology and Biomedicine in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Trinity College and Head of Research at St. James’s Cancer Institute believes the certificate has been hugely beneficial to cancer patients in Ireland.
“It’s a prestigious stamp, I guess, but it also helps to ensure that the patients who are cared for in these facilities are looked after to a very high standard,” she says.
The Institute was the first OECI-accredited cancer institution in the country. More recently, some colleges in the Royal College of Surgeons and Beaumont have applied for accreditation.
“Other bands have done it too – we advised Cork on their bid. We don’t think this is a competition, we want as many institutions as possible to be accredited.
A suite of options
Some cancers, like breast cancer, have seen massive improvement in outcomes over the past 20 years. Others have fallen behind, says Maeva LoweryAcademic Director of Trinity/St James’s Cancer Institute, Professor of Translational Cancer Medicine at Trinity College and Oncologist at St James’s Hospital.
“So pancreatic cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer – these are cancers where we haven’t had the same impact in terms of improving patient outcomes through good research. , new drugs or new prevention strategies,” she says. In the Western world, these cancers are expected to begin to overtake others as the leading cause of cancer death.
While cancer treatment has certainly become more sophisticated in recent years – with chemotherapy, immunotherapy and molecularly targeted drugs all constituting a suite of options for patients in 2022 – the challenge now facing researchers is to make progress in the treatment of hard-to-treat cancers. who are not amenable to surgery and do not respond to chemotherapy or immunotherapy.
“These are the ones who now have a very high bar. We really need to use all the tools at our disposal, in terms of harnessing, in line with the conference, tools and basic translational research to improve outcomes for these patients,” says Professor Lowery.
Meet the speakers
Dr. Michelle Leech – Associate Professor of Radiotherapy at Trinity College Dublin – addressed the conference with a talk on radiomics, a quantitative way of looking at images taken during radiotherapy – which was first postulated about two years ago decades.
Currently, healthcare focuses on geometry when it comes to ensuring patients are placed in the correct position when taking scans – but radiomics may offer more, explained Dr. Leech.
“What’s under the picture?” There’s a lot we can learn about the underlying tumor biology and the critical structures that we don’t want to treat – the organs at risk,” she says. “The idea is: can images tell us something about biology?”
Radiomics can also allow doctors to stratify patients with aggressive cancers and tailor their treatment based on the severity of their condition, Leech says. She adds that radiation therapy itself is sometimes feared and often misunderstood. It’s a shame, she says, because it’s recommended in 50 to 60 percent of cancer treatments.
“Radiation therapy…it’s kind of like a workhorse of cancer treatment; it’s been around for a long time, but there’s a lot of misconceptions about its use: that’s probably because the public gets a little anxious when they hear the word “radiation”, especially with everything going on these days here in Russia,” she said.
The field of radiomics faces difficult challenges, she explained. For example, different approaches to creating patient images should be considered when creating data.
“People acquire images in different ways because they may, for example, have different scanners from different vendors. Even where people have the same scanners, each hospital has its own protocol for acquiring images at certain sites,” Leech said.
“They might not be miles apart, but they might be different; we need to normalize these images because we are trying to extract quantitative data from these images.
Photos: Anthony Edwards