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Through The Microscopic Looking Glass

If you’ve ever had to do research, and at some stage everyone has had to do it, you’ll know it’s one of the driest things in the world. It’s dry as sawdust. You just have to put your head down and move on. You come across some interesting facts, it’s probably the point of the whole venture, but somehow it’s never enough to really get you excited about the process. Some research doesn’t involve trawling through centuries-old library books or web pages, some research is a little more hands-on. Scientific and medical research for example, reading is involved of course, but those involved are examining samples under microscopes and making enlightened “aha, hmm” noises. In terms of dryness, this type of research is practically disappointing.

“Cancer research,” funnily enough, is the study of cancer. Cancer research ranges from the basic biology of the disease to the effects of different types of treatment. Every aspect of the disease is studied e.g. causes of cancer, how cancer forms, methods of treatment and methods of prevention, etc. The primary goal of cancer research is to produce effective treatment and prevention for all types of cancer.

There are different areas of cancer research, which are interconnected and influence each other. Basic Research: It tries to answer some very general questions like how do cells work? Why do cells grow? How do cells know when to divide? The main goal of basic research is to find out what makes cancer cells different from normal cells. They examine molecules and the building blocks of molecules, protein and DNA. They are trying to find out what goes wrong in cells when cancer develops. For example, in a study in Scotland, scientists studied proteins and found a protein called MYC that contributes to 1 in 7 cancer deaths. Our cells actually need this protein, MYC, to be able to divide, but when we have cancer the cells are defective and go into overdrive, MYC activates a certain protein that causes rapid cell growth and cell division. If scientists could find which of the proteins are activated, they could find ways to slow their division or growth. Basic research is the foundation upon which all other research rests.

Translational research: takes discoveries from the laboratory (ie, basic research) and turns them into potential new treatments or diagnostic tests for patients. For example, there is a study in Cambridge about how cells divide, where they found a group of proteins called MCM proteins, which are essential for the division process. One protein, MCM5, is being used to develop a diagnostic test for certain cancers. MCM is found at a high level in all dividing cells. Cancer occurs when cells go wrong and start multiplying uncontrollably. MCM5 is found in many of these out-of-control cells and not in normal cells. MCM5 is found in cervical, bladder, prostate and bowel cancer cells. The presence of MCM5 in Pap smears improves the accuracy in the diagnosis of cervical cancer. Translational research bridges the gap between researcher and patients. It also includes investigating why a treatment might suddenly stop working after it has worked for a while, or why a treatment causes unwanted side effects. One of the most important tasks of translational researchers is to improve current treatments.

Clinical research: The goal of clinical research is to develop more effective treatments. Scientists are testing new combinations and doses of existing treatments to see if they can come up with something that works better than the standard treatments used. They also use translational research to develop new treatments. These scientists work in hospitals and not in labs like the two guys above, so they can have access to patients. But not with mad scientists, they are allowed access to patients in order to conduct clinical trials, which are strictly regulated and governed. Cancer patients, usually in advanced stages of cancer, who have tried standard treatments and have not benefited from them, volunteer to take part in these clinical trials. There are 4 phases in each test. Phase 1 – to find out if a new drug or treatment is safe in humans and how much of it should be given. It is the first time the drug has been tested on humans. Phase 2 – to see if the drug is effective. Phase 3 – directly compares the new treatment with the standard treatment to see if the new treatment is better. Phase 4 – looks at the long-term safety and benefits of the treatment/drug.

Behavioral and population research: This type of research is conducted to identify factors that influence cancer risk. They look at things like lifestyle choices, patterns, trends and rates of different types of cancer so they can develop strategies for prevention and good health.

Psychosocial research: This is research into the emotional and social impact cancer has on patients, families and carers. It looks at the importance of support and help and tries to measure quality of life, the way physical and psychological health affects the enjoyment of life. Some questions they are looking at and trying to answer are: how do people react to the news that they have cancer? How do they cope with treatment? Are people with cancer more likely to have mental health problems? How does cancer and its treatment affect everyday life? Why do some patients decide not to complete treatment? How do families react to having a relative with cancer?

Some research is as mentioned before, so dry and boring that you could use it to start fires and have no problem even in a hurricane. And some research would catch fire in the Sahara, this is the best kind and as an added bonus it is usually the most important kind. Researching this was kind of fun if you want to know more try: These guys who do basic cancer research may have the word basic in the title but there is nothing key to this they do. Besides being important and saving lives and building the foundation for all other cancer research, they get microscopes and sharp instruments and other fun medical tools. Some people have all the fun.

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