Cancer – everyone’s least favorite “C word”. Chances are high that even if you haven’t personally experienced a cancer diagnosis, you know someone who has.
Cancer is a pervasive, serious illness that happens when some of the body’s cells begin to grow uncontrollably. These extra cells form a mass of tissue that can be either benign (will not spread to other parts of the body) or malignant. Malignant tumors can spread, or metastasize, from the primary tumor through the bloodstream or lymphatic system, invading other organs and causing damage there as well.
The statistics around cancer are grim – in the U.S., 1 in 2 women and 1 in 3 men will develop cancer in their lifetime; in the year 2021, it was estimated that there would be 1,898,160 new cancer cases; it was estimated that 608,570 people would die from cancer in 2021 within the U.S. alone. With cancer affecting so much of the population, it begs the question, “What is being done about it?”
In April 2022, President Biden relaunched the Cancer Moonshot operation. This ambitious program aims to fight the good fight against cancer with a two-pronged approach – reducing the deathrate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years and improving the experience of people living with cancer and their families. The Cancer Moonshot program was approved for nearly $2 billion in funding.
NASA is contributing to the Cancer Moonshot program by investigating protection against space radiation and how to identify markers for early cancer detection. Some of this research is taking place aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The microgravity environment of the ISS creates unique and valuable conditions for cancer research. These conditions make it possible to study cancer mechanisms, pathways, growth, and functions in cancer-related cells that are impossible on Earth. Some of the cancer research topics explored on the ISS include protein crystal growth (PCG) and endothelial cells.
Outside of the Cancer Moonshot, there are doctors who are putting their all behind the war to end cancer. One of them is Dr. Hadidya-Nicole Green. After losing the aunt and uncle who raised her to cancer, Dr. Green’s drive to destroy cancer became personal. In addition to obtaining grants to fund her research, she created the Ora Lee Smith Cancer Foundation to make sure her groundbreaking, cancer-killing treatments are accessible and affordable for those struggling with the disease.
Dr. Green’s cancer-killing treatment is known as Laser-Activated Nano Therapy (LANT). The treatment involves injecting a nontoxic nano-solution into the parts of the body affected by the cancer. A low power, non-hazardous beam of laser light is shined onto the tumor that’s been injected with the nano-solution and this solution absorbs the light. The nano-solution causes the electrons in the cancer cells to vibrate so quickly they heat and combust. According to Dr. Green, “we inject the nanoparticles at the site of the tumor. We shine the laser at the tumor, and then the tumor shrinks and disappears. It’s so simple. It’s beautiful.”
The fight against cancer wages ever onward, it’s a fight against a disease that impacts millions of families and individuals daily. Initiatives like the Cancer Moonshot and Dr. Green’s LANT are both steps in the right direction to eliminate this awful disease. To find out how YOU can support the fight against cancer, check out the American Institute for Cancer Research or the American Cancer Society.