More than 200 researchers investigating colon cancer tumors have found genetic vulnerabilities that could lead to powerful new treatments. The hope is that drugs designed to strike these weak spots will eventually stop a cancer that is now almost inevitably fatal once it has spread.
Scientists increasingly see cancer as a genetic disease defined not so much by where it starts -- colon, liver, brain, breast -- but by genetic aberrations that are its Achilles' heel. And with a detailed understanding of which genetic changes make a cancer grow and thrive, they say they can figure out how best to mount an attack. They caution that most of the drugs needed to target the colon cancer mutations have yet to be developed.
The study, published Wednesday in Nature, is the first part of a sweeping effort that is expected to produce a flood of discoveries for a wide range of cancers. Raju Kucherlapati, the principal investigator for the colon cancer project and a professor of genetics and of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said: "We have an opportunity to completely change the landscape."
Researchers caution, though, that although much is known about the genetic changes that occur in colon cancer, treatment has not caught up. About 150,000 Americans receive a diagnosis of colon or rectal cancer each year, and about 50,000 die annually from the disease.
A push to get more AIDS treatment to the world's hardest-hit countries is paying off as deaths inch down, the United Nations reported. It found:
• About 34.2 million people worldwide were living with the AIDS virus at the end last year, a slight rise from the previous year.
• Most of them live in low- and middle-income countries, where a record 8 million people received life-saving drugs last year. That's up from 6.6 million in 2010.
• There were 1.7 million deaths from the virus last year, down from 1.8 million.
• There were 100,000 fewer new infections last year -- 2.5 million -- than in 2010.