The War on Cancer, so famously declared by US president Richard Nixon in 1971, is a war that we are still fighting some 43 years later. The battle against cancer, however, is a conflict that predates the dawn of humanity. Fossil evidence has shown that even dinosaurs, specifically a group called the hadrosaurs, or duck-billed dinosaurs, suffered from cancer. Although the causes of cancer remain an area of active study, we know that cancer is a disease that affects a range of organisms from plants to animals, with perhaps one notable exception: the naked mole rat.
The Lancet recently published (21 Dec 2013) a re-assessment of the War on Cancer and predicted that cancer incidence will continue to rise, from 12.7 million new cases in 2008 to an estimated 22.2 million new cases by 2030. Many of these cases will occur in developing countries, where the spread of tobacco use in low- and middle-income countries and rise of over-nutrition will contribute to the high incidence of cancer. By 2030, non-communicable diseases including cancer will be the leading cause of death in low- and middle-income countries.
Despite these grim statistics, advances in treatment and detection have greatly improved cancer survival rates. However, 1 in 3 people will still be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Of those diagnosed, the five-year survival rate falls somewhere between 46-66% in developed countries when averaged across all cancers. The upcoming decade of cancer research will need to focus on closing this gap in treatment and understanding the complex nature of this heterogeneous disease.
Our fifth issue of IMMpress focuses on cancer immunotherapy, an emerging field that heralds great promise for cancer treatment. We highlight the immunotherapy program developed by Dr. Pamela Ohashi and her collaborators, currently the only one of its kind in Canada, and examine other immunotherapies for cancer including the use of monoclonal antibodies and bacterial vaccines. These and other immunotherapies signal an exciting turning point in our approach to treatment and will usher in a new chapter of cancer medicine.
In this issue, you will also find results of an illuminating survey of the Department’s alumni, experiences from students on research abroad, and a feature on Dr. Leonard Herzenberg, a scientist at Stanford University who pioneered the now ubiquitous technology of fluorescence-activated cell sorting, and who passed away on Oct 27, 2013.
We would like to thank Dr. Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker, the Department of Immunology and our sponsors for their continued support. Thank you also to the talented writers, illustrators, designers and photographers for their dedication and contributions to IMMpress.
Yuriy Baglaenko and Charles Tran