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But What Is Cancer, If Not Cells Persevering?

Editor’s Letter

Cancer is characterised by the uncontrolled division of cells. While our cells have a built-in proofreading mechanism to ensure that the DNA bases encoded is the right one, the more times a cell divides, the higher the probability that an error may occur. Such errors could contribute to uncontrolled cell division, where cells continue to persist within our bodies, ignoring signals that normally tell cells to stop dividing or to die.

We have known about cancer for a long time, with the earliest description of the disease dating back to 3000 B.C. in Egypt. Fast forward to the present day, why have we not yet found a cure for cancer?

Our bodies are incredibly dynamic. Apart from ignoring growth signals, cancer cells can hide from the immune system, manipulate the immune system to help them grow, accumulate more mutations that might render the current treatment less effective, and many more.

This might seem like an impossible battle, but great strides have been made towards understanding the factors that contribute to cancer development, putting us in a better position than before to prevent or manage the disease.

In this issue, we have a deeper look at some of the progress made in cancer research. First off, Yie Hou Lee and Michael Birnbaum from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Critical Analytics for Manufacturing Personalized-Medicine (SMART-CAMP) share about the future of CAR T cell manufacturing (p.26). Next, a team of researchers from the National Neuroscience Institute, National University of Singapore, and the Duke-NUS Medical School considers the difficulty of treating glioblastoma brain tumours and how they plan to address its critical issues (p.32). Finally, Dr. Chi-Jui Liu and Hsiao Yun Lu talk about hereditary cancers and how we may improve our odds in this game of roulette (p.37).

Shifting away from cancers, we have in our Columns, an analysis by Dr. Ping-Chung Leung on the integrative use of Traditional Chinese Medicine in managing treatment outcomes of COVID-19 patients (p.16) and a reflection by Dr. Chris Nave on the lessons we can take away from the development of COVID-19 vaccines (p.24).

In our Spotlights section, we share highlights from the Vaccines World Summit 2021 (p.42) and an interview with Mr. Abel Ang, Group Chief Executive of Advanced MedTech on how their new venture AbAsia Biolabs can help meet Singapore’s need for increased COVID-19 test kits as we enter a new normal (p.46).

Lastly, in our News section, we highlight some significant breakthroughs in cancer research with the use of deep neural networks in predicting cancer (p.61), finding clues into what drives cancer (p.8,9), and looking at how we can make tumours eliminate themselves (p.71).

Carmen Chan