Cancer is one of the most dangerous diseases. An estimate of 13% of human deaths globally is caused by cancer (Brown 2011). So far, there is no discovery for effective control and treatment for cancer. It can develop in any person at no particular age; it is an emissary of death. Skoloot novel (2010) shows that cancer was there even in the 1950s and there was no much knowledge about the disease. Victims like Henrietta Lacks suffered so much since there was no well-established treatment and depended on the doctors’ treatment trials. ‘Cancer is caused by abnormalities in genetic materials. According to the New Genetics and Society Journal (2000), these abnormalities can be caused by abnormal DNA replication, inheritance of genetic materials, excessive ultraviolent radiation, tobacco and chemical smokes and harmful infectious agent.
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A check up at least once in awhile for cancer screening minimises chances for cancer progression in the body. With Henrietta, it is ironical since she had gone for check up after her child delivery and follow-up after which she was diagnosed with cancer in less than three months time. When she went to Johns Hopkins, she complained of a knot in the womb and a lot of pain. Normally, the major symptoms for cancer are irregular cell cycle, abnormal DNA replication and a damaged immune system. These symptoms presents by pain, ulceration, swelling and bleeding. Metastasis symptoms include bone pain, enlarged lymph nodes, fracture, and an enlarged liver and neurological disturbance. Systemic symptoms present in serious stage of cancer progression; they include weight loss, hormonal changes, poor appetite, fatigue, anaemia, and excessive sweating (Brown, 2011).
With cancer, there is no effective way to prevent it despite the saying, that prevention of a disease is always better than its cure. Procedures like radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and surgery are developed to cure cancer, though they are not secured and they come with their own harm (Spiesel, 2006). Genetic engineering is the latest solution to prevent and control cancer. Genetic engineering entails introducing a fragment of DNA in an organism where it is normally absent. This fragment of DNA normally has a gene that encodes a protein. This technology has been used to develop new ways to prevent cancer (Spiesel, 2006). This research recognizes genetic changes caused by mutation or other agents like viruses. This procedure works in such a way that, the gene factors responsible for cancer or the damaged genes are recovered at the primary stage, and further progression of cancer is controlled. According to I.C.S.P & U.R.D.U (2012), the process of genetic engineering takes four processes, which are
- Isolate the DNA from human cells. Cut the DNA into fragments with enzymes and then choose the segment with an antibody gene.
- Source for specially prepared bacteria, purify the plasmid DNA, cut it open, and add the human gene to this bacteria plasmid DNA using lipase enzyme. This process is known as splicing. Put the plasmid back into the bacteria and the result is a genetically modified bacteria.
- In gene replication, bacteria are grown, and they multiply in colonies, all of these have a human DNA fragment on them, and this makes the human antibody protein.
- Now harvest the bacteria, purify the antibody. These screened antibodies are ready for use by a patient to fight disease.
Since cancer treatment had not advanced by the time Henrietta was ailing, she was inserted tubes of radium and given painkillers. They then took samples of both healthy and cancerous cells and tissues from her and preserved them, in order to grow them for research and sale (Skloot, 2010). Her cells the ‘The HeLa’ has resulted to much technology as they have attracted interests of many doctors in knowledge and treatment advancement. We should appreciate Henrietta for today’s’ technology in treating and reducing malignant tumours.
Use of killer T-Cells in Genetic engineering to treat cancer
Use of gene therapy in treating malignant tumours is a new method in the fight of the cancer rather than advancement in the standard treatment (Spiesel, 2006). This brings excitement to the researchers as they see cure to cancer in the near future. This is one of the natural treatments of cancer as it involves engineering body’s own tumour-fighting cells to target malignant ones (I.C.S.P & U.R.D.U, 2012). This method is less invasive and more effective than the radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery as the patient immune defensive cells are modified to fight tumours.
Normally, the mutation and random events causes rare cells to become malignant. It is usually the work of the body immunological surveillance system to sense and get rid of these abnormal cells before they multiply (Hampel et al, 2000). If this surveillance system fails, cancer occurs. The genetic technology intervenes to modify the body’s T-cells, these attack the abnormal cells when they multiply, and signal the regular T-cells to attack these cancerous cells too. In this procedure, a special white cell, which is the killer T-cell, is used.
A clinical report in the Los Angeles Times newspaper (2011, August 11), and New England Journal of Medicine show a research done in the University of Pennsylvania. In the clinical trial, one genetically modified T-cell was able to wipe out 1,000 cancer cells, the same cell was able to multiply in 1000 times and then survive for months. A study conducted on three patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia: blood samples were collected from then and then they were injected with a virus to produce T-cells. This is blood is then injected back into their bodies. The genetically modified molecule would ‘command’ the T-cell to append and attack the cancer cells. Two of the three participants are free from cancer, and the other one participant still has the cancer cell but has some improvements. These findings are useful and are utilized in treatment for various cancers including breast, colon, and blood cancer. Effects of using this treatment are loss of lymphocytes B in the body because of attacks by the enhanced T-cells causing respiratory, immune, and gastrointestinal infections. The other effect is Tumour Lysis Syndrome where by the patients suffer from nausea, chills and fever as the cancer cells deplete rapidly.
Use of cancer fighting virus
Earlierstudies, shows that some viruses were able to attack cancer cells together with the surrounding tissues. Recently in the New Genetics and Society journal, (2000) researchers are set out to engineer viruses that can be utilised to attack cancerous tumours without damaging the surrounding tissues. They have established viruses that go into blood and specifically infect and destroy tumours without harming the surrounding areas. The journal nature also published a report on a clinical trial was done on 23 patients, suffering from chronic metastatic cancer that had already spread. It indicated that there was some evidence in tumour shrinkage. The patients have shown improvements with the first treatment and more benefits are expected with additional treatments. This study shows that the virus can be effective if used together with certain genes.
Use of antibodies to fight cancer
Recently, researchers have come to understand on how to modify gene to enable them fight disease. Antibodies are disease-fighting agents produced in the immune system. Monoclonal antibodies are in use in research for cancer treatment (Hampel et al, 2000). What genetic engineering is doing with the antibodies, they fuse a number of them to create super antibodies. They use cloning procedure to produce huge quantities of these antibodies, which are thereafter introduced into cancer patients using injections. Some of these monoclonal antibodies are also modified to attack the cancer cells. Other antibodies carry radioactive materials and anticancer drugs that are directed to the cancer cells, where they kill them but spare the normal tissues.
In conclusion, genetic engineering embraces the promise of preventing and controlling hereditary diseases. Researchers are working very hard to enabling the body substitute the gene that causes cancer with a normal gene. To attain this, the normal gene can join with a virus that is not harmful to the body, which is then carried to body organs. As this gene replicate, it substitutes the defective one. With time, doctors will be able to substitute the malignant genes with the normal ones. We give regards to Henrietta who though without her consent the cells and tissues extracted from her have led to much advancement in research for cancer treatment and control. The medical practitioners should however, take a step of educating the patients on cancer, its treatment, and effects of treatment. They should also not take a patient as a foundation for their business prosperity; they should however involve the patient and appreciate them despite their ailing. Like in Henrietta case, her cells led to much advancement in research and earned money to the researchers but she died, buried to an unmarked grave. Greedy researchers, who did not at least explain about HeLa to Henrietta or her family, exploited the family.
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