Clean water is essential to healthy living. Yet, there are more than 840 million people who do not have access to clean water with almost 800 children dying due to poor water and sanitation every day.
Nutritious and affordable food are essential to healthy living. Yet, 1 in every 9 people go to sleep haunted by hunger every night. Hunger plagues more than 750 million people around the world, with 98% living desolately in developing countries.
Health care is essential to healthy living. Yet more than 400 million people do not have access to necessary health services.
“The world’s most disadvantaged people are missing out on even the most basic services,” said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant Director-General, Health Systems and Innovation, at the World Health Organization. The remark was made during the presentation of the 2015 global monitoring report of the World Health Organization and World Bank Group.
The report had also stated that 17% of the population across 37 countries were further pushed into extreme poverty due to health expenses when WHO and WB factored in a poverty measure of $2/day.
Most of these people have an income of less than $1.25 per day.
What happens when a very poor person gets sick?
What happens when a poor person gets stricken with cancer?
This is among the important considerations which a team of researchers from Duke University took in when they started their pursuit of an affordable cancer cure.
They needed to find something effective but simple, portable, and not requiring electricity so the treatment could be made available in developing countries where this kind of help is needed the most.
Robert Morhard and his team at the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Duke University remain quite concern over the fact that cancer kills millions of people in developing countries, not just hunger and unsanitary environment.
Apart from their lack of access to essential health services, these countries suffer from equipment and personnel shortages. What’s more, based on a survey of 132 district-level facilities in 8 low- and middle-income countries, it was found that only 36% have regular electricity supply. All of these elements are needed for effective surgical care.
The team felt they had to come up with a non-surgical treatment that could help poor cancer victims.
The researchers already knew about ethanol oblation which is used to treat liver tumors. This alcohol comes from fermented starch which includes corn, wheat, barley, potatoes, sugar cane, and grain sorghum. When used in percutaneous ablation, ethanol kills proteins and dehydrates cancer cells.
Ethanol ablation has also been successfully adapted in the treatment of cardiomyopathies (heart muscle abnormality), parathyroid (overactivity of the parathyroid lobe), pancreatic tumors, adrenal metastases (spread of cancer to the adrenal gland), and metastatic pelvic lymph nodes.
It’s just as effective as surgery in treating lesions of up to 5 centimeters in diameter, and costs only $5 per treatment.
However, ethanol ablation has its restrictions:
- It’s effective only on tumors that are surrounded by a fibrous capsule or membranous envelope.
- Large amounts of ethanol have to be administered, which can be damaging to surrounding tissues.
- Multiple treatment is required.
The team decided to use a different strategy, a highly-effective single-dose treatment that would retain the ethanol within the malignant tissue for better efficacy and lesser cost.
How did they do it? By adding ethyl cellulose to injected ethanol.
According to the authors, and as published on Nature, “ethyl cellulose is an ethanol-soluble and water-insoluble cellulose-derivative. When added to ethanol, it increases viscosity of the mixture, which has been shown to increase intratumoral injection efficacy. Upon introduction to the aqueous tumor environment, the ethyl cellulose-ethanol mixture undergoes a solution-to-gel (sol-gel) phase transition. This retains ethanol near the injection site and significantly reduces the rate at which ethanol is cleared, by perfusion and/or diffusion into surrounding tissue.”
When tested on hamsters which had been induced with squamous cell carcinoma (a type of skin cancer) in their cheek pouches, the control group who were injected with pure ethanol had no tumor regression after 7 days. Those mice who received a large amount of ethanol — 4x the volume of the original tumor — had 4 complete tumor regression out of 12.
However, those mice who were treated with gel-based ethanol had 6 of 7 tumors regressed completely after 7 days.
And by the 8th day, all 7 tumors were gone which means the gel-based ethanol has 100% cure rate!
Even though these findings resulted from initial test in animal models, it does offer hope to cancer victims especially in poor countries. Like ethanol ablation, this gel-based ethanol therapy is a lot cheaper than conventional cancer treatments. It is also simple, portable, and does not require electricity or hard-to-supply consumables such as those needed in cryotherapy. What’s more, it’s only a single dose.
The authors of the study believe that the gel-based ethanol therapy could be useful in the treatment of several malignancies like breast cancer and cervical precancerous lesions.
Once further studies have been conducted and the technique has been approved for treating tumors, it will be of great significance to millions of people particularly in the poorer regions of the world.
Right now, breast cancer is a leading cause of mortality particularly among young women in developing countries. In 2008, the number of deaths as a percentage of breast cancer incidence was 48% in low-income, 40% in low-middle-income, and 38% in high-middle-income countries.
Meanwhile, cervical cancer causes about 190,000 deaths in developing countries per year.
Worldwide, even if we don’t like hearing about this data, 38.5% of women and men are at a lifetime risk of developing cancer of any type.
It goes without saying that cancer is a terrible disease that mankind has to conquer along with extreme poverty. We have the human, technological and financial resources to end the cycle of death and poverty and finally begin a cycle of progress.