Researchers and experts in the cancer epidemic have expressed their optimism and excitement towards the Immunotherapy cancer treatment approach that is offering cures to some of the incurable cancers that mainly boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer using substances made by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function.
Speaking at the Makerere University-Uganda Virus Research Institute Centre of Excellence in Infection and Immunity (MUII) Annual General Meeting and symposium on Wednesday, Dr. Warren Phipps, a US cancer research specialist based at the Uganda Cancer Institute disclosed that there has been exciting advances in the last decade where some cancers that were previously incurable are now being cured.
There is still a lot of work to be done in cancer treatment approach but our goal is to bring the benefits of the Immunotherapy revolution to Uganda and to be sure that Uganda is at the forefront of learning about how to not only take advantage of the current revolution in immunotherapy but also help to drive the next generation of approaches and be on the frontline of research to have appropriate immunotherapies developed for Uganda and the rest of Africa. We are optimistic that the immunotherapy cancer treatment approach will benefit cancer patients in Uganda, Dr. Warren Phipps emphasized.
Dr. Warren Phipps noted;
Many of the cancers in Uganda have an infection related cause including six of the top ten cancers namely Cervical Cancer caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Kaposi Sarcoma caused by HHV8, liver cancer caused by Hepatitis B Virus and research has shown that chemotherapy and radiation aren’t enough to cure some of them. Some of the strategies of prevention of cancer defer depending on what virus is involved for example the Human Papilloma Virus that causes cervical cancer, there is a vaccine to prevent the infection and the Ministry of Health started rolling out a vaccination program for girls under 10 years. Early detection of cervical cancer through screening is a mainstay and at the Uganda Cancer Institute, we have a screening clinic and women are welcome.
Immunotherapy, according to Dr. Warren Phipps may work by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, stopping cancer from spreading to other parts of the body, helping the immune system work better at destroying cancer cells and there are several types of immunotherapy, including; Monoclonal antibodies and tumor-agnostic therapies, Non-specific immunotherapies, Oncolytic virus therapy, T-cell therapy, Cancer vaccines.
According to Dr. Warren Phipps, anyone with HIV has an increased risk of developing cancer.
HIV weakens the immune system and increases inflammation. HIV acts to add fuel to the fire and increases your risk of cancer and having HIV may increase the risk 3000 times of developing Kaposi sarcoma however treating HIV lowers the risk of catching Kaposi Sarcoma, noted Dr. Warren Phipps.
By 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that more people in low and middle-income countries will die of cancer than HIV, tuberculosis, and Malaria combined and 70 percent of cancer deaths are in developing countries and Sub-Saharan Africa ranks number one in infection-related cancers by Geographical region.
The high incidence of infection-related cancers in Uganda are cervical cancer, Prostate cancer, Breast cancer, Kaposi Sarcoma, Oesophagus, Colorectum, liver, Hodgkin Lymphoma, Ovary, and Penis. The drivers of increased incidence of cancer globally are Tobacco, Environmental Carcinogens, infectious diseases, Dietary changes (high fat/low physical activity), Ageing populations (increased longevity) and Limited cancer control programs (delayed diagnosis).
Meanwhile, the Cancer Research UK continues to offer research and mentorship programs to Uganda Cancer Institute students with the aim of harnessing the passion for cancer research.
On her part, the Director Makerere University-Uganda Virus Research Institute Centre of Excellence in Infection and Immunity (MUII) Prof. Allison Elliot revealed that collaboration between UVRI and Makerere University has been the real core of the MUII Program for 10 years and has been supported by excellent collaborations overseas namely; University of Cambridge and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). MUII-plus is funded primarily through the DELTAS Africa Initiative (Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science Africa).
“It’s exciting to see some of the graduates of the Makerere University-Uganda Virus Research Institute Centre of Excellence in Infection and Immunity (MUII) and how well they have done and we (MUII) are glad to share our achievements with partners around the African continent. We (MUII) are exploring the different collaborations that we might set up for our proposal for the next five years and how what we have developed in Uganda can also be used elsewhere on the African continent,” echoed Prof. Allison Elliot.
Uganda Christian University (UCU) has set up a new medical school that is two years old and headed by an Alumni of the MUII Program Dr. John Mulindwa Kitayimbwa (UCU, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic Affairs). We shall work with him to help UCU to set up what they want, the type of researchers they want in the new Medical School. Many Alumni will help with the teaching or with links to UVRI or Makerere University where UCU Students can have an opportunity.
Dr. John Mulindwa Kitayimbwa UCU, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic affairs stressed the need to have a mechanism through which the government can tap into the very rich pool of researchers and give them access to funds that can allow them to research and come up with solutions to the problems that are affecting society.