There are about 200 different types of cancer, each of which is being studied by different groups of scientists around the world. There won’t ever be just one “cure for cancer” as their are many underlying causes for the different types, like DNA damage caused by UV which is linked to skin cancer, or tobacco smoke, which contains over 60 chemicals known to cause lung cancer. At the moment in NUI Galway, I’m working with a couple of groups of scientists who work mainly with Breast cancer and Prostate cancer.
What we are using Janus the robot for is to look at about 1500 different drugs at the same time (antibiotics, pain killers, anti-cancer, etc.), all of which are already being used to treat all kinds of different diseases.
Because we know these drugs are already having one effect in the body, chances are some of them may have another effect, hopefully against the cancer cells. Janus lets us look at the effect of all of these drugs against different types of cancers at the same time, a job that would take us months or years to do by hand.
From our early results, we have found some interesting drugs which are killing the cancer cells, but which we would never have thought to look for before. At the moment, the groups are trying to find out exactly how the drugs are killing the cells, so they don’t have any nasty side effects, and also how much is safe to give.
Because these drugs are already being used safely by doctors, we hope that they will be available for them to use for cancer patients much faster than new drugs would.