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Yet Another Complication


As this week's NEJM journal roundup reports, a new study on the heterogeneity of cancer shows that tumors may be more complex than previously thought. At Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong says this study underscores that "cancer is really, really hard" and a "puzzle of staggering complexity." It's already known that cancer itself is made up of more than 200 different types, all of which have their own "individual quirks," Yong says, and that cancer evolves. What this new study shows is that even a single tumor can be "a hotbed of diversity," he adds. The various mutations within a single tumor can affect a patient's prognosis, the efficacy of a treatment, and even the potential for metastasis. In addition, Yong says, this study throws the issue of biomarkers into the air once again. "The biomarker might only be relevant to a tiny bit of a tumor, rather than the whole thing," he says. And the same goes for treatments, which could also explain why certain cancers become resistant to treatment after a while.

However, there is a bit of good news, Yong adds. "Even though cancer is maddeningly complicated, survival rates are still going up. At the moment, half of all cancer patients will survive for at least five years after their diagnosis. Cancer seems like an unbeatable adversary, but we are beating it," he says. All studies like the one in NEJM show is that "victory will not come in one decisive strike, but through a thousand shallow cuts," he adds. "It will take a lot of time and effort."

The Scan

Booster Push

New data shows a decline in SARS-CoV-2 vaccine efficacy over time, which the New York Times says Pfizer is using to argue its case for a booster, even as the lower efficacy remains high.

With Help from Mr. Fluffington, PurrhD

Cats could make good study animals for genetic research, the University of Missouri's Leslie Lyons tells the Atlantic.

Man Charged With Threatening to Harm Fauci, Collins

The Hill reports that Thomas Patrick Connally, Jr., was charged with making threats against federal officials.

Nature Papers Present Approach to Find Natural Products, Method to ID Cancer Driver Mutations, More

In Nature this week: combination of cryogenic electron microscopy with genome mining helps uncover natural products, driver mutations in cancer, and more.