What is the most difficult disease to treat?

Diagnosis of brain disease (Shutterstock)

For those who suffer a long illness, you will always be the hardest to treat. Although in reality there are some diseases that are objectively incurable: we can only treat their symptoms so that they stop tormenting and progress as slowly as possible.

On this list, cancer or some so-called autoimmune diseases may come to mind – when cells of the immune system mistakenly attack our own body cells – such as multiple sclerosisLupus or type 1 diabetes.

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However, in recent years, scientists have learned a lot about the origins of these fearsome creatures. enemies of our health And how they relate to certain biological mechanisms. There is light at the end of the tunnel!

First the good news: During the past decades, many types of cancer have not been fatal. In fact, almost all of them can be fixed if we can detect them early enough. kill cancer cells before they disperse and invade multiple organs. Today, treatments that are allowing many patients to recover from this group of diseases that we know as cancer include:

targeted radiotherapy, It involves launching powerful beams of energy – usually X-rays – at the tumor, trying not to damage the healthy cells surrounding it.

Chemotherapy, The patient receives a cocktail of drugs that kill the malignant cells. Drug combinations and their use for each type of cancer have improved significantly.

immunotherapy, These are techniques that the immune system – our body’s defensive system – uses to attack cancer cells. In any case, the best medicine is prevention. A major advance in this field has been in creating vaccines that eliminate the papillomaviruses responsible for cancers such as those of the cervix and other mucous membranes.

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Vaccines are also being developed that allow identification of very specific proteins. malignant cells And, as if they were targets, they direct the immune system’s attacks against them. For example, research is being done into how to signal Her-2, a protein found in high abundance in breast cancer cells, so that the immune system destroys cells that contain it.

But the most promising therapy involves “recruiting” T lymphocytes – a type of white blood cell – as specialized soldiers. war against tumor cells, Researchers extract lymphocytes, select the most active ones, grow them in the lab and reintroduce them into the patient. They are currently testing this technology on cancers called TILs (tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes).

A similar strategy is to genetically modify these lymphocytes so that they can specifically detect cancer cells and attack them in a destructive manner. it is The “superpower” of CAR-T cells., Scientists have already created five generations of increasingly effective CAR-T, which are showing very positive results against leukemia and lymphoma. Probably soon they can be used successfully against other types of cancer also.

Another group of diseases that are very difficult to treat autoimmune, which we have already mentioned. Especially those whose origin is still a mystery, such as systemic lupus erythematosus or multiple sclerosis. These diseases appear when the immune system produces defensive cells that, instead of protecting us from viruses, bacteria and other external pathogens, begin to recognize our own cells as dangerous.

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In recent years, scientists have been devising therapies that attempt to restore the system or at least reduce the damage. He use of antibodies -Proteins that recognize and neutralize “intruders” – or molecules that regulate the functioning of the immune system, are yielding some results, still small but promising. Knowing the ins and outs of the immune system may help us find treatments to treat and, who knows, eliminate these diseases permanently. However discovering your Achilles heel requires more research.

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In my opinion, the most difficult diseases to treat are those that affect the central nervous system (brain and spinal cordl). These range from autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis to other diseases that may or may not have an autoimmune component such as the well-known amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), undergoing imbalances that can disrupt personality and neurodegenerative diseases . The latter are the worst: by the time we discover their symptoms, the damage has already been done. Neurodegenerative diseases originate from the loss of neurons that perform certain functions. These are the most important:

Mitochondrial disease, They appear when mitochondria – the “power plants” of our cells – malfunction. Among them we find MERRF or MELAS syndrome. They cause ataxia, i.e. lack of coordination in movement, among other problems.

Huntington’s disease, The patient loses control over movements, becomes clumsy and starts having balance problems. And when the disease progresses, he can neither walk, talk nor swallow. Both this disease and mitochondrial disease are genetic and their effects are irreversible, because the problem lies within the cells’ genome.

Parkinson’s disease, It is caused by the loss of neurons in a very specific area of ​​the nervous system: the substantia nigra, which is responsible for controlling our movements. Although there are medications that help regain this control and movement can be controlled with electrical stimulations, these treatments only serve to allow the disease to run its course more or less quickly.

Senile dementia and Alzheimer’s, The nervous system is a very complex system of connections between neurons, forming circuits that we do not know how they work. For this reason, there is no medicine that is valid against the natural loss of neurons throughout life or against diseases such as Alzheimer’s, which erases the memory of those who suffer from it.

Today, neurodegenerative diseases cannot be cured, but by knowing the causes and avoiding the dangers we can ensure that the degeneration of neurons does not occur until very late and progresses slowly. Gradually we are closer to understanding how these types of diseases arise and – let’s trust science – perhaps finding the definitive weapon to defeat them.

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