IN 1971, President Richard Nixon pledged that the "kind of concentrated effort" used to split the atom and send man to the moon would be invested in finding a cure for cancer. Nearly 50 years later significant progress has been made, but a 'cure' remains elusive.

When the NHS was formed in 1948, 14 per cent of deaths in Scotland were caused by cancer; today it is 28 per cent. Of course, much of that is due to increased life expectancy which is itself a dividend of better healthcare.

Recently, immunotherapy - which harnesses the body's own immune system to fight tumours - has been emerging as the next generation in cancer medicine. In June, a new immunotherapy drug was found to be effective against prostate cancer for the first time, in some cases eliminating tumours completely in men previously given only weeks or months to live.

Meanwhile, the "holy grail" of an all-in-one blood test which can detect multiple different cancers before patients experience symptoms is getting closer. A prototype developed in the US has shown strong results for ovarian and pancreatic cancers in particular.


A THIRD of adults in Scotland are now obese, and on current forecasts it will rise to 40 per cent by 2030.

Like smoking before it, obesity is now the greatest public health crisis of our time. It is linked to increased risk of premature death and illnesses including cancers, strokes, and heart disease.

A slimming pill 'cure' is unlikely, but a growing body of research into gut bacteria suggests that slim people tend to have a greater variety of microbes in their digestive system.

Some studies have already shown that "faecal transplants" - extracting the healthy bacteria from slim people's faeces and transferring it into the gut of fat people - can stimulate weight loss.


The number of people in Scotland living with dementia is expected to increased from around 90,000 to 164,000 in 2036.

A cure - in the sense of a drug that halted or even reversed the condition, repaired ravaged brain tissue - would be one of the greatest medical breakthroughs in the history of the NHS.

At present, even a drug that can effectively delay the onset is absent.

However, there are promising avenues. In 2017, a new therapy was found to 'silence' the toxins which cause Huntington's Disease. This has sparked hope that a similar drug could be developed for similar degenerative neurological conditions, including Alzheimer's.

Meanwhile, in 2016, a protein therapy trialled by researchers at Strathclyde University was shown to completely reverse Alzheimer's symptoms within a week in mice.


WHEN the human genome was first sequenced at the beginning of the 21st Century, the project cots $3 billion. Rapid advances in technology mean that an individual's genome can now be mapped in under a day for around $1000, and costs are falling so fast that it has been estimated that it could become cheaper than a blood test by 2022.

At the same time, the breakthrough gene editing technology CRISPR/Cas9 - effectively 'molecular scissors' used to insert or delete DNA - is driving hopes of a cure for inherited conditions in humans.

The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 10,000 human diseases may result from mutations to a single gene.

In 2017, scientists in the US revealed they had used gene editing to "safely and accurately" correct a gene mutation linked to inherited heart conditions in human embryos. It was the first time the technique has been shown to be successful.