July 17, 2017

Health Roundup: Cancer + immunology

Cancer vaccines help patients get tumor-free in 2 studies

Cancer vaccines — which are intended to help patients fight cancer by enlisting the individuals' own immune systems to attack cancer cells —showed promise in two small new studies.  In both studies, researchers used experimental cancer vaccines to treat patients who had the deadly skin cancer melanoma . And in both studies, tumors completely disappeared in more than half of the patients after they were given their cancer vaccines.
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Both studies were phase I clinical trials, meaning they were carried out with a small number of patients to test the safety of the treatment, and find the best dose of a new treatment with the fewest side effects. "These are small-scale studies that need to be confirmed with larger numbers of patients."

Researchers are developing similar vaccines against other cancers as well, including a type of brain cancer called glioblastoma, kidney cancer, blood cell cancers and ovarian cancer, said Dr. Catherine Wu, a physician-scientist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who led one of the new studies. "Many other cancers might benefit from this approach," Wu said. ...

More detail Custom cancer vaccines safely fight and kill tumors in early human trials

It’s early and there are many hurdles, but data so far suggests safety, efficacy.

A cancer treatment that one expert called the 'most exciting thing I’ve seen in my lifetime' just got closer to approval.

A  US Food and Drug Administration  (FDA) advisory committee just gave a critical recommendation for a cutting-edge cancer therapy...Novartis...  CTL019, a treatment for pediatric acute lymphoblastic lymphoblastic leukemia. The panel voted unanimously 10-0 in favor of recommending the treatment.

The highly personalized treatment is called CAR T-cell therapy. It's a type of cancer immunotherapy — or a therapy that harnesses the body's immune system to take on cancer cells.  Short for chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, CAR-T treatment takes a person's own cells, removes them from the body, re-engineers them, and then puts the cells back in the body where they can attack cancer cells. Novartis' therapy is one of two cutting-edge treatments for blood cancers are poised to get approved by the end of the year.


More detail
Why CAR T-cell immunotherapy is such a big deal for cancer treatment

The FDA will likely approve the gene-altering therapy.

Scientists Find New Biomarker to Guide Cancer Immunotherapy

Scientists said on Monday they had pinpointed a particular type of immune system cell that could predict more precisely if cancer patients are likely to respond to modern immunotherapy medicines. The discovery, reported in the journal Nature Immunology, suggests doctors and drug developers will need to get smarter in zeroing in on those people who stand to benefit from the expensive new drugs, which are revolutionizing cancer care.  Drugs such as Merck's Keytruda, Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo, Roche's Tecentriq and AstraZeneca's Imfinzi can boost the immune system's ability to fight tumors, but they only work for some patients.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:57 PM | Permalink

Health Roundup: Oral sex, omega 3, Mediterranean diet, artificial sweeteners, toxic sunscreen, Vit D heals sunburnt skin and medical marijuana

Oral sex is causing the spread of untreatable 'SUPER gonorrhea',

Oral sex is causing the spread of a dangerous gonorrhea superbug, experts have warned. The untreatable strain of gonorrhea is rapidly spreading across the world putting millions of lives at risk, the World Health Organization has warned.

Experts said that incurable gonorrhea has started to spread after becoming resistant to antibiotics, which has been partly caused by oral sex and a decline in condom use.The sexually transmitted bacteria can live at the back of the throat and, because of this, has been evolve immunity to antibiotics used to treat common throat infections.

An omega-3 rich diet really can fight bowel cancer:

Eating salmon, walnuts and chia seeds boosts the body's ability to stop deadly tumors, reveals first study of its kind. Omega-3 fatty acids prevent deadly tumors from spreading across the body. When broken down, these then go onto release cancer-fighting molecules.

Diet rich in oily fish, fresh vegetables and nuts cuts the risk of dementia by 35%

Is there anything a Mediterranean diet can't do?

Powerful compounds in tomatoes  HALVE skin tumors in male mice but not female  mice.

Compounds responsible for the fruit's red color may protect against UV rays. A trial showed mice fed a daily diet of tomato powder had their tumors shrink. Lead author Professor Tatiana Oberyszyn said: 'The study showed us that we do need to consider sex when exploring different preventative strategies.  'What works in men may not always work equally well in women and vice versa.'

Medical Marijuana Is Preferred by 93% of Patients for Pain Management

Patients managing pain vastly prefer using medical marijuana to opioid-based medications. They reported fewer side effects, and the majority found cannabis more effective.

Long-term use of artificial sweeteners increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

A wide-ranging review has found that long term use of the sweeteners – including aspartame, sucralose and stevia – may have negative effects on our metabolism and appetite, as well as our gut bacteria.  And contrary to expectation based on the belief cutting out sugar would prevent weight gain, evidence that taking artificial sweeteners reduces weight was mixed. Researchers at the University of Manitoba's George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation reviewed 37 studies that followed over 400,000 people for an average of 10 years.  The researchers said there was no consistent weight loss seen in people who took artificial sweeteners.

Swimming can turn your sunscreen toxic!

The compound used in the protective lotions becomes deadly when it reacts with chlorine and the sun, increasing risk of cancer. Avobenzone is widely considered to be the most popular sunscreen in the world. The compound works by making UV rays safer so that they don't damage the skin. But scientists say it becomes poisonous when exposed to both sun and chlorine

High doses of vitamin D help heal sun-burnt skin

Vitamin D 'significantly' reduces skin redness and swelling, a new study has found. And not only did it suppress inflammation, the 'sunshine vitamin' was also discovered to activate skin repair genes.
With participants who took a supplement an hour after a burn, the higher their vitamin d levels, the more the burn had healed 48 hours later. The findings of the trial – the first of its kind – suggest vitamin D increases levels of an anti-inflammatory enzyme in skin.

Study author Professor Kurt Lu from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center said 'We hypothesize that vitamin D helps promote protective barriers in the skin by rapidly reducing inflammation.'What we did not expect was that at a certain dose, vitamin D not only was capable of suppressing inflammation, it was also activating skin repair genes.'

Common disinfectant found in soap and toothpaste could be causing antibiotic resistance

Researchers found that triclosan, a chemical found in soap, toothpaste and cleaning products, could be making bacteria more immune to antibiotics. A new British study found that bacteria exposed to triclosan could become more resistant to a group of antibiotics known as quinolones. Quinolones are a common antibiotic used to treat urinary tract infections, sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia. The warning comes just a year after the use of triclosan in antibacterial soap was banned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:54 PM | Permalink

Health Roundup: Statins, prostate surgery, OTC for MS and 'dry AMD'

Statins have 'no consistent evidence' of improving heart attack patients' survival:

Statins have 'no consistent evidence' of improving heart attack patients' survival, researchers from around the world conclude after analyzing dozens of studies over two decades. Taking a daily statin for five years after a heart attack extends your life by just four days, new research reveals. The researchers add that statins' supposed benefits are based on 'cherry-picked science' and are unjustly promoted by pharmaceutical giants. Heart attack survivors should instead aim to improve their health through diet and exercise, according to the researchers.

Prostate removal in cancer sufferers does not increase a patient's survival prospects,

Some 7.4 percent of prostate cancer sufferers who have the gland removed die as a result of their disease versus 11.4 per cent who leave it intact, which is not a significant difference, a study found. Men who have the surgery report greater urinary incontinence, greater erectile and sexual dysfunction and greater limitations in their daily activities. Lead author Dr Timothy Wilt from the Minneapolis VA Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, said: 'Men currently diagnosed with prostate cancer will have even better long-term overall and prostate cancer survival with observation.'

Over-the-counter lipoic acid may slow the progression of multiple sclerosis, study finds

Also known as thioctic acid, it is a naturally occurring compound that is synthesised in small amounts by humans, which is available in supplement form.  The effects were seen on patients with the secondary progressive form (SPMS) of the common neurological disease.  In a pilot study, researchers found that taking a high dose of lipoic acid every day for two years reduced whole brain atrophy by 68 percent compared with a placebo.

The research, published in the journal Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation, noted that the reduction of brain atrophy by 68 percent with lipoic acid was greater than the reported impact of the drug ocrelizumab. Known as brand name Ocrevus, the medication was recently approved by the FDA for the treatment of primary progressive MS – improving whole brain atrophy by 18 percent in clinical trials.  Furthermore, the new study revealed participants treated with lipoic acid had fewer falls and better walking times, compared with those who were given the placebo.
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However, the researchers caution that further trials involving a larger number of patients is necessary before lipoic acid can be recommended as a safe and effective treatment for the disease.

Drug May Help with Common Form of Vision Loss

An experimental drug reduces eye damage in people with a common form of vision loss for which there is currently no available treatment, a new study finds. The new study included 129 participants ages 60 to 89 in the United States and Germany. All of the participants had a particular type of AMD called geographic atrophyAMD, or "dry AMD." In the 18-month trial, the participants who were given monthly injections of a drug called lampalizumab had a 20 percent reduction, on average, in the size of the area of the retina that is affected by the disease.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:51 PM | Permalink

Good news in the Alzheimer's roundup UPDATED

Sharp focus on Alzheimer's may help target drugs

Abnormal deposits that build up in the brain during Alzheimer's have been pictured in unprecedented detail by UK scientists at The Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), a research institute in Cambridge, England.

The researchers used brain tissue from a 74-year-old woman who died after having Alzheimer's disease. The form of dementia leads to tangles of a protein called tau spreading throughout the brain. The more tau tangles there are, the worse the symptoms tend to be. Doctors have known this has happened for decades but what has been missing is a detailed understanding of what the tangles look like.

The team took advantage of the "resolution revolution" in microscopy to take thousands of highly detailed images of the tau inside the woman's brain tissues. Using computer software, they figured out the tangles look like this:

 Tau Tangles Pictured

It is pretty meaningless to an untrained eye, but to scientists this could be one of the most important recent discoveries in tackling dementia. Attempts to develop a drug to slow the pace of dementia have been met by repeated failure. But it is hard to come up with a drug when you do not know the precise chemical structure of what you are targeting.

Dr Sjors Scheres, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: "It's like shooting in the dark - you can still hit something but you are much more likely to hit if you know what the structure is."We are excited - it opens up a whole new era in this field, it really does."

A Common Epilepsy Drug Can Fix Abnormal Brain Activity in Alzheimer's Disease

A team from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) at Harvard Medical School turned to an anti-seizure medication to see whether it might have any effect on the brain activity of patients with mild Alzheimer's disease. The drug in question was levetiracetam (LEV for short), commonly used for treating seizures in epilepsy patients. It's been tested before in mouse models of Alzheimer's disease, showing benefits for normalizing brain activity and even reversing some cognitive deficits. Even though this was just a small feasibility study, the results look promising indeed.

New Alzheimer's Drug Trial Clears Toxic Brain Proteins And Slows Memory Loss

The drug targets amyloid deposits - toxic proteins linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s - and after just 12 months, patients on the highest dose had no detectable signs of these deposits. Not only that, but for the 20 early-stage Alzheimer’s patients who took the highest dose of the drug for more than six months, there were indications that their cognitive decline and memory loss had been slowed down.

Nothing is confirmed until the results are replicated in a much longer trial with a larger and more diverse sample set, so while we can be excited about the incredible potential of this drug, we need to wait for follow-up trials. So with that in mind, here’s what happened. The team recruited 165 participants who had been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease to test the efficacy of a drug based on an antibody called aducanumab.Aducanumab has been shown to naturally occur in people who age without experiencing significant cognitive decline, so the researchers decided to see what would happen if they injected high doses of the antibody into people with early-stage Alzheimer’s.

"This is the best news we’ve had in my 25 years of doing Alzheimer’s research, and it brings hope to patients and families affected by the disease," one of the researchers, neurologist Stephen Salloway from Butler Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.

Experts excited by brain 'wonder-drug'

In 2013, a UK Medical Research Council team stopped brain cells dying in an animal for the first time, creating headline news around the world. But the compound used was unsuitable for people, as it caused organ damage.  Now two drugs have been found that should have the same protective effect on the brain and are already safely used in people. These two drugs were shown to prevent both a form of dementia and prion disease by stopping brain cells dying.

"It's really exciting," said Prof Giovanna Mallucci, from the MRC Toxicology Unit in Leicester.  "Both were very highly protective and prevented memory deficits, paralysis and dysfunction of brain cells." She wants to start human clinical trials on dementia patients soon and expects to know whether the drugs work within two to three years.

Adults with ADHD are more than THREE TIMES as likely to develop dementia

Researchers studied 600 adults from Taiwan with ADHD over a 10-year period.They found adults with ADHD are 3.4 times more likely to develop dementia.  While it is unclear why, studies suggest both disorders are caused by problems with brain messengers.

Pauses in speech may indicate Alzheimer's disease: Taking longer to talk is an early sign of mental decline

Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that people with a family history of Alzheimer's disease who are at-risk of developing the condition are less able to express their ideas and have reduced 'fluency' when speaking, a study found. They also use words such as 'it' or 'they' rather than specific names for things and speak in shorter sentences, the research adds.

Orange a day cuts the risk of dementia by a quarter:

Daily intake of citrus fruits can cut chances of developing dementia by almost a quarter, according to a study by scientists at Tohuku University in Japan. Citric acid contains nobiletin, shown to slow or reverse impairment of memory. It's the first major study to investigate the effects citrus fruit consumption might have on large numbers of those most at risk.

People who complete daily crosswords have sharper brains as they grow older

Doing the tricky word puzzles helps boost attention, reasoning and memory. The 'exciting' findings were based on data from more than 17,000 participants in research led by Exeter University and Kings College London.

UPDATE: Two new genes which could be linked to Alzheimer's found in ground-breaking study
Until now, these genes were seen as protectors, since they are part of the brain's immune system.  However, scientists at Cardiff University have demonstrated that they can also create fertile ground for the neurodegenerative disease. Crucially, they said there are clear ways to target these genes - potentially blocking them from triggering dangerous activity. 

The study compared the DNA of tens of thousands of individuals with Alzheimer's with aged-matched people who are free from the disease, building on their previous work of identifying 24 susceptibility genes

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:21 PM | Permalink

Roundup of exciting medical research and new medical technologies

Scientists stumble across a solution to deadly antibiotic resistance by CHANCE

Deemed to be one of the biggest threats to humanity, antibiotic resistance has previously been cited as severe as terrorism and global warming. It is causing usually harmless infections to turn into deadly superbugs that don't respond to a range of medications.  But Salford University scientists claim they may have stumbled across a very simple way forward – even though they weren't looking for antibiotics. And they have created several of the drugs already – many of which are as potent, or more so, than amoxicillin.

Study author Professor Michael Lisanti told MailOnline they were looking into ways of inhibiting mitochondria, the 'powerhouse' of cells which fuel fatal tumors, when they made the discovery. 'These broad-spectrum antibiotics were discovered, by simply screening candidates first on mitochondria in cancer cells.
'Mitochondria and bacteria have a lot in common. We began thinking that if what we found inhibited mitochondria, it would also kill bacteria.' 'So, these new anti-cancer agents should also be potential antibiotics.'

Their results showed that these synthetic compounds - without any additional chemical engineering - inhibited a broad spectrum of five types of common bacteria. This included Streptococcus, Pseudomonas, E. coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). They also killed the pathogenic yeast, Candida albicans.
Dubbed as 'mito-riboscins', they are equally, if not more, potent than standard antibiotics, the researchers said.

Johns Hopkins researchers say they've unlocked key to cancer metastasis and how to slow it

Hasini Jayatilaka was a sophomore at the Johns Hopkins University working in a lab studying cancer cells when she noticed that when the cells become too densely packed, some would break off and start spreading....Seven years later, the theory Jayatilaka developed early in college is now a bona fide discovery that offers significant promise for cancer treatment.

Jayatilaka and a team at Johns Hopkins discovered the biochemical mechanism that tells cancer cells to break off from the primary tumor and spread throughout the body, a process called metastasis. Some 90 percent of cancer deaths are caused when cancer metastasizes. The team also found that two existing, FDA-approved drugs can slow metastasis significantly....The drugs the team used were Tocilizumab, a rheumatoid arthritis treatment, and Reparixin, which is being evaluated for cancer treatment. The drugs bind to the Interleukin receptors and block their signals, slowing metastasis.  The next step for the team is to test the effectiveness of the drugs in human subjects.

New vaccine providing '100% protection' against life-wrecking Lyme disease is in the pipeline

Experts at UMass Medical School in Boston have prevented mice getting Lyme disease.  A single jab injects an antibody that targets bacteria inside the tick's gut as soon as the tick bites, thus preventing the illness from being transmitted to the body.

The seasonal injection of the single antibody could be given in the spring, and could last through the fall, when ticks are most active. The developers say it has shown virtually no adverse side effects, but more testing needs to be done. And this means that it could take another two-to-three years before it is available and it has passed the clinic trials required for approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Until then, the sweetener Stevia might work even better than antibiotics to treat Lyme disease

A professor who has battled with the illness for 15 years, believes to have found a solution.  Dr Eva Sapi, an academic and researcher at the University of New Haven, conducted tests on the sweetener Stevia and found that it combats the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that causes Lyme disease.  "We did some research, and found out it's been used in Japan for centuries as a microbiotic agent."  The sugary substance has proven much more effective in killing the bacteria than antibiotics. Clinical trials are being conducted in Hyde Park, New York, by Dr Richard Horowitz, a doctor specializing in Lyme disease and curing patients with the illness. 

Geko 'wristwatch' may help speed up healing of leg injuries and aid patients who have surgery for broken bones

The neuromuscular electro-stimulation device reduces swelling in broken limbs.  Around 75 per cent of patients using Geko were treated successfully and went home in one or two days.

Rapidly expanding biofoam will save soldiers' lives.

Bleeding to death is the leading cause of fatalities on the battlefield.  Dubbed ResQ Foam, this remarkable biofoam rapidly expands inside the body (up to 35 times the original volume) and seals off the wound.  The foam which must be injected doesn’t repair the injury, but stabilizes the wounded, buying the patient about three more hours to get to a surgeon which can be the critical difference between life and death.

Silk patch that heals a burst eardrum

Called ClearDrum, the contact lens-sized implant is stitched over the hole in the eardrum and acts as a ‘scaffold’ on to which the patient’s own healthy new tissue can grow. It can also transmit sound just as a healthy eardrum would do. Trials on patients are due to begin in Australia within the next year and if these prove successful, ClearDrum could be widely available in three to five years.

The titanium 'butterfly' device which can cut the risk of a stroke after being placed in your neck

A tiny titanium ‘butterfly’ implanted in the neck could give hope to half a million British patients blighted by drug-resistant high blood pressure, dramatically reducing their risk of stroke, heart attacks and dementia.
In American trials, the baked-bean-size device – a featherlight, four-sided wire cage – has been able to improve patients’ prospects where medication had failed to do so.  Some, who still suffered high blood pressure despite being on the highest doses of medication, saw their readings drop to normal levels within months..... 

Dutch cardiologist Dr Jan van der Heyden, who has been using the device on patients, said: ‘We’ve been following patients for more than two years and have seen dramatic improvements....The implant remains in place permanently and the patient is unable to feel it.  Studies suggest that there is an initial effect within 24 hours, and that blood pressure continues to fall over three months and then remain stable.

Given European approval last year, the device, called MobiusHD, is now set to be offered to a select group of patients as part of a trial led by British experts. The procedure is set to go on trial at University College London Hospitals in a study expected to gain approval and begin recruiting later this year.

'Microneedle' Patch Promises Painless Flu Vaccine

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:22 PM | Permalink

Big shift in understanding how the brain makes memories

Rules of memory 'beautifully' rewritten

 Brain Memory

It had been thought that all memories start as a short-term memory and are then slowly converted into a long-term one. Two parts of the brain are heavily involved in remembering our personal experiences: The hippocampus is the place for short-term memories while the cortex is home to long-term memories.

The US and Japanese team found that the brain "doubles up" by simultaneously making two memories of events. The results, published in the journal Science, showed that memories were formed simultaneously in the hippocampus and the cortex. One is for the here-and-now and the other for a lifetime.

Experts said the findings were surprising, but also beautiful and convincing.  Prof Susumu Tonegawa, the director of the research centre, said: "This was surprising. This is contrary to the popular hypothesis that has been held for decades." "This is a significant advance compared to previous knowledge, it's a big shift."

Dr Amy Milton, who researches memory at Cambridge University, described the study as "beautiful, elegant and extremely impressive". "I'm quite surprised.  "This is [just] one study, but I think they've got a strong case, I think it's convincing and I think this will tell us about how memories are stored in humans as well."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:45 PM | Permalink