September 14, 2017

Roundup: Medical Research and Technology

A 25-year-old student has come up with a way to fight drug-resistant superbugs without antibiotics.

The new approach has so far only been tested in the lab and on mice, but it could offer a potential solution to antibiotic resistance, which is now getting so bad that the United Nations recently declared it a "fundamental threat" to global health.  Antibiotic-resistant bacteria already kill around 700,000 people each year, but a recent study suggests that number could rise to around 10 million by 2050.

But Shu Lam, a 25-year-old PhD student at the University of Melbourne in Australia, has developed a star-shaped polymer that can kill six different superbug strains without antibiotics, simply by ripping apart their cell walls.  Before we get too carried away, it's still very early days. So far, Lam has only tested her star-shaped polymers on six strains of drug-resistant bacteria in the lab, and on one superbug in live mice. But in all experiments, they've been able to kill their targeted bacteria - and generation after generation don't seem to develop resistance to the polymers.  The polymers - which they call SNAPPs, or structurally nanoengineered antimicrobial peptide polymers - work by directly attacking, penetrating, and then destabilizing the cell membrane of bacteria.

Scientists honor Chad Carr, 5, who died of incurable brain tumor as tests on his donated tissue lead to major cancer research breakthrough

Chad died in 2015 aged 5, just 14 months after he was diagnosed with DIPG. Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a lethal and untreatable brain tumor which predominantly affects children under the age of nine.  An analysis of his brain has led to a major breakthrough in understanding the genetic mutations that drive DIPG. Experts say the unprecedented finding is the first concrete result of any study into the little-understood disease. 

Zika virus used to treat aggressive brain cancer

Using viruses to fight cancer is not a new idea, but using Zika as the weapon of choice is. But the latest research shows the virus can selectively infect and kill hard-to-treat cancerous cells in adult brains. Zika injections shrank aggressive tumors in fully grown mice, yet left other brain cells unscathed.  While human trials are still a way off, experts believe Zika virus could potentially be injected into the brain at the same time as surgery to remove life-threatening tumors.  The Zika treatment appears to work on human cell samples in the lab.

New device accurately identifies cancer in seconds

A team of scientists and engineers at The University of Texas at Austin has invented a powerful tool that rapidly and accurately identifies cancerous tissue during surgery, delivering results in about 10 seconds— more than 150 times as fast as existing technology. The MasSpec Pen is an innovative handheld instrument that gives surgeons precise diagnostic information about what tissue to cut or preserve, helping improve treatment and reduce the chances of cancer recurrence.

New class of drugs targets aging to help keep you healthy

The researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, are calling for senolytic drugs to make the leap from animal research to human clinical trials.  As we age, we accumulate senescent cells, which are damaged cells that resist dying off but stay in our bodies. They can affect other cells in our various organs and tissues. Senolytic drugs are agents capable of killing problem-causing senescent cells in your body without harming your normal, healthy cells. Senescent cells play a role in many age-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, most cancers, dementia, arthritis, osteoporosis and blindness.

Gut germs play role in multiple sclerosis, studies show

Two teams of scientists have found the strongest evidence yet that intestinal bacteria play a role in multiple sclerosis, an incurable disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the myelin coating on neurons, causing tremors, fatigue, cognitive problems, and more.

Gut germs that were unusually abundant in people with MS changed white blood cells in a way that made them more likely to attack the body’s own cells, including neurons, one study reported on Monday; the other experiment found that gut germs from people with MS made mice more likely to develop the disease than did gut germs from their identical but healthy twins.
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Together, the two studies advance the idea that gut microbes play a role in turning the immune system against nerve cells, causing MS. It will take a lot more work to develop cures or preventive strategies based on that, but the research raises the intriguing possibility of treating an often-devastating disease with something as low-tech as fecal transplants or probiotics.

How infection can trigger autoimmune disease

Australian scientists have confirmed a ‘weak link’ in the immune system – identifying the exact conditions under which an infection can trigger an autoantibody response, a process not clearly understood until now.

We May Have Finally Discovered The Trigger That Starts Autoimmune Diseases

The chain reaction, discovered after four years of research in mice, has been described as a "runaway train" where one error leads the body to develop a very efficient way of attacking itself.  The study focused on B cells gone rogue. Ordinarily these cells produce antibodies and program the immune cells to attack unwanted antigens (or foreign substances), but scientists found an 'override switch' in mouse B cells that distorted this behavior and caused autoimmune attacks.

"Once your body's tolerance for its own tissues is lost, the chain reaction is like a runaway train," says one of the team, Michael Carroll from Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School (HMS). "The immune response against your own body's proteins, or antigens, looks exactly like it's responding to a foreign pathogen."
Posted by Jill Fallon at September 14, 2017 12:47 PM | Permalink