Archives July 2018

Researchers Develop New Way To Fight Cancer Using The Immune System

New research may have found a way to fight back against cancer cells using our own immune systems. According to Medical News Today, researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, may have designed a chemical structure called a supramolecule to block cancer cells’ “don’t eat me” signal to the body’s immune system.

The study, led by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst assistant professor Ashish Kulkarni, was published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering on Monday, July 2. Researchers tested the supramolecule on mice modeled after aggressive skin and breast cancer.

Kulkarni and researchers compared the supramolecule to existing cancer medicines. By day 10 of the study, the untreated mice had developed large malignant tumors.

Mice that were treated with existing cancer-fighting medication showed signs of smaller tumors. And those that were treated with the researchers’ supramolecule showed a complete stop to tumor growth.

“We [could] actually see macrophages eating cancer sells,” said Shiladitya Sengupta, one of the co-authors of the study. In various microscopy images published with the paper, the mice’s immune system is shown engulfing the cancer cells.

The supramolecule works by helping the body’s macrophages. Macrophages are the largest immune cells in our bodies. Their name comes from the Greek word meaning “big eaters.”

Macrophages serve as the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses when they’ve entered the body. They’re also a key part of the body’s defense against cancer.

Macrophages come in two types, M1 and M2. M1 macrophages are what tell the rest of your immune system to activate and begin fighting against invading bacteria. The M2 macrophages are the cells that help control your body’s inflammation during the bacteria-fighting process.

It’s difficult for the immune system to fight back against cancer because of the malignant cells’ ability to trick the macrophages. Malignant cells are able to produce a type of “don’t eat me” signal. This tells the M1 macrophages that they’re not dangerous and need to be left alone.

Additionally, cancer is able to turn M1 macrophages into the more-peaceful M2s. This reduces the risk of the cancer cells being spotted by your immune system, allowing them to grow like a virus.

Kulkarni, Sengupta, and other researchers designed the supramolecule to block the malignant cells’ “don’t eat me” signal. This helps to keep cancer from going undetected by the body’s M1s.

The supramolecule is also able to prevent the cancer cells from turning the M1s into M2s. This keeps the body in defense mode against the dangerous cancer cells.

The researchers plan to replicate their findings in additional preclinical studies. The goal is to test the supramolecule for its safety, effectiveness, and necessary dosage before moving onto clinical trials.

If the supramolecule treatment is effective, it could help to combat cancer before it spreads to other parts of the body.

It could also potentially help reduce the number of people affected by the nation’s current opioid epidemic by reducing the inflammation and therefore the chronic pain caused by cancer. Four in every five new heroin users say they began by misusing prescription painkillers.

But until the supramolecule has been proven safe and effective, early detection of cancer is still essential. A positive PSA test alone is estimated to save one to two lives per every 1,000 men who take the test. Annual screening for breast cancer has also proven to reduce mortality in women by 39.6%.

“[A] combination immunotherapy, such as blocking two distinct targets in the same immune cell, is the future of immuno-oncology,” said Kulkarni. “Our approach capitalizes on this concept.”

New Study Finds Few Differences Between Robotic and Traditional Surgical Methods

Over the past few years, there have been high expectations for the application of robots in the surgical field. With about 46.5 million surgeries being performed each year in the U.S., new and inventive methods have been continuously developed to make procedures safer and easier. But a new study has found that the methods of robotic surgery and the methods of traditional open surgery are equally effective.

A seven-year study was conducted across 15 institutions and was led by Dipen J. Parekh, M.D., chair of urology and director of robotic surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. The study focused on treatment of bladder cancer and consisted of 350 patients. Half of the patients received traditional surgery and half received robotic surgery. The outcomes were compared two to three years after the surgeries took place.

“We have done more than 4 million surgeries with the robotic approach since the device came into existence, and on average we do close to a million robotic surgeries a year globally,” said Parekh. “There are close to 5,000 robotic systems installed all over the world – each one costs about $2 million – and yet until we did this study there was not a single Phase 3 multicenter randomized trial comparing this expensive new technology to the traditional open approach of doing surgeries.”

Since robots started being used for surgical procedures, there has been a general assumption that patients who received robotic procedures would have a better quality of life following the surgery. But participants of the RAZOR study reported a return to their previous quality of life, regardless of the surgical method.

When it came to complication rates, the two groups of patients were similar with adverse events occurring in 67% of patients with the robotic procedure and 69% of patients with the traditional procedure. One major difference that can be found among the procedures is the steep cost robotic procedures put on the healthcare system. Money is always a concern in the healthcare field, especially with CNA HealthPro showing that 80% of malpractice claims are not caused by substandard procedures, but rather related to money problems.

One benefit that the study did find from robotic procedures is that those procedures tend to result in less blood loss, a lower chance of needing a blood transfusion, and possible shorter hospital stays. But neither robotic nor traditional procedures had higher risks of complications or recurrences of cancer.

With there being 770,000 drones registered with the FAA and thousands of other robotic devices, more and more people are developing uses for robots in today’s society, including medical procedures. According to Parekh, this study shows that more research needs to be done. More trials on different organs could show more differences between the two types of procedures. But the experts behind the research have hopes that this data can make a difference in the future.

New Mosquito-Borne Virus Found In Florida

For those who want another reason to hate mosquitoes, a not-so-new mosquito-borne virus has begun to make its rounds in the U.S. population. According to USA Today, a case of the Keystone virus has been reported and confirmed in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The Keystone virus was first found in mosquitoes in the Florida area in 1964. And although Keystone antibodies were found in humans in a 1972 study, there hasn’t been a case reported involving the virus itself.

Until now.

A case involving a 16-year-old boy in North Central Florida in 2016 was recently confirmed by researchers to be the Keystone virus. The boy suffered from a high fever and bad skin rash.

The boy became infected during the height of Zika virus infections. Because of this, his case went under the radar for over a year after the results of the boy’s tests came back negative for Zika and other viruses.

“We couldn’t identify what was going on,” said J. Glenn Morris, the director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute. “We screened this with all the standard approaches and it literally took a year and a half of sort of dogged laboratory work to figure out what this virus was.”

The Keystone virus is part of the orthobunyavirus genus, which has been known to infect cattle. When cattle are infected, they can exhibit brain inflammation although the boy who was infected with the virus in 2016 (and survived) only experienced a rash and fever.

The virus is thought to be spread by the mosquito Aedes Atlanticus, which is known for spreading the West Nile Virus.

To reduce infection risk, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests using insect repellent, staying inside air-conditioned area, and using screens on windows. It’s also recommended by the Florida Department of Health that homeowners drain standing water in garbage cans or pool covers to prevent attracting mosquitoes.

Although no treatment exists for the virus as of yet, symptoms may be treated at a local urgent care center. Only 3% of patients who visit urgent care centers need to be diverted to the emergency room.

“All sorts of viruses are being transmitted by mosquitoes, yet we don’t fully understand the rate of disease transmission,” said Morris. “Additional research into the spread of vector-borne diseases will help us shine a light on the pathogens that are of greatest concern to both human and animal health.”