Tag Archives: breakthrough

Good News Monday: Kick the “Can”

Encouraging news from the frontiers of cancer research.

Cancer’s ‘Achilles’ heel’ discovered by scientists

by Study Finds

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Scientists may be one step closer to defeating cancer after finding what researchers at the University of British Columbia call the disease’s “Achilles’ heel.”

Their study has uncovered a protein that fuels tumors when oxygen levels are low. It enables the cancerous growths to adapt and survive and become more aggressive.

The enzyme, called CAIX (Carbonic Anhydrase IX), helps diseased cells spread to other organs. It could hold the key to new treatments for the deadliest forms of the disease, including breast, pancreatic, lungs, bowel, and prostate cancers.

Cancer cells depend on the CAIX enzyme to survive, which ultimately makes it their ‘Achilles heel.’ By inhibiting its activity, we can effectively stop the cells from growing,” says study senior author Professor Shoukat Dedhar in a university release.

The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, will help researchers develop drugs that destroy solid tumors. These are the most common types that arise in the body. They rely on blood supply to deliver oxygen and nutrients which help tumors grow.

As the tumors advance, the blood vessels are unable to provide enough oxygen to every part. Over time, the low-oxygen environment leads to a buildup of acid inside the cells. They overcome the stress by unleashing proteins, or enzymes, that neutralize the acidic conditions.

Stopping cancer before it spreads

This process is behind the spread, or metastasis, of cancer cells to other organs — which is what can kill patients. Finding a way to prevent cancer from metastasizing is the “Holy Grail” of cancer research. One of the enzymes which appears to do this is CAIX.

The Canadian team previously identified a unique compound known as SLC-0111 as a powerful inhibitor. It is currently being tested in clinical trials. Experiments in mice with breast, pancreatic, and brain cancers revealed its effectiveness.

The compound suppressed tumor growth and spread, although there were side-effects, with other cellular properties diminished. Now, the researchers have demonstrated other weaknesses in CAIX using a technique called genome-wide synthetic lethal screening. The powerful tool systematically deletes one gene at a time to determine if a cancer cell can be killed by eliminating the enzyme.

Surprisingly, results pointed to an unexpected role of proteins and processes that control a form of cell death called ferroptosis. This process happens when iron builds up and weakens a tumor’s metabolism and cell membranes.

“We now know that the CAIX enzyme blocks cancer cells from dying as a result of ferroptosis,” Dr. Dedhar adds. “Combining inhibitors of CAIX, including SLC-0111, with compounds known to bring about ferroptosis results in catastrophic cell death and debilitates tumor growth.”

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A large international effort is currently underway to identify drugs that induce ferroptosis. The study is a major step forward in this quest.

Good News Monday: Bye-Bye Baldness

And did you know that shorter men are more likely to be prematurely bald? That seems very unfair.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Cure for baldness may be coming after discovery of a protein that fuels hair growth

by Study Finds

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A scientific discovery may make the “comb over” a thing of the past for people losing their hair. Harvard researchers say a cure for baldness is on the horizon after scientists uncovered a protein that fuels hair growth.

The breakthrough could lead to a cream that fuels an unlimited supply of locks for the follicly-challenged. In experiments, mice successfully sprouted three times as many hairs by surgically removing their adrenal glands. The small organs above each kidney release the stress hormone corticosterone, the rodent equivalent of cortisol. This stops the protein GAS6 in its tracks.

Stress reactions such as worry, anger, and anxiety have long been connected to male pattern baldness. Researchers even estimate about a quarter of COVID-19 survivors suffer hair loss due to the shock of infection.

“Stress hormones suppress growth in mice through the regulation of hair follicle stem cells,” says professor of stem cell and regenerative biology and study corresponding author Ya-Chieh Hsu in a statement to SWNS.

The study, appearing in the journal Nature, identifies the process that underpins hair loss for the first time and reveals how to reverse it.

“Chronic, sustained exposure to stressors can profoundly affect tissue homeostasis, although the mechanisms by which these changes occur are largely unknown,” researchers write in their report.

“The stress hormone corticosterone—which is derived from the adrenal gland and is the rodent equivalent of cortisol in humans—regulates hair follicle stem cell (HFSC) quiescence and hair growth in mice.”

Turning back the clock on hair’s lifespan

Study authors explain the hormone regulates dormancy and activity of hair follicle stem cells (HFSCs) in mice. In the absence of systemic corticosterone, the little cavities where each hair grows enter substantially more rounds of the regeneration cycle throughout life.

“When corticosterone levels are elevated, hair follicles stay in an extended rest phase and fail to regenerate,” Prof. Hsu tells SWNS. “Conversely, if corticosterone is depleted, hair follicle stem cells become activated and new hair growth occurs.”

An analysis discovered corticosterone suppresses production of GAS6. In the absence of the hormone, it boosts proliferation of hair follicles.

“Restoring the expression of GAS6 could overcome stress-induced inhibition of hair follicle stem cells – and might encourage regeneration of growth,” Prof Hsu notes. “It might therefore be possible to exploit the ability of HFSCs to promote hair-follicle regeneration by modulating the corticosterone–GAS6 axis.”

Throughout a person’s lifespan, hair cycles through three stages, growth (or “anagen”), degeneration (“catagen”), and rest (“telogen”). During anagen, a follicle continuously pushes out a hair shaft. In catagen, growth stops and the lower portion shrinks, but the hair remains in place. During telogen, it remains dormant.

Under severe stress, many hair follicles enter this phase prematurely and the hair quickly falls out. This lifespan is much shorter in the corticosterone-free mice than controls; less than 20 days compared with two to three months.

Curing hair loss due to stress

Their follicles also engaged in hair growth roughly three times as often. However, researchers restored their normal hair cycle by feeding the subjects corticosterone. Interestingly, when they applied various mild stressors to the controls for nine weeks, corticosterone rose and hair stopped growing. These stressors included tilting their cage, isolation, crowding, damp bedding, rapid lighting changes, and restraining. Injecting GAS6 into their skin reinitiated hair growth with no side-effects.

“These exciting findings establish a foundation for exploring treatments for hair loss caused by chronic stress,” adds Prof. Rui Yi, a dermatalogist at Northwestern University and not involved in the study.

The study also reveals GAS6 increases expression of genes involved in cell division in HFSCs.

“So, the authors might have uncovered a previously unknown mechanism that stimulates HFSC activation directly by promoting cell division,” Prof Yi continues. “In aging skin, most progenitor cells harbor DNA mutations – including harmful ones that are often found in skin cancers – without forming tumors.

“It will be crucial to see whether forced GAS6 expression could inadvertently unleash the growth potential of these quiescent but potentially mutation-containing HFSCs,” Yi concludes. “Modern life for humans is inevitably stressful. But perhaps, one day, it will prove possible to combat the negative impact of chronic stress on our hair, at least – by adding some GAS6.”

Good News Monday: Full Speed Ahead

No time for an original post today, but want to share this encouraging article from my daily New York Times email briefing:

A running start for a vaccine at Oxford

Here’s promising news in the worldwide race to develop a vaccine to ward off the coronavirus. The Jenner Institute at Oxford University has one that seems to work in lab animals and is ready to test its effectiveness in humans, if regulators approve.

The institute had a big head start, our correspondent David D. Kirkpatrick reports. Its scientists had an approach that they already knew was safe: They had proved it in trials last year for a vaccine to fight MERS, a respiratory disease caused by a closely related virus.

That has enabled the institute to skip ahead and schedule tests of its new Covid-19 vaccine on more than 6,000 people by the end of May, hoping to show not only that it is safe, but also that it works.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana got very good results when they tried out the Oxford vaccine last month on six rhesus macaque monkeys. The animals were then exposed to heavy quantities of the coronavirus. After more than four weeks, all six were still healthy.

“The rhesus macaque is pretty much the closest thing we have to humans,” said Vincent Munster, the researcher who conducted the test.

Immunity in monkeys doesn’t guarantee that a vaccine will protect people, but it’s an encouraging sign. If the May trials go well and regulators grant emergency approval, the Oxford scientists say they could have a few million doses of their vaccine available by September — months ahead of other vaccine projects.

“It is a very, very fast clinical program,” said Emilio Emini of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is helping to finance a number of competing efforts.

All in the genes: The Jenner Institute isn’t following the classic approach of using a weakened version of the disease pathogen. Instead, its approach starts with another familiar virus, neutralizes it and then genetically modifies it so that it will prompt the body to produce the right antibodies for Covid-19.

Researchers originally cooked up the technology in a quest to develop a vaccine for malaria, which is caused by a parasite. No luck there yet. But when the idea was borrowed to go after MERS, it worked well.

woman in blue tank top smiling

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Good News Monday: 11 Medical Breakthroughs

Look for these promising new initiatives to become more widely used in the next couple of years.

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1. Tecnic Symfony, a newly approved, first-in-class lens replacement for cataracts, can now provide an extended depth of focus.  We’ll no longer have to choose between optimal close-up or distance vision, and a tiny stent is now available to treat people with glaucoma.

 2. Drones are distributing medicine to isolated areas. In 2016, a start-up company used drones to deliver medicine to Rwanda. This practice has since become routine and it’s estimated that even more areas will benefit.

3. Gene editing is helping prevent disease. A new technique to “edit” embryos (CRISPR Technology) may help future generations avoid retinal degenerative disease and inherited  diseases such as cystic fibrosis and hemophilia.

4. ALS patients will soon be able to communicate with their thoughts. New technology may help decode the thoughts of people with functional brain activity who have a completely paralyzed body resulting from a stroke, traumatic injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

5. Diabetics can be helped by an artificial pancreas. Diabetes is caused when the pancreas produces insufficient insulin. In May 2017, it was reported that the first artificial pancreas systems (the Hybrid Close-Loop Insulin Delivery System) were beginning to be distributed, helping diabetics regulate their insulin levels.

6. Reduction of LDL cholesterol. When powerful cholesterol drugs — known as PCSK9 inhibitors — were approved by the FDA in 2015, experts hailed it as a huge breakthrough, but more studies were needed to see whether this would result in medications with fewer side effects than statins.

Since then, new studies have reported good news – earlier in 2017, a 20% reduction in LDL was reported in a study group of 25,982 patients. These new cholesterol meds should become increasingly available.

7. Enhanced post-surgery recovery. Traditional surgery protocol involves no eating or drinking beforehand, feeling nauseous or groggy afterwards, and being prescribed pain medication to help with recovery, which can lead to opioid dependence.

New research has been evaluating the Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) protocol, which recommends various methods including post-operative nutrition plans and alternatives to pain medication, to speed up the recovery process.

8. More targeted and precise breast cancer therapies. Treatments such as chemotherapy fight cancer cells but don’t always have the desired outcome. In the near future, according to Breastcancer.org, expect to see treatments for breast cancer that are designed to target specific cancer cell characteristics, such as the protein that allows cells to grow in a malignant way, .

9. Improved treatments for sleep apnea. Treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea is often invasive and uncomfortable, involving the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (CPAP). This machine blows air into your nose via a nose mask, keeping the airway open and unobstructed.

But a less invasive method was approved by the FDA in October, 2017. The Remede sleep system is an implanted device that treats central sleep apnea by activating a nerve that sends signals to the diaphragm to stimulate breathing.

Following successful trial studies, this may become the treatment of choice.

10. Next-generation vaccines. New techniques include freeze-drying, which allows vaccinations to be transported to remote areas. Companies are also investigating faster ways to manufacture vaccinations to make them more readily available.

11. The first human head transplant! Italian scientist Sergio Canavero and Chinese surgeon Xiaoping Ren are developing a plan to transplant a human head — and yes, it involves neck bolts and electricity! The goal is to help patients with spinal cord injuries and paralysis.

The surgeons have already performed the procedure on mice, rats and a dog, all of which survived surgery and even regained some motor function. Is that cool or what?!

Have a GOOD week! xx