Tag Archives: cancer

New Nano-Beads Laced With Venom Slow Cancer Spread

They’re not quite as efficient as Borg technology. But new “nanoprobes” made by combining scorpion venom with tiny metal beads are giving the fight against cancer a big performance boost.

Previous work had shown that chlorotoxin, a chemical derived from the giant Israeli scorpion, affects a protein on the outside of brain tumor cells called MMP-2. This protein is thought to help the cancer cells spread.

Chlorotoxin binds to MMP-2 like a key fitting in a lock. When the chemical latches on, both it and the protein get sucked into the cell.

Fewer MMP-2 sites on a cell surface make it harder for the cancer cell to travel to new regions in the brain.

In a new study, scientists chemically bonded iron oxide nanoparticles with a lab-made version of chlorotoxin to create tiny nanoprobes, each carrying up to 20 chlorotoxin molecules.

“So when a tumor cell uptakes a single nanoparticle, it is absorbing quite a few chlorotoxin molecules at once,” said study leader Miqin Zhang of the University of Washington.

The researchers found that the nanoprobes can halt the spread of brain tumors in mice by 98 percent, compared to 45 percent with the scorpion venom alone.

A company called Transmolecular Inc. is already testing chlorotoxin by itself as a brain cancer therapy for humans.

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Scientists create ‘portable lung’

Researchers say their device, which oxygenates blood outside the body before it goes through the lungs, could be an alternative to transplants.

The Swansea University scientists say it could take many years before the device, the size of a spectacles case, is available.

Lung patients, who have seen how it would work, have welcomed the research.

According to the British Lung Foundation, there are more than 40 conditions which affect the lungs and airways and impact on a person’s ability to breathe.

They include lung cancer, tuberculosis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, sleep apnoea, avian flu, bronchiolitis and many others.

Its research suggests that one person in every seven in the UK is affected by lung disease – this equates to approximately 8m people.

As of 6 March 2009, 217 people were on the waiting list for a lung transplant according to figures by NHS Blood and Transplant.

Now scientists in Swansea are developing a portable artificial lung which could transform the lives of patients.

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Scientists remove cancer genes from stem cells

Scientists have taken another important step toward using ordinary skin cells that are made to behave like embryonic stem cells to find treatments for conditions like Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts removed a stumbling block in using so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, by taking out potentially cancer-causing genes.

Writing in the journal Cell on Thursday, the scientists said they then turned these iPS cells into brain cells involved in Parkinson’s disease.

The iPS stem cells could be made from a patient’s own skin cells, reducing the chances that the body’s immune system might reject the cells as it sometimes does with organ transplants.

Transplanting healthy cells made from iPS cells to replace cells damaged by disease or injury may be possible in the future. But a more immediate use for these cells may be in lab dishes testing the effects of new drugs, according to Dirk Hockemeyer, one of the Whitehead Institute researchers.

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When Will We Cure Cancer?

Talk about wishful thinking. One might as well ask if there will be a war that will end all wars, or a pill that will make us all good looking. It is also a perfectly understandable question, given that half a million Americans will die this year of a disorder that is often discussed in terms that make it seem less like a disease than an implacable enemy. What tuberculosis was to the 19th century, cancer is to the 20th: an insidious, malevolent force that frightens people beyond all reason–far more than, say, diabetes or high blood pressure.

The problem is, the “cure” for cancer is not going to show up anytime soon–almost certainly not in the next decade. In fact, there may never be a single cure, one drug that will bring every cancer patient back to glowing good health, in part because every type of cancer, from brain to breast to bowel, is different.

Now for the good news: during the next 10 years, doctors will be given tools for detecting the earliest stages of many cancers–in some cases when they are only a few cells strong–and suppressing them before they have a chance to progress to malignancy. Beyond that, nobody can make predictions with any accuracy, but there is reason to hope that within the next 25 years new drugs will be able to ameliorate most if not all cancers and maybe even cure some of them. “We are in the midst of a complete and profound change in our development of cancer treatments,” says Richard Klausner, director of the National Cancer Institute. The main upshot of this change is the sheer number of drugs in development–so many that they threaten to swamp clinical researchers’ capacity to test them all.

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20 New Biotech Breakthroughs that Will Change Medicine

1. Decay-Fighting Microbes

Bacteria living on teeth convert sugar into lactic acid, which erodes enamel and causes tooth decay. Florida-based company ONI BioPharma has engineered a new bacterial strain, called SMaRT, that cannot produce lactic acid—plus, it releases an antibiotic that kills the natural decay-causing strain. Dentists will only need to swab SMaRT, now in clinical trials, onto teeth once to keep them healthy for a lifetime.

2. Artificial Lymph Nodes

Scientists from Japan’s RIKEN Institute have developed artificial versions of lymph nodes, organs that produce immune cells for fighting infections. Though they could one day replace diseased nodes, the artificial ones may initially be used as customized immune boosters. Doctors could fill the nodes with cells specifically geared to treat certain conditions, such as cancer or HIV.

3. Asthma Sensor

Asthma accounts for a quarter of all emergency room visits in the U.S., but a sensor developed at the University of Pittsburgh may finally cause that number to plummet. Inside the handheld device, a polymer-coated carbon nanotube—100,000 times thinner than a human hair—analyzes breath for minute amounts of nitric oxide, a gas that lungs produce prior to asthma attacks.

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Nanotechnology – A Boon For Medical Science

Nanotechnology, or more affectionately nicknamed as nanotech, is a field of research that deals with controlling matter on an atomic or molecular level. This has multiple applications that range anywhere from electronics, to energy production, to engineering, to physics, and even to medicine. In the field of medicine alone, nanotech is giving rise to tools and possible applications that are now being streamlined to focus on finding and eradicating cancer cells. This is a particularly timely issue because cancer is now the foremost killing disease of the modern times. As humankind evolves into the new millennia, it seems that cancer cells are evolving as well. As such, there are still no known medicines or medical procedures that can prevent or cure the occurrence of any type of cancer.

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Bone in a bottle

GROWING human cells in a laboratory is easy. Making those cells arrange themselves into something that resembles human flesh is, however, anything but. So-called tissue engineers have mastered the arts of artificial skin and bladders, and recently they have managed to rig up a windpipe for a patient whose existing one was blocked. But more complicated organs elude them. And simpler ones, too. No one, for instance, has managed to grow bone marrow successfully.

At first sight, that is surprising. The soft and squishy marrow inside bones does not look like a highly structured tissue, but apparently it is. That does not matter for transplants. If marrow cells are moved from one bone to another they quickly make themselves at home. But it matters for research. Bone marrow plays an important role in the immune system, and also in bodily rejuvenation. Stem cells that originate within the marrow generate various sorts of infection-fighting blood cells and also help to repair damaged organs. However, many anti-cancer and anti-viral drugs are toxic to marrow. That leaves patients taking them susceptible to disease and premature ageing. Experiments intended to investigate this toxicity using mice have proved unsatisfactory. Nicholas Kotov of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his colleagues have therefore been trying to grow human marrow artificially.

When they started their research, Dr Kotov and his team knew that the stem cells from which marrow is derived grow naturally in specialised pores within bone. These pores are lined by a mixture of connective-tissue cells, bone cells and fat cells, which collaborate to nurture the stem cells. The researchers also knew that the cells in this lining send chemical signals to one another and to those stem cells they touch. That suggests a stem cell’s fate may depend on its surroundings in three dimensions, rather than the two dimensions of the bottom of a Petri dish—the type of vessel traditionally used to grow cell cultures. If correct, this would explain why attempts to make marrow in Petri dishes have failed.

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Scientists Create a New Biofuel From E. Coli

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As bacterium goes, E. coli is a public health scourge, but a lab favorite. It’s one of the most thoroughly studied microbes out there, and so one of the most easily manipulated for genetic engineering. Scientists can tweak its metabolic pathways to produce insulinmag-glass_10x10 Scientists Create a New Biofuel From E. Coli , antibiotics and anticancer drugs; they can increase its ability to make ethanol or even engineer it to manufacture hydrocarbons. But until now, they couldn’t push it to create something that didn’t exist naturally: long-chain alcohols.

By manipulating E. coli to produce alcohols with up to eight carbon atoms, James Liao and his colleagues at the University of California-Los Angeles recently introduced a new twist to the field of biofuels research. Long-chain alcohols overcome some of the traditional limitations of ethanol, which has only two carbon atoms. They have both high-energy density—on par with gasoline—and low water solubility, so they are compatible with existing infrastructure.

“Long-chain alcohols can be directly used in automobiles or aircraft,” Liao says. “Unlike E85, which requires retrofitted vehicles, [they] can be used without vehicle modification.”

The current research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Dec. 8, builds on work Liao published in the journal Nature last January. The Nature study demonstrated that E. coli can metabolize glucose into branched chain alcohols with four or five carbon atoms—and do so in higher yields (for isobutanol, 86 percent of the theoretical maximum) that will be necessary for large-scale biofuels production.

Alcohols with six to eight carbon atoms in each molecule could only be generated by pioneering a whole new metabolic pathway—a nonnatural one, created by chemically synthesizing amino acidsmag-glass_10x10 Scientists Create a New Biofuel From E. Coli that allow the microbe to manufacture alcohols longer than what would be naturally possible.

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Harvard Team Unlocks Clues to Genes that Control Longevity

Harvard Medical School Researchers have used a single compound to increase the lifespan of obese mice, and found that the drug reversed nearly all of the changes in gene expression patterns found in mice on high calorie diets–some of which are associated with diabetes, heart disease, and other significant diseases related to obesity.

The research, led by investigators at Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging, is the first time that the small molecule resveratrol has been shown to offer survival benefits in a mammal.

“Mice are much closer evolutionarily to humans than any previous model organism treated by this molecule, which offers hope that similar impacts might be seen in humans without negative side-effects,” says co-senior author David Sinclair, HMS associate professor of pathology, and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Labs for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging.

“After six months, resveratrol essentially prevented most of the negative effects of the high calorie diet in mice,” said Rafael de Cabo, Ph.D., the study’s other co-senior investigator from the National Institute on Aging’s Laboratory of Experimental Gerontology, Aging, Metabolism, and Nutrition Unit. “There is a lot of work ahead that will help us better understand resveratrol’s roles and the best applications for it.”

Resveratrol is found in red wines and produced by a variety of plants when put under stress. It was first discovered to have an anti-aging properties by Sinclair, other HMS researchers, and their colleagues in 2003 and reported in Nature. The 2003 study showed that yeast treated with resveratrol lived 60 percent longer. Since 2003, resveratrol has been shown to extend the lifespan of worms and flies by nearly 30 percent, and fish by almost 60 percent. It has also been shown to protect against Huntington’s disease in two different animal models (worms and mice).

“The “healthspan” benefits we saw in the obese mice treated with resveratrol, such as increased insulin sensitivity, decreased glucose levels, healthier heart and liver tissues, are positive clinical indicators and may mean we can stave off in humans age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, but only time and more research will tell,” says Sinclair, who is also a co-founder of Sirtris, a company with an author on this paper and which is currently in a phase 1b trial in humans with diabetes using an enhanced, proprietary formulation of resveratrol. [Harvard has license and equity interests with Sirtris, which is not a public company.]

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Has universal ageing mechanism been found?

An overworked protein that causes yeast to age when it neglects one of its functions may trigger ageing in mice too. If the same effect is found in people, it may suggest new ways to halt or reverse age-related disease.

As we get older, genes can start to be expressed in the wrong body tissues – a process that is thought to contribute to diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s. But while sunlight or chemicals are known to cause limited DNA damage, how more widespread changes in gene expression come about has been unclear.

To investigate, David Sinclair and colleagues at Harvard Medical School turned to yeast cells. These produce a dual-function protein called Sir2 that, while being involved in DNA repair, also helps keep certain genes switched off.

As yeast cells age, the protein can’t do both jobs and neglects its role as a gene suppressor.

Now Sinclair’s team has shown that SIRT1, the mammalian version of Sir2, also begins to neglect its gene-suppressor role in mice whose DNA is damaged, and that this may contribute to ageing.

This raises the hope that, if gene-suppressing proteins become similarly overworked in ageing people, they could become prime targets for drugs to keep us young.

This possibility is boosted by the team’s finding that mice engineered to over-express the gene for SIRT1 were better at repairing DNA, more resistant to cancer, and maintained a more youthful pattern of gene expression.

“The most exciting thing is that this work may unify in a single molecular pathway what we know about ageing in different organisms such as yeast and mammals,” says Maria Blasco of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid, who works on mechanisms of cellular ageing.

“It opens up the possibility of restoring youth in the elderly by re-establishing a useful pattern of gene expression,” adds Sinclair.

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