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New cancer treatment shows promise in lab trials.

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Research to beat cancer tends to concentrate on the various genetic mutations behind various different cancers. Now, a new study in the journal Cancer Cell takes a different approach – it targets the pathways that hungry cancer cells use to satisfy their search for energy.

The drug killed cancer cells by shutting off their two preferred sources of energy without harming healthy cells.
Cancer cells grow fast and divide, and to do this they rely on preferred ways of getting energy.

The idea of foiling cancer by undermining the way it uses energy differently to healthy cells is not new, but it has received more attention lately.

For their study, researchers at Saint Louis University, MO, focused on two metabolic pathways that senior author Thomas Burris, professor and chair of pharmacology and physiology, says cancer cells are “addicted to.”

“They need tools to grow fast,” explains Prof. Burris, “and that means they need to have all of the parts for new cells and they need new energy.”

One pathway that cancer cells use to make the parts they need, is called the Warburg effect, which ramps up use of glucose, and the other is called lipogenesis, whereby the cells can make their own fats for rapid growth.

In their study paper, the team explains how a small molecule that selectively targets these two pathways stopped cancer cell growth in cultured tumor cells in the lab and in human tumor cells grown in animals without harming healthy tissue or inducing weight loss, inflammation or liver damage.

The small molecule – called SR9243 – started off as an anticholesterol drug candidate. The drug targets fat synthesis in cells so they can’t produce their own fat. It also suppresses abnormal glucose consumption and cuts off cancer cells’ energy supply.

The molecule stops these two processes by turning down the genes that drive them. Denied their favorite fat and sugar energy sources, the cancer cells cannot make the parts they need to thrive and die.

The researchers say that because the Warburg effect is not a feature of normal cells and because most normal cells can get their fat from outside, SR9243 only kills cancer cells and does not harm healthy cells.

Prof. Burris explains that some cancers are more sensitive to the drug than others:

“It worked very well on lung, prostate and colorectal cancers.”

The team found SR9243 also seems to work on glioblastoma, a brain cancer that is very hard to treat. However, the drug is not able to cross the blood-brain barrier very effectively, so the challenge will be to find a way to help it to do that.

It also appears that SR9243 can increase the effectiveness of existing chemotherapy drugs when used in combination with them.

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Meet the man who’s volunteering for a head transplant.

His head can’t be screwed on right.

Italian surgeon Dr. Sergio Canavero has garnered a lot of attention in the medical community thanks to an idea that seems like it jumped right off the page of some science-fiction novel. Canavero’s plan to perform a successful human head transplant may sound like the plot of Frankenstein; however, Russian computer scientist Valery Spiridonov is willing to put a lot on the line in support of this procedure going ahead.

Spiridonov, who suffers from a rare disease known as Werdnig-Hoffman disease, is already without the use of his legs, and doctors fear his health will only continue to deteriorate until his death. Canavero’s transplant procedure, dubbed HEAVEN (an acronym for head anastomosis venture), employs a “magic” way of sealing the spinal cords that he plans on explaining to the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons.

Canavero has been approached by a number of people looking to become the first head transplant recipient. The majority of those requests were from transsexuals looking for a new body, but Canavero insists the first person to undergo his controversial procedure should be someone with a muscle wasting disease. The potentially groundbreaking operation is not due to take place until 2017.

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Human volunteers will receive lab-made ‘synthetic blood’ transfusions (The world-first trial has been approved.)

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Synthetic blood that’s been created in a lab using umbilical cord stem cells and donated blood looks so good, the world-first human trial has been approved for 2017. Volunteers will receive transfusions of just a few teaspoons of the synthetic blood to check for adverse effects as it circulates the body. If the manufactured blood cells can avoid triggering the body’s immune response, they might be a huge help for specialised treatments straight away, and could be stockpiled for emergency transfusions in future years.

“Scientists across the globe have been investigating for a number of years how to manufacture red blood cells to offer an alternative to donated blood to treat patients,” one of this team, Nick Watkins from the US National Health Service’s (NHS) Blood and Transplant unit, said to James O Malley at Gizmodo. “We are confident that by 2017 our team will be prepared to carry out the first early phase clinical trials in human volunteers.”

These blood cells come in two different types – those created from the stem cells of discarded umbilical cords, and those created from the stem cells of adult blood cells. So far, lab tests have probed that both compare well to ordinary red blood cells that are made by healthy people, Watkins telling Steve Conner at the Independent that they are “comparable, if not identical, to cells from a donor”.

The team will initially transfuse the adult donor synthetic blood, seeing as it’s closer to the real thing, and then after they will try the umbilical cord-derived cells if everything goes as predicted.

The immediate plan will be to use the synthetic blood cells to treat people with conditions such as sickle-cell anaemia, who rely on a continuous supply of new blood to live. The blood will also hopefully be useful in circumstances where people with a rare blood type need an emergency transfusion.

But this doesn’t get any of us off the hook – blood donations are still vitally needed now more than ever, as this awesome new Swedish group is addressing.

“The intention is not to replace blood donation but to provide specialist treatment for specific patient groups,” Watkins told the independent.

With how fast time goes by these days, it’ll feel like next week when we’re reporting on the results. See you then!