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New Drug In The Fight Against Cancer Uses Your Immune System

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that there are over 650,000 cancer patients receiving chemotherapy in the U.S.A every year. Chemotherapy drugs lower the body’s white blood cell count and block cell growth and replication, which stops the cancer cells from growing. Chemotherapy patients, however, become more prone to infections and illnesses with a lower immune system. The obvious next step in chemotherapy drugs would be to create some that make the immune system fight the cancer cells as well. A new study published in Cell describes a class of experimental drugs that are being put through clinical trials, that will do exactly just that.


UK researchers found that a protein normally involved in healthy cell growth and its spread, called Focal Adhesion Kinase (FAK), tends to be overproduced in tumors, which helps the cancer cells to avoid detection by the immune system. An effect of this is that rather than the immune system working to seek out and destroy cancer cells, it protects the cancer cells. In their research, the team found that the experimental drug acts as a FAK inhibitor, preventing the protein from camouflaging the cancer cells, which then lets the immune system attack the cancer cells effectively killing them.

The research was tested on mice with squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. But the researchers believe the drugs would work on other forms of cancer as well. “FAK is hijacked by cancer cells to protect them from the immune system,” lead author Dr. Alan Serrels said in a press release. “This exciting research reveals that by blocking FAK, we’ve now found a promising new way to help the immune system recognize the cancer and fight it.”

He went on to state that since the drug is already in the early stages of clinical trials, it has the potential to be an excellent sidekick to existing immunotherapy treatments. “Because it works within tumor cells rather than influencing the immune cells directly,” he said, “it could offer a way to reduce the side effects of treatments that harness the power of the immune system against cancer.”

Another recent study looking to improve immunotherapy found that adding aspirin to the treatment could lead to more positive outcomes. Using COX inhibitors, a group of chemicals that aspirin falls under, researchers were able to help stop the production of prostaglandin E2 , which is produced by skin, breast, and bowel cancer cells. These same inhibitors triggered the immune system into action and got it to fight the cancer cells.


Source: Serrels, A, et al. Nuclear FAK controls chemokine transcription, Tregs and evasion of anti-tumor immunity. Cell. 2015. 

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A Paralysed Man Has Walked Again Using Only Brain Power

A 26-year-old man who suffered an injury 5 years ago that made him physically unable to walk has taken his first steps using only the power from his brain, according to a report in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation. It is the first time that an individual who is unable to walk due to spinal cord injury (SCI) has purposefully operated a noninvasive brain computer interface (BCI) system for overground walking in real time, giving hope for the feasibility of developing BCI brain implants to help people to walk again.

Surveys indicate that for people who have paraplegia due to SCI, being able to walk again is a high priority on the way to improving their quality of life. Sixty-percent of them say they would be willing to use a BCI implant if it would help them to walk. Most people who become paralysed due to SCI achieve mobility from a wheelchair, but the sedentary lifestyle that ensues often leads to further problems such as heart disease. Not only do these cause further suffering to the individual, but they also contribute to medical costs.

Video provided by New Scientist

The study, led by Dr. Zoran Nenadic of the University of California, shows that it is possible for someone to use their own brain power to be able to walk again. The participant underwent training and tests for 19 weeks to prepare the walk. In each session, he gained more control and completed more and more tests. Initially, mental training was needed to reactivate the walking ability within the brain. From a seated position, and wearing an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap that read his brainwaves, the participant learned to control an avatar in a virtual reality environment. He also underwent physical training to recondition and strengthen the muscles in his legs.

Next, he practiced walking while suspended 5 cm above the ground, in order to be able to move his legs freely without supporting himself. On his 20th visit, he used these skills and an EEG-based system to walk along a 3.66-meter course on the ground. He wore a body-weight support system for aid and to stop him from falling. The author of the report adds that he was also able to carry on a light conversation during the walk, without interfering with the system, suggesting good real-time control.

Robotic exoskeletons and functional electrical stimulation (FES) have been used to achieve mobility, but they have disadvantages. First, they cannot exploit the neuroplasticity of the pathways between the brain and the spinal motors pools. Second, they lack the supra spinal control that an able body intuitively has. They also have the inconvenience of tending to rely on switches controlled manually. The researchers believe that if a system can be developed without these drawbacks, it would drastically improve the quality of life of individuals who are unable to walk due to SCI.

Spinal cord stimulation using BCIs offers hope of regaining voluntary lower extremity movements to those with SCI. It would enable intuitive and direct brain control of walking via an external device. If the feasibility of such a device can be established through successfully testing it among enough people, a fully implantable BCI could be developed, that might restore the ability to walk in a way that resembles nature.

In the words of Dr. Nenadic;

“Once we’ve confirmed the usability of this noninvasive system, we can look into invasive means, such as brain implants. We hope that an implant could achieve an even greater level of prosthesis control because brain waves are recorded with higher quality. In addition, such an implant could deliver sensation back to the brain, enabling the user to feel their legs.”

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Fidgeting Can Counteract The Unhealthy Side Effects Of Sitting For Too Long

Being sat down and fidgeting is often deemed a negative behavior that is attributed to a lack of concentration or disrespect. A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Leeds and UCL has found that fidgeting around while sitting for long periods of time can help fight off the bad side effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

“While further research is needed, the findings raise questions about whether the negative associations with fidgeting, such as rudeness or lack of concentration, should persist if such simple sitting1movements are beneficial for our health,” said Professor Janet Cade, from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds, in a recent statement.

Cade and her colleagues from the School of Food Science and Nutrition analyzed data using the University of Leeds’ UK Women’s Cohort Study. Considered one of the largest cohort studies of diet and health for women in the UK, the University of Leeds’ UK Women’s Cohort Study documents the eating habits of over 35,000 women between the age of 35 and 69. Over 14,000 women ended up completing a follow-up survey that checked health behaviors, chronic disease, physical activity, and fidgeting.

The results showed no increased risk for mortality due to longer sitting times among those women who considered themselves as moderately or very fidgety. However, there was an increased risk for mortality among women who reported sitting for longer periods of time and considered themselves very occasional fidgeters. There have been a number of recent studies that suggest a sedentary lifestyle is very unhealthy, regardless of how active the person is outside of work. This is the first to suggest fidgeting can modify this link between sitting and mortality.

“Our results support the suggestion that it’s best to avoid sitting still for long periods of time, and even fidgeting may offer enough of a break to make a difference,” said Dr. Gareth Hagger-Johnson from UCL.

Sedentary lifestyle has been frequently tied to various health issues, including anxiety, depression, muscle movement, brain activity, and premature death. Although standing instead of sitting has been recommended by health care professionals in the past, new research suggests standing in place for long periods of time is just as unhealthy as sitting. Instead of investing in a standup desk, current recommendations suggest taking a five-minute walk each hour to promote circulation.