Stories tagged cancer

Jan
24
2013

Sniffing Out Cancer: Amherst chemists develop a way to "smell" cancer cells.
Sniffing Out Cancer: Amherst chemists develop a way to "smell" cancer cells.Courtesy Jeremie63
Chemists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a way to quickly and accurately detect and identify metastatic cancer cells in living tissue, in much the same way that your nose can detect and identify certain odors.

The smell of a rose, for example, is a unique pattern of molecules, which activates a certain set of receptors in your nose. When these specific receptors are triggered, your brain immediately recognizes it as a rose.

Similarly, each type of cancer has a unique pattern to the proteins that make up its cells. The Amherst chemists just needed a "nose" to recognize these patterns. What they came up with was an array of gold nanoparticle sensors, coupled with green fluorescent proteins (GFP). The researchers took healthy tissue and tumor samples from mice, and trained the nanoparticle-GFP sensors to recognize the bad cells, and for the GFP to fluoresce in the presence of metastatic tissues.

This method is really sensitive to subtle differences, it's quick (can detect cancer cells within minutes), it can differentiate between types of cancers, and is minimally invasive. The researchers haven't tested this method on human tissue samples yet, but it holds some exciting potential.

Nov
12
2010

Gold. Pretty, pretty, cancer-annihilating gold. Wait, what? Yep, you read that right. Gold nanoshells are proving themselves mighty effective at killing cancer .

So here’s the process in an overly-simplified nut(nano?)shell –

1. Gold nanoshells are injected into the body.
2. The shells travel the bloodstream and seep into the tumor via the leaky blood vessels that feed it (your other blood vessels are nice and tightly woven).
3. The shiny new gold-nanoshell-infused-tumor is heated with infrared light (the same light that powers your remote controls at home) for about twenty minutes.
4. The gold-nanoshell-infused-tumor gets cooked to a dead crisp, while your healthy cells remain intact and healthy.

Great news if you’re a lab rat and you’re looking to stick around for more experiments since, so far, their studies with lab rats have been 100% effective in killing the cancer.

Also great news (mostly) if you’re a human and you’re looking for a possible cure for cancer that doesn’t involve getting horrendously sick from chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Why “mostly?” Well, because there are Gold Nugget
Gold NuggetCourtesy United States Geological Survey
few questions that ought to be asked:

1. What happens to the rest of the gold nanoshells that don’t make it to the tumor? Are they absorbed by the body? Are they processed by the liver and then passed?
2. If they’re passed through the body via the liver, what happens to them once they’re in our waste-water treatment facilities?
3. What affect do they have on the environment?
4. If the treated water makes it back to our drinking water – will we be consuming gold nanoshells without our knowledge? What then?

It’s very easy to get all rah-rah-sis-boom-bah! about exciting new cancer treatments because we all want it so badly. But it’s also important to ask the difficult questions upfront, so that we’re not facing any nasty surprises down the road (asbestos, anyone?). Meanwhile, I’ll be quietly flying my gold nanoshell flag. Go, fight, win!

Deathstalker scorpion venom, combined with nanoscale particles of iron oxide, can slow the spread of BRAIN CANCER.

What is there not to love in that sentence? You've got scorpion venom, nano stuff, brain cancer...heck, I was hooked at the word Deathstalker.

Just so you know - the formal science way of saying the same thing is “Chlorotoxin Labeled Magnetic Nanovectors for Targeted Gene Delivery to Glioma”. You can find the article here.

Deathstalker Scorpion
Deathstalker ScorpionCourtesy Ester Inbar

Feb
14
2010

Naked Mole Rat: a mighty survivor both hairless and nearly blind
Naked Mole Rat: a mighty survivor both hairless and nearly blindCourtesy MissTessmacher
The naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is truly one of the most remarkable animals on this earth. On average 3 inches long and weighing just over an ounce, one would not think this creature so high and mighty. However, its unusual traits have brought it under more medical scrutiny and established an ever increasing presence in research laboratories. Stories have rung for years about how the only species to survive a world Armageddon would be cockroaches and rats. My money is on the naked mole rat.

While called a rat, they are one of 37 species of mole rats globally and are more closely related to guinea pigs and porcupines than other Rodentia. Limited to parts of East Africa, they spend their lives under ground in a highly social commune of individuals, all governed by a queen. This is very similar to the eusociality seen in bees and ants. The queen is the only female to breed, with all other individuals serving as guards or workers. This unusual social life for a mammal in a colony can lead to fierce competitions among females when the old queen dies. It may take days or weeks of power struggle before life in the colony returns to normal.

In search of plant tubers for sustenance, they dig through the dirt with their teeth, developing a system of burrows that can carry on for miles. One of the naked mole rats remarkable features is its ability to survive in the high carbon dioxide environments of these tunnels. Their extremely low metabolic rate and high absorption of oxygen allow them to overcome the limitations of the cramped and congested space. Research has found that these mole rats are void of a pain transmitter called Substance P found in other mammals, and have an uncanny resistance to the oxidative stress of daily metabolism.

Researchers hope this could lead to new insights into the process of aging. Captive research colonies have had individuals live as long as 28 years. That is more than nine times as long as a research mouse! This longevity and unique durability lead even more scientists to consider the naked mole rat for captive study populations in the fight against other afflictions like stroke and cancer. If these superman-like traits haven’t given you a deeper appreciation for such a tiny hairless creature, perhaps you just need a clever ditty to sing their praises. Oh! …you so UGLY!

Feb
09
2010

Playing with fire: Delicious fire.
Playing with fire: Delicious fire.Courtesy esherman
The people of the world wait, their breath held, their tongues clenched between their teeth, open cans of Fresca frozen halfway to their mouths. What do you mean, JGordon? Does soda give me cancer? Or not?

Well?!

Don’t worry, folks. It’s mostly “or not.” Or is it? Or not.

You may have heard (or read—I call it “hearing with your eyes”) that soft drinks might raise your chances of developing cancer. That was probably hard to hear (or read—I call “listening through your face-holes”), because I know you’re generally pro-soda, and generally anti-cancer, and you had been living your life in the hope that there would never be any conflict between the two. You can probably go on living like that, because it’s unlikely that pop is really going to give you cancer, but you should be aware that the world is a complicated place, and your soda and your cancer are sadly not excluded from the complications.

See, a the results of a study out of the University of Minnesota were recently published claiming that there seemed to be a link between the regular consumption of soft drinks (sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages) and a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer isn’t one of the fun cancers (like, ah, cancer of the… nothing). Although relatively rare, the three-year survival rate for people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is about 30%, and the survival rate after five years is only 5%.

The study was based on a 14-year survey of 60,524 men and women in Singapore. Of that group, 142 people developed pancreatic cancer. Examining the lifestyles of those who did and did not develop cancer, the researchers found that people who drank two or more soft drinks a week (5 was the average) had an 87% increase in their chances of getting cancer. And because Singapore is a fairly wealthy country with good health care, the scientists think that the results could apply fairly well to western countries as well.

Oh, no! Right? I can’t give up RC Cola!

Well… eh. The thing to keep in mind is it’s all very complicated. Even if there was a direct link between sift drink consumption and pancreatic cancer, your chances of developing the cancer, even as a soda drinker, would still be very small. But, the thing is, there isn’t necessarily a direct link between the two; there’s an association here, but maybe not a causal link. That is, people who drink soda are more likely to get pancreatic cancer, but we don’t know it’s the soda that causes the cancer.

Soft drink consumption itself was associated with behavior like smoking and red meat consumption, so it’s difficult to say that it’s just the soft-drinking (as it were) that contributes to the increased cancer risk.

Researchers do think, however, that it’s possible that soda could be involved in a causal relationship with the cancer. The high sugar levels in soda probably contribute to increased insulin production and presence in the body, which may contribute to pancreatic cancer cell growth. The study also found, however, that there was no association between fruit juice consumption and pancreatic cancer, which sort of makes me wonder. Lots of fruit juice, after all, is very sugary (even if it’s not quite so sweet as most soda). So does it have something to do with the type of sweetener used? Most soda in this country is sweetened with corn syrup, but that’s not necessarily the case in other countries (see Coca Cola for an example), and there’s some debate as to how the body might react to different sweeteners.

Anyway, you aren’t completely taking your life in your hands if you finish that can of Fresca. (Fresca was probably a bad example, seeing as how it uses artificial sweeteners, and will probably give you a totally different kind of cancer.) You’re better off just taking the dip out of your mouth. It’s gross with Fresca anyhow.

Dec
13
2009

Nanosensors measure cancer biomarkers in blood

For the first time, a team led by Yale University researchers has used nanosensors to measure cancer biomarkers in whole blood. The new device is able to read out biomarker concentrations in a just a few minutes. Extremely small concentrations are being measured, the equivalent of detecting a single grain of salt within a swimming pool size volume of liquid.

"The new device could also be used to test for a wide range of biomarkers at the same time, from ovarian cancer to cardiovascular disease, Reed said. Science Daily.

Learn more by reading paper published in Nature Nanotechnology

Authors of the paper, "Label-free biomarker detection from whole blood", include Eric Stern, Aleksandar Vacic, Nitin Rajan, Jason Criscione, Jason Park, Mark Reed and Tarek Fahmy (all of Yale University); Bojan Ilic (Cornell University); David Mooney (Harvard University).

Distinct components within the sensor perform purification and detection. A microfluidic purification chip simultaneously captures multiple biomarkers from blood samples and releases them, after washing, into purified buffer for sensing by a silicon nanoribbon detector. This two-stage approach isolates the detector from the complex environment of whole blood, and reduces its minimum required sensitivity by effectively pre-concentrating the biomarkers. Nature Nanotechnology, Dec 13, 2009

Nov
16
2009

He looks happy, but it's a facade: He's very worried about phthalates, BPAs, and his manliness. (Good thing that's a glass bottle.)
He looks happy, but it's a facade: He's very worried about phthalates, BPAs, and his manliness. (Good thing that's a glass bottle.)Courtesy sirgabe
There’s something I want to get out of the way straight off the bat: the original title for this post was “Monday Nutrition Extravaganza: Chemicals in your food, playing with your manhood!” And while that has a certain whimsical charm, a re-read revealed hidden, disturbing meaning in those words. And I didn’t want to subject you Buzzketeers to that. I just thought you should know.

So, moving on, what’s this stuff playing with our manhood, now?

Chemicalz in our foodz! And stuff.

Earlier today, I came across this study about how there seems to be a correlation between high levels of chemicals call phthalates in pregnant mothers’ urine, and a lowered incidence of “masculine play” in their male children. (“Girls’ play behavior” didn’t seem to be affected.)

Interesting, interesting.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals added to plastics to make them softer and more pliable. We all like soft plastic—no one is arguing that!—but phthalates are all over the place, and increased exposure to them (all sorts of products and packaging use phthalates) is raising concerns about how those chemicals affect us, particularly during childhood development. See, phthalates are antiandrogens, meaning that they mess with the way your body works with hormones like testosterone. Testosterone plays an important role in how we physically develop, and perhaps in how we act. The boys whose mothers had higher levels of a couple kinds of phthalates demonstrated less “male-typical” behavior. The study looked a preferred toy types (trucks versus dolls), activities (“rough-and-tumble play”), and “child characteristics.”

Now, these are slightly sticky things to go judging kids on. Some folks might argue that these characteristics aren’t linked to biology so much as social conditioning. And it feels a little weird quantifying characteristics in children (and, let’s be honest here, characteristics which may not have a solidly identified “norm,” but nonetheless have all sorts of social and sexual baggage that we are uncomfortable with and often deal with in the worst ways). However, there does seem to be some statistical association here, whatever the causal relationship is. One hypothesis is that phthalates alter fetal production of testosterone at an important period of development, affecting “brain sexual differentiation.” It’s not so hard to imagine—a year ago I did a post on how certain common chemicals in pregnant mothers seemed to be causing penis deformities in their male children. The culprit there? Phthalates. The women in that story, however, had had exceptionally high exposure to phthalates (their jobs had them in constant contact with phthalate-containing hairspray), so it’s probably not something to lose sleep over, but it’s worth knowing.

And while phthalates aren’t supposed to be in food packaging, the next article I came across (this is an extravaganza, after all) deals with another plastic additive, BPA, that is found in food packaging, and which may also cause some hormone-related havoc.

BPA has come up on Science Buzz before. It’s in all sorts of packaging and bottles (it’s the reason your over protective mother doesn’t want you to use nalgene bottles) and it may affect tissue development, potentially increasing cancer risks.

We don’t care about that, though, right? Sure, cancer is out there, but in the future, not right now, you know? I know. But BPA’s latest appearance in the news may bring some immediacy to the concern over its use. Concern for some people. For men, I mean.

Chemical BPA in workers related to sex problems, says the Washington Post. “Sex problems”? We don’t want those! Chinese men working in a factory that uses BPA were found to have high rates of sexual problems. (I won’t be defining what “sexual problems” are because whatever you just imagined was probably correct.) Now, these guys have BPA levels about 50 times higher than the average American. But, still, something like 90% of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their urine. Again, probably nothing to lose a lot of sleep over, but something worth knowing about. This professor is of the opinion that BPAs should be banned, even though most of us will probably never be exposed to dangerous levels of it, because a) it’s not a natural part of our diet; b) it’s not actually necessary in plastics processing; c) it accumulates in the body, and we still don’t know what level at which it begins to become harmful (ask those Chinese guys); and d) it’d be relatively easy to get it out of the food and water supply, unlike some other potentially harmful chemicals.

Accepting that scientific studies are necessarily very focused to eliminate variables, both of these stories still left me wondering what affect phthalates and BPAs have on women and girls. On one hand, one tries to avoid the mindset that average human physiology=male physiology, but on the other hand it’s usually just males that have penises, making their medical problems a little more hilarious.

There are so many… things out there, and they’re all doing… stuff! Interesting to know.

Sep
19
2009

Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic CancerCourtesy jasoneppink

Patrick Swayze dies from pancreatic cancer

A close friend of mine died from pancreatic cancer last year. Last week Patrick Swayze died from pancreatic cancer. Approximately 42,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year. Nearly all of them will die within a year of its discovery. My friend had less than 3 months. With pancreatic cancer, by the time you supect something is wrong, it is too late.

Earlier cancer detection needed

What is needed is a test to detect cancer early from a urine, saliva, or blood sample. I recently wrote about a Lung cancer breathalyzer test.

MicroRNA in body fluids provides early cancer detection

A similar approach might work for pancreatic and other types of cancer. Certain small pieces of genetic code called microRNA have been associated with various cancers.

For pancreatic cancer, scientists have cataloged dozens of microRNAs whose levels are different than in healthy samples.
Out of the dozens of choices, researchers at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center picked four microRNAs to measure. Not only did the group detect these microRNAs circulating in the blood, they found their levels were higher in the blood of pancreatic cancer patients compared with healthy control subjects. Their results were published last week in Cancer Prevention Research. Scientific American

Learn more about microRNA markers for pancreatic cancer

MicroRNAs in Blood May be Biomarkers of Pancreatic Cancer National Institue of Health

Sep
06
2009

Nano technology makes detecting lung cancer easy and affordable

Breathalyzer
BreathalyzerCourtesy mrjorgen
The breath of people who have lung cancer is different than those who don't. For years scientists have been perfecting techniques that determines what exactly is different.

Expensive and complicated tools like gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers were used to identify and measure 42 volatile organic compounds that represent lung cancer biomarkers. Sensors were designed to react to four of these compounds.

Gang Peng of the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and colleagues have now developed what they say is an inexpensive, portable sensor technology that can quickly distinguish between the breath of lung cancer patients and healthy people. New York Times

How lung cancer detectors work

Tiny gold nano size beads were coated with organic compounds that would react with the four lung cancer biomarkers. The particles were deposited as a thin film between two electrodes. The breath of someone with lung cancer reacts with the chemicals in the gold beads, changing their electrical resistance.

Learn more

Physics World has a more complete explanation of how gold nano beads sense lung cancer.

The abstract of the research paper titled "Diagnosing lung cancer in exhaled breath using gold nanoparticles can be found in Nature Nanotechnology.

A British woman is expecting the birth of a baby next week. Not so unusual, except that doctors screened the baby, through preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), to be sure that he or she is free of a gene that causes breast cancer.

According to the article,

"The husband's grandmother, mother, sister and a cousin have been diagnosed with the disease [in their 20s].

While a daughter could have been affected by breast cancer herself if she carried the gene, a son could have been a carrier and passed it on to his daughters.

Mr Serhal said: 'The whole objective of this exercise is not just to make sure the child doesn't have the gene, but to stop the transmission from generation to generation.'"

Of course, the PGD doesn't guarantee that if the baby is a girl, she'll never develop breast cancer. There are other genetic and environmental causes for the disease. But at least she won't have the mutant gene that makes breast cancer a 50-80% certainty.

There's more on Buzz about PGD...