Simple Lung Cancer Scans That Could Save Thousands of Lives a Year

Cancer can be exponentially easier to treat or cure when it’s caught early.

A new study found that fewer than 2 percent of heavy smokers in the U.S. get recommended lung cancer screenings, an imaging test that can catch tumors when they are small and potentially curable. The numbers fall far short of screening for other types of cancer, including mammograms and colonoscopies—both procedures that are much more uncomfortable than the CT scan used to detect tiny tumors in the lungs.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., killing an estimated 150,000 Americans each year. For the past five years, such groups as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Society of Clinical Oncology have urged people aged 55 or older who have smoked a pack a day (or the equivalent) for three decades or more to get checked for early stage disease. Medicare, the U.S. government’s insurance program for the elderly, pays for the procedure. None of it has made an impact.

“It’s still truly abysmal,” said Danh Pham, chief fellow of hematology/oncology at the University of Louisville’s cancer center in Kentucky, who will present the findings at the ASCO cancer meeting next month in Chicago. “We would like to make this a true call to action, whether it’s for more education or more research, to know why this disparity exists for lung cancer.”

It took a while for public health officials to start recommending routine lung cancer screening, because of questions about its accuracy and its ability to make a difference once the disease was detected. Subsequent studies confirmed the benefits for the heaviest smokers, with the use of screening intended for those most vulnerable to tumors.

The researchers analyzed registry data for everyone who underwent lung cancer screening in 2016 and found that 141,260 of the 7.6 million people eligible, or 1.9 percent, received it. By comparison, from 60 percent to 80 percent of eligible people get screening for breast, cervical and colon cancer, said Bruce Johnson, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and chief clinical research officer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

The testing shortfall could stem from primary care doctors’ failure to refer high-risk patients to one of 1,800 approved centers nationwide which provide the service. Psychological issues could also play a role, including fear of being diagnosed with a disease that smokers are constantly reminded of, Pham said.

“It’s very difficult to get patients to have this conversation with their doctors because of the stigma,” he said. “People may not want to know if they have lung cancer because it could confirm they’ve made bad lifestyle choices.”

Lung cancer deaths exceed those from breast, colon, pancreas and prostate cancer combined. There are very compelling reasons to get screened, said Johnson.

“If you screened the entire population of the U.S. who fit the criteria for having smoked enough and being the appropriate age, which is about 8 million people, you could save about 12,000 lives a year,” he said. “The majority of lung cancers picked up are early stage,” and finding them before the malignant cells spread reduces the risk of dying by about 20 percent, he said.

Glyphosate is a Significant Public Health Threat — Doses Previously Considered Safe Now Shown as Harmful in New Study

Glyphosate (found in the dangerous Monsanto Roundup) is a carcinogen that’s now being shown to be harmful in other ways too. It shouldn’t be allowed to be used, and it has already contaminated such large amounts of food supplies.

A chemical found in the world’s most widely used weedkiller can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteria at doses considered safe, according to a wide-ranging pilot study in rats.

Glyphosate is the core ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and levels found in the human bloodstream have spiked by more than a 1,000% in the last two decades.

The substance was recently relicensed for a shortened five-year lease by the EU. But scientists involved in the new glyphosate study say their results show that it poses “a significant public health concern”.

One of the report’s authors, Daniele Mandrioli, at the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, said significant and potentially detrimental effects from glyphosate had been detected in the gut bacteria of rat pups born to mothers, who appeared to have been unaffected themselves.

“It shouldn’t be happening and it is quite remarkable that it is,” Mandrioli said. “Disruption of the microbiome has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, such as obsesity, diabetes and immunological problems.”

Prof Philip J Landrigan, of New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, and also one of the research team, said: “These early warnings must be further investigated in a comprehensive long-term study.” He added that serious health effects from the chemical might manifest as long-term cancer risk: “That might affect a huge number of people, given the planet-wide use of the glyphosate-based herbicides.”

Artificial Mole as Early Cancer Detection in Development

For those of you who aren’t enthused about some of the other modern methods of cancer screenings, this artificial mole will possibly provide another avenue sometime in the next several years or so.

Alongside cardiovascular disease, cancer has become the top cause of death in industrialised countries. Many of those affected are diagnosed only after the tumour has developed extensively. This often reduces the chance of recovery significantly: the cure rate for prostate cancer is 32 percent and only 11 percent for colon cancer. The ability to detect such tumours reliably and early would not only save lives, but also reduce the need for expensive, stressful treatment.

Researchers working with Martin Fussenegger, Professor at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich in Basel, have now presented a possible solution for this problem: a synthetic gene network that serves as an early warning system. It recognises the four most common types of cancer — prostate, lung, colon and breast cancer — at a very early stage, namely when the level of calcium in the blood is elevated due to the developing tumour.

The early warning system comprises a genetic network that biotechnologists integrate into human body cells, which in turn are inserted into an implant. This encapsulated gene network is then implanted under the skin where it constantly monitors the blood calcium level.

As soon as the calcium level exceeds a particular threshold value over a longer period of time, a signal cascade is triggered that initiates production of the body’s tanning pigment melanin in the genetically modified cells. The skin then forms a brown mole that is visible to the naked eye.

[…]

The researchers used calcium as the indicator of the development of the four types of cancer, as it is regulated strongly in the body. Bones serve as a buffer that can balance out concentration differences. However, when too much calcium is detected in the blood, this may serve as a sign for one of the four cancers.

“Early detection increases the chance of survival significantly,” says Fussenegger. For example, if breast cancer is detected early, the chance of recovery is 98 percent; however, if the tumour is diagnosed too late, only one in four women has a good chance of recovery. “Nowadays, people generally go to the doctor only when the tumour begins to cause problems. Unfortunately, by that point it is often too late.”

The implant also has an additional advantage: “It is intended primarily for self-monitoring, making it very cost effective,” explains the ETH professor.

[…]

So far, this early warning implant is a prototype; the associated work recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine is a feasibility study. The researchers have tested their early warning system in a mouse model and on pig skin. It functioned reliably during these tests. Moles developed only when the calcium concentration reached a high level.

[…]

The concept of the “biomedical tattoo,” as Fussenegger describes this new finding, would also be applicable to other gradually developing illnesses, such as neurodegenerative diseases and hormonal disorders. In principle, the researchers could replace the molecular sensor to measure biomarkers other than calcium.

The Cancer “Vaccine” That Eliminated Tumors in Mice is Now Beginning Human Trials

What could be one of the most promising scientific advances of the 21st century thus far has just entered a new stage.

An injectable “vaccine” delivered directly to tumours in mice has been found to eliminate all traces of those tumours, cancer researchers have found – and it works on many different kinds of cancers, including untreated metastases in the same animal.

Scientists at Stanford University School of Medicine have developed the potential treatment using two agents that boost the body’s immune system, and a human clinical trial in lymphoma patients is currently underway.

“When we use these two agents together, we see the elimination of tumours all over the body,” said senior researcher, oncologist Ronald Levy.

“This approach bypasses the need to identify tumour-specific immune targets and doesn’t require wholesale activation of the immune system or customisation of a patient’s immune cells.”

Cancer immunotherapy is tricky. Because cancer cells are produced by the body, the immune system doesn’t see them as a threat the same way it sees invaders like viruses.

That’s why some cancer immunotherapy treatments focus on training the immune system to recognise cancer cells as a problem.

It’s an effective area of treatment, but one that often involves removing the patient’s immune cells from their body, genetically engineering them to attack cancer, and injecting them back in – a process that is both expensive and time-consuming.

The Stanford vaccine could be much cheaper and easier.

It doesn’t work like the vaccines you might be familiar with. Instead of a prophylactic administered prior to infection, the researchers gave it to mice that already had tumours, injecting directly into one of the affected sites.

“Our approach uses a one-time application of very small amounts of two agents to stimulate the immune cells only within the tumour itself,” Levy said.

“In the mice, we saw amazing, bodywide effects, including the elimination of tumours all over the animal.”

The vaccine exploits a peculiarity of the immune system. As a tumour grows, the immune system’s cells, including T cells, recognise the cancer cells’ abnormal proteins and move in to take care of business.

But cancer cells can accumulate mutations to avoid destruction by the immune system, and suppress the T cells, which attack abnormal cells.

The new vaccine works by reactivating these T cells.

[…]

Of the 90 mice with lymphoma, 87 were completely cured – the treatment was injected into one tumour, and both were destroyed. The remaining 3 had a recurrence of the lymphoma, which cleared up after a second treatment.

The treatment was also effective on the mice genetically engineered to develop breast cancer. Treating the first tumour often, but not always, prevented the recurrence of tumours, and increased the animals’ lifespan, the researchers said.

The team then tested mice with both lymphoma and colon cancer, injecting only the lymphoma. The lymphoma was destroyed, but the colon cancer was not. This demonstrates that T cells in tumours are specific to that kind of tumour – so the treatment isn’t without limitations.

But it does mean that immunotherapy is possible without genetically engineering cells outside the body; or, as is the case with a previous vaccine, extracting cancer RNA, treating it, injecting it into the body, and applying an electric charge to deliver it to immune cells.

[…]

Its efficacy is about to be tested, though. The clinical trial currently underway is expected to recruit 15 patients with low-grade lymphoma to see if the treatment works on humans.

If it’s effective, the treatment may be used in the future on tumours before they’re surgically extracted to help prevent metastases, or even prevent recurrences of the cancer.

“I don’t think there’s a limit to the type of tumour we could potentially treat, as long as it has been infiltrated by the immune system,” Levy said.

The research has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Making Smoked Foods Less Harmful and Tastier Using Zeolite Filters

An innovation that significantly reduces carcinogen levels in smoked foods this is. Too much in modern human society is already carcinogenic, so reducing that when possible is helpful.

Infusing foods with smoke can impart delicious nuanced flavors, but could also come with an unwelcome side of carcinogens. To reduce the carcinogen content of smoked foods, researchers took a lesson from the automobile industry, running the smoke through a zeolite filter to remove harmful compounds. It worked, and with a happy bonus: superior smoke flavor.

“The smoking process can cause carcinogens to form in foods. Not all smoked foods are dangerous, but we do know most can contain low levels of these substances, so we should try to remove them. If we could produce a smoke with fewer carcinogens, but that still has the same great taste, that would be ideal,” says Jane K. Parker, Ph.D., leader of the study. “Zeolite filters, which are put in a tailpipe, have been used in the car industry to reduce environmental pollutants, but they haven’t been applied to food yet. We want to change that.”

As a first step, engineers from Besmoke, a company that specializes in natural smoking, teamed up with Parker, who is at the University of Reading (U.K.). They optimized filters made from zeolite, a porous aluminosilicate mineral, with the goal of maximizing the removal of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from smoke. PAHs are a ubiquitous side product of fuel consumption, long known to increase the risk for a variety of cancers, as well as cardiovascular disease. The U.S. and European Union regulate environmental levels of PAHs.

The best filter they developed removed as much as 93 percent of benzo[a]pyrene, a known carcinogen. “There have been a couple of attempts to reduce carcinogens in smoke using other technologies, but they aren’t as effective as our approach,” Parker says. But the question remained about how food flavored with the filtered smoke compared to that produced by unfiltered smoke.

To address this question, the researchers smoked tomato flakes, coconut oil and water using either filtered or unfiltered smoke. Then, they added the smoked tomato flakes to cream cheese and used the water to brine some chicken. A panel of expert tasters trained to describe differences in flavor profiles with standard terminology tried the cream cheese, coconut oil and chicken. “To the tasters, the chicken made with filtered smoke had a bit of a ‘Christmas ham’ aroma and a more rounded balanced flavor,” Parker says. Foods made with the unfiltered smoke, by contrast, tended to score higher in the categories of “ash tray” and “acrid smoke.”

Nanorobots Successfully Programmed to Seek and Eliminate Tumors in Major Nanomedicine Study

This is a significant nanotechnology advance, although there’s still progress needed for it in further trials. These nanorobots have yet to be tested on humans, which makes them another advance worth looking for the human trial results on when they’re available.

In a major advancement in nanomedicine, Arizona State University (ASU) scientists, in collaboration with researchers from the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST), of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have successfully programmed nanorobots to shrink tumors by cutting off their blood supply.

“We have developed the first fully autonomous, DNA robotic system for a very precise drug design and targeted cancer therapy,” said Hao Yan, director of the ASU Biodesign Institute’s Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics and the Milton Glick Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences.

“Moreover, this technology is a strategy that can be used for many types of cancer, since all solid tumor-feeding blood vessels are essentially the same,” said Yan.

The successful demonstration of the technology, the first-of-its-kind study in mammals utilizing breast cancer, melanoma, ovarian and lung cancer mouse models, was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

[…]

First and foremost, the team showed that the nanorobots were safe and effective in shrinking tumors.

“The nanorobot proved to be safe and immunologically inert for use in normal mice and, also in Bama miniature pigs, showing no detectable changes in normal blood coagulation or cell morphology,” said Yuliang Zhao, also a professor at NCNST and lead scientist of the international collaborative team.

Most importantly, there was no evidence of the nanorobots spreading into the brain where it could cause unwanted side effects, such as a stroke.

“The nanorobots are decidedly safe in the normal tissues of mice and large animals,” said Guangjun Nie, another professor at the NCNST and a key member of the collaborative team.

The treatment blocked tumor blood supply and generated tumor tissue damage within 24 hours while having no effect on healthy tissues. After attacking tumors, most of the nanorobots were cleared and degraded from the body after 24 hours.

[…]

Yan and his collaborators are now actively pursuing clinical partners to further develop this technology.

“I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology,” said Yan. “Combinations of different rationally designed nanorobots carrying various agents may help to accomplish the ultimate goal of cancer research: the eradication of solid tumors and vascularized metastases. Furthermore, the current strategy may be developed as a drug delivery platform for the treatment of other diseases by modification of the geometry of the nanostructures, the targeting groups and the loaded cargoes.”

Cancer Immunotherapy Eliminates Tumors in Mice

It’s notable research due to the similarities humans share with mice, but it’s unclear just how relevant this improvement in immunotherapy will be.

Injecting minute amounts of two immune-stimulating agents directly into solid tumors in mice can eliminate all traces of cancer in the animals, including distant, untreated metastases, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The approach works for many different types of cancers, including those that arise spontaneously, the study found.

The researchers believe the local application of very small amounts of the agents could serve as a rapid and relatively inexpensive therapy that is unlikely to cause the adverse side effects often seen with bodywide immune stimulation.

“When we use these two agents together, we see the elimination of tumors all over the body,” said Ronald Levy, MD, professor of oncology. “This approach bypasses the need to identify tumor-specific immune targets and doesn’t require wholesale activation of the immune system or customization of a patient’s immune .”

One agent is currently already approved for use in humans; the other has been tested for human use in several unrelated clinical trials. A clinical trial was launched in January to test the effect of the treatment in patients with lymphoma.