Researchers Develop a New Way to Find Cancer at the Nanometre Scale

Patrick Lejtenyi wrote . . . . . . . . .

Diagnosing and treating cancer can be a race against time. By the time the disease is diagnosed in a patient, all too often it is advanced and able to spread throughout the body, decreasing chances of survival. Early diagnosis is key to stopping it.

In a new Concordia-led paper published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, researchers describe a new liquid biopsy method using lab-on-a-chip technology that they believe can detect cancer before a tumour is even formed.

Using magnetic particles coated in a specially designed bonding agent, the liquid biopsy chip attracts and captures particles containing cancer-causing biomarkers. A close analysis can identify the type of cancer they are carrying. This, the researchers say, can significantly improve cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Trapping the messenger

The chip targets extracellular vesicles (EVs), a type of particle that is released by most kinds of organic cells. EVs — sometimes called exosomes — are extremely small, usually measuring between 40 and 200 nanometres. But they contain a cargo of proteins, nucleic acids such as RNA, metabolites and other molecules from the parent cell, and they are taken up by other cells. If EVs contain biomarkers associated with cancer and other diseases, they will spread their toxic cargo from cell to cell.

To capture the cancer-carrying exosomes exclusively, the researchers developed a small microfluidic chip containing magnetic or gold nanoparticles coated with a synthetic polypeptide to act as a molecular bonding agent. When a droplet of organic liquid, be it blood, saliva, urine or any other, is run through the chip, the exosomes attach themselves to the treated nanoparticles. After the exosomes are trapped, the researchers then separate them from the nanoparticles and carry out proteomic and genomic analysis to determine the specific cancer type.

“This technique can provide a very early diagnosis of cancer that would help find therapeutic solutions and improve the lives of patients,” says the paper’s senior author Muthukumaran Packirisamy, a professor in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Aerospace Engineering and director of Concordia’s Optical Bio-Microsystems Laboratory.

Alternatives to conventional chemo and exploratory surgeries

“Liquid biopsies avoid the trauma of invasive biopsies, which involve exploratory surgery,” he adds. “We can get all the cancer markers and cancer prognoses just by examining any bodily fluid.”

Having detailed knowledge of a particular form of cancer’s genetic makeup will expose its weaknesses to treatment, notes Anirban Ghosh, a co-author and affiliate professor at Packirisamy’s laboratory. “Conventional chemotherapy targets all kinds of cells and results in significant and unpleasant side effects,” he says. “With the precision diagnostics afforded to us here, we can devise a treatment that only targets cancer cells.”

The paper’s lead author is PhD student Srinivas Bathini, whose academic background is in electrical engineering. He says the interdisciplinary approach to his current area of study has been challenging and rewarding and notes that the technology’s potential could revolutionize medical diagnostics. The researchers used breast cancer cells in this study but are looking at ways to expand their capabilities to include a wide range of disease testing.

“Perhaps one day this product could be as readily available as other point-of-care devices, such as home pregnancy tests,” he speculates.

Source: Concordia University

Most Americans Don’t Follow Diets That Could Prevent Cancer

The eating habits of most American adults aren’t in line with dietary guidelines that can reduce the risk of cancer, a new study finds.

Researchers examined data from nearly 31,000 U.S. adult participants in the annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The analysis of what the participants ate in the 24 hours before completing the survey showed that about 63% to 73% didn’t get the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and about 90% didn’t achieve the recommended 30 grams of fiber per day.

Nearly 70% of the participants were overweight or obese. Obese participants, who made up nearly 36% of the survey volunteers, were significantly less likely than other adults to get recommended intakes of fiber, fruit, non-starchy vegetables and whole grains.

Obese adults were also more likely to exceed the recommended 18 ounces per week of red meat and to have had fast food on the day they took part in the survey.

On average, all participants consumed more added sugars than the recommended maximum of less than 10% of overall daily calories, according to the study published recently in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“We’re looking at individuals to move toward a primarily plant-based type of dietary pattern rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans, peas, lentils, seeds and nuts — and cutting back on saturated fats and sodium,” said senior study author Colleen Spees, an associate professor of medical dietetics in Ohio State University’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

“Modifying our current dietary and physical activity patterns to better align with these evidence-based guidelines over time is important to reduce the risk of noncommunicable disease and promote lifelong health and wellness,” Spees said in a university news release.

“If Americans adopt these recommendations, they can reduce their risk of obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke and high blood pressure,” she added.

The guidelines are from the American Institute for Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even if you can’t meet all the guidelines, following some is better than ignoring them altogether, Spees said.

For example, eat out at fast food restaurants less often and find tasty ways to incorporate more vegetables, grains and beans into meals prepared at home, she suggested.

Source: HealthDay

Obesity Raises Odds for Many Common Cancers

Steven Reinberg wrote . . . . . . . . .

Being obese or overweight can increase the odds of developing several types of cancers, new research from the United Kingdom reveals.

But shedding the excess pounds can lower the risk, researchers say.

Reducing obesity cuts the risk for endometrial cancer by 44% and uterine cancer by 39%, and could also prevent 18% of kidney cancers and 17% of stomach and liver cancers, according to the study.

“It all depends on keeping the weight off,” said lead researcher Carlos Celis-Morales of the BHF Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. He noted that many people lose weight only to regain it back — and then some.

“What we need is kind of a long-term healthy weight and people that achieve that will reduce the risk,” Celis-Morales said. “That is why it’s so important that people improve the quality of their lifestyle in order to keep a healthy body weight.”

He cautioned, however, that this study can’t prove that excess weight causes cancer or that losing weight prevents it, only that there seems to be a strong connection between excess weight and cancer risk.

For the study, Celis-Morales and his colleagues drew on data from the U.K. Biobank on more than 400,000 men and women who were cancer-free.

The investigators wanted to know the risk of developing and dying from 24 cancers based on six markers of obesity: body fat percentage, waist-to-hip ratio, waist-to-height ratio, waist and hip circumferences and body mass index (BMI), an estimate of body fat based on height and weight.

No matter which way it was measured, obesity increased the odds of developing 10 of the most common cancers, the study found. A larger waist and hips, BMI or percentage of body fat all provided similar cancer risk.

Celis-Morales said BMI is an adequate way to gauge weight-related cancer risk, and there’s no benefit in turning to more complex or costly measures such as waist size or body fat percentage.

For example, a BMI score of 24.9 is considered normal, and every addition of about 4 for men and 5 for women above 25 was linked a 3% higher risk of cancer overall.

It also increased the risk of cancers of the stomach (35%), gallbladder (33%), liver (27%), kidney (26%), pancreas (12%), colon (10%), and bladder (9%).

That same amount of excess weight was also associated with a sharply higher odds of two cancers affecting women — 73% for endometrial cancer and 68% for uterine cancer. It also was linked to an 8% increase for postmenopausal breast cancer.

Lauren Teras, scientific director for epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society, reviewed the findings.

“Some of the ways in which obesity is thought to impact cancer includes elevated levels of sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, also insulin-related growth factors and leptin and adiponectin, which are proteins given off by fat tissue,” she said.

Despite strong evidence that excess weight boosts risk for many cancers, less is known about whether losing weight can successfully reverse it, Teras said.

“This is likely because losing weight in adulthood is relatively uncommon, making it difficult to study,” she said. “However, several studies of patients undergoing major weight-loss surgeries have found lower risk of several types of cancer in these patients.”

Maintaining a normal weight, eating a balanced diet and being physically active are beneficial for many aspects of health, Teras said.

“My advice is to find a plan that works for you and stick with it until it becomes a habit,” she suggested. “To increase your physical activity, do what sounds fun to you. Eat a diet that is customized to your preferences, but includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Limit portion sizes.”

Then find an accountability partner to keep you on track. “We’re all more likely to succeed when we have support,” Teras said.

The findings were published in the journal BMC Medicine.

Source: HealthDay

COVID Vaccines Might Not Protect Certain Cancer Patients

People with cancers of the blood, bone marrow or lymph nodes are at an increased risk of not making protective coronavirus antibodies after COVID-19 vaccination, a new study warns.

The risk is particularly high for those with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). The researchers urged these patients and those who interact with them to get vaccinated but to keep wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

“As we see more national guidance allowing for unmasked gatherings among vaccinated people, clinicians should counsel their immunocompromised patients about the possibility that COVID-19 vaccines may not fully protect them against SARS-CoV-2,” said senior author Dr. Ghady Haidar, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) transplant infectious diseases physician.

“Our results show that the odds of the vaccine producing an antibody response in people with hematologic malignancies are the equivalent of a coin flip,” he said in a university news release.

Haidar added that a negative antibody test does not necessarily mean the patient isn’t protected from COVID-19.

Patients with blood cancers have more than a 30% risk of dying if they get COVID-19 and so they should be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination, the researchers added.

These patients were excluded from COVID-19 vaccine trials, so there’s no data on the vaccines’ effectiveness in this vulnerable population.

For the study, 67 patients with hematologic malignancies who had been vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines had their blood tested three weeks after the second shot.

The researchers found that more than 46% of the patients had not made antibodies against the virus.

Moreover, only 3 of the 13 patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia made measurable antibodies, even though 70% weren’t having any cancer therapy.

“This lack of response was strikingly low,” said researcher Dr. Mounzer Agha, a hematologist at UPMC’s Hillman Cancer Center. “We’re still working to determine why people with hematologic malignancies — particularly those with CLL — have a lower antibody response and if this low response also extends to patients with solid tumors.”

No link between cancer therapy and antibody levels was found that could affect antibody response to the vaccine. But it’s known that older patients are less likely to produce antibodies than younger patients, researchers said.

“It’s critically important for these patients to be aware of their continued risk and to seek prompt medical attention if they have COVID-19 symptoms, even after vaccination,” Agha added in the release. “They may benefit from outpatient treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies, before the illness becomes severe.”

The findings, which haven’t yet been peer-reviewed, were published online on the preprint server medRxiv.

Source: HealthDay

Drug Used in Cancer Patients Might Help Treat Alzheimer’s

A drug with a 30-year track record as an effective tool for fighting cancer may significantly improve memory and thinking in patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease, new research suggests.

Sargramostim (brand name: Leukine) has long been used after cancer treatment to coax a patient’s bone marrow to make more disease-fighting white blood cells. It uses a protein called GM-CSF that has been linked to a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer’s among patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA patients typically have higher-than-normal levels of GM-CSF in their blood.

Working with 40 Alzheimer’s patients, researchers have now concluded that a three-week regimen of sargramostim can actually reverse telltale brain damage associated with the disease, and markedly improve memory and thinking ability.

“This discovery of the safety and [effectiveness] of GM-CSF in Alzheimer’s disease has the potential to be a breakthrough, which will be proved when a larger, longer trial is done to show that the benefits we saw are stronger and long lasting,” said study lead author Huntington Potter. He’s the director of the University of Colorado Alzheimer’s and Cognition Center in Aurora.

The new findings come on the heels of another potential Alzheimer’s breakthrough, in the form of an experimental drug called donanemab.

As reported March 13 in the New England Journal of Medicine, a monthly shot of donanemab for about 18 months effectively eliminated buildup of amyloid-beta plaques in the brains roughly 70% of Alzheimer’s patients studied.

For the new study, 20 patients were treated with sargramostim five days a week for three weeks. Twenty other patients received placebo shots. The trial was double-blind, meaning neither the investigators nor participants knew which treatment they were getting.

At the end of the trial, those in the sargramostim group scored nearly 2 points higher on a standard 30-point test of thinking skills.

Their production of disease-fighting immune cells also shot up. And preexisting nervous system damage — including levels of amyloid plaque and Alzheimer’s-related tangles in the brain — all reversed, in what researchers described as a “partial normalization” process.

The study showed the benefits induced by GM-CSF were found to last as much as 45 days after treatment ended, Potter noted. The drug was also found to be safe and well-tolerated.

Researchers have approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Alzheimer’s Association to carry out a longer, larger trial of GM-CSF to verify their findings.

Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association, called the research into use of anti-inflammatory drugs in dementia treatment “intriguing.”

“The Alzheimer’s Association is actively investing in clinical trials to explore their potential use for dementia treatment,” she said.

At the same time, Snyder cautioned that this line of research is still “very preliminary” and work must continue in larger, more diverse populations.

“Alzheimer’s is complex, and successful treatment will most likely address the disease in multiple ways with medication and behavior interventions, like combination therapies similar to heart disease and cancer,” she said. “We must accelerate the pursuit of a wide variety of Alzheimer’s treatments with the idea that they will likely be used in combination to be most effective.”

Snyder said the association is funding and collaborating with scientists around the world to make this happen.

Potter’s team reported its findings in the online edition of the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.

Source: HealthDay