Our gut microbiome – the trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses and germs that live in our digestive tracts – is hugely important when it comes to health, influencing our immune systems, as well as our physical and mental states. But while we know that certain foods, such as fermented produce, yogurts, and non-starchy vegetables can help boost gut health, little is known about how many immune-boosting microorganisms people actually eat on a day-to-day basis as part of their diets. To investigate, researchers estimated the number of microorganisms per gram in more than 9,000 food items, including those high in such organisms, like yogurt, pickles, and kimchi. Then, to see how many people ate foods packed with microorganisms, the researchers took a detail look dietary data collected from 2001 to 2018 for almost 75,000 adults and children. Overall, 26% of adults and 20% of children consumed foods with high levels of microorganisms, researchers reported in The Journal of Nutrition. "When we think of microbes in our food, we often think of either foodborne pathogens that cause disease or probiotics that provide a documented health benefit," study co-author Colin Hill, PhD, of APC Microbiome Ireland at University College Cork, said in a statement. "It is very timely to estimate the daily intake of microbes by individuals in modern society as a first step towards a scientific evaluation of the importance of dietary microbes in human health and well-being," he added. *Image by rhys jung from Pixabay
A virus that infects and kills cancer cells has been injected into a human patient for the first time as part of a new clinical trial. The novel therapy, CF33-hNIS, also called Vaxinia, is what is known as a oncolytic virus i.e. one that deliberately targets cancel cells while avoiding healthy cells. It infiltrates the cancer cells and rapidly replicates, killing its host. At low doses, the therapy has been shown to reduce the size of a broad range of cancers in animal and laboratory models. And according to Imugene Limited, a clinical cancer research company, it can also help prime peoples' immune systems against cancer. For the phase one clinical trial, Vaxinia will be injected into people who have solid tumors and have received at least two types of prior treatment. The virus is either injected directly into the tumor itself or via the patient's vein. This phase of the trial is designed to judge Vaxinia's safety and tolerability in human patients. "Our previous research demonstrated that oncolytic viruses can stimulate the immune system to respond to and kill cancer, as well as stimulate the immune system to be more responsive to other immunotherapies," says City of Hope oncologist and principal investigator Daneng Li. "We believe CF33-hNIS has the potential to improve outcomes for our patients." *Image courtesy of PIRO4D from Pixabay
More is being discovered all the time about the significant role of the bacteria, fungi and other microbes that live in our stomachs and intestines when it comes to our health. Now, the largest study of its kind to date has confirmed the link between the gut microbiome and the response to cancer immunotherapy therapy for melanoma. The study, the findings of which are published in the journal Nature Medicine, was co-ordinated by King's College London, CIBIO Department of the University of Trento and European Institute of Oncology in Italy, University of Groningen in the Netherlands and funded by the Seerave Foundation. Dr Karla Lee, clinical researcher at King's College London and first author of the study, said: "Preliminary studies on a limited number of patients have suggested that the gut microbiome, as an immune system regulator, plays a role in the response of each patient to cancer immunotherapy, and particularly in the case of melanoma. This new study could have a major impact on oncology and medicine in general." It's known that dietary changes can alter the microbiome, as can next generation probiotics and faecal transplantation. This change is in turn modifying the microbiome's action on the immune system. With this new understanding of the microbiome's impact on cancer therapy effectiveness, clinicians can potentially look to alter a patient's microbiome before beginning treatment. This is potentially important because less than 50% of immunotherapy patients respond positively to treatment for melanoma. *image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license
Magnesium is an essential macromineral, which means we all need to consume relatively large amounts of it to stay healthy. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the recommended daily amount of magnesium adults 19-51+ years should consume is 400-420 mg daily for men and 310-320 mg for women. Almonds, cashews, peanuts and spinach are all good sources of magnesium. But walnuts are even more magnesium-rich, providing around 158mg of the macromineral per 100g. Consuming enough magnesium in your diet is linked with a number of health benefits, including healthy bones, lower type 2 diabetes risk and better cardiovascular health. Magnesium is also linked to improved muscle contraction and nerve transmission, as well as better regulated blood pressure and boosted immunity. Previous research has shown that mice on a low-magnesium diet experience faster rates of cancer spread. Furthermore, said mice have weaker immune defenses against influenza viruses. Now, Swiss scientists have discovered that a type of immune cell, called a cytotoxic or “killer” T cell, need magnesium to do their jobs and eliminate cancerous or infected cells. The researchers discovered that magnesium activates a protein called LFA-1 on the surface of cytotoxic T cells, which they use to lock on to their targets. Senior author Dr. Christoph Hess, Ph.D., from the University of Basel in Switzerland and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, explains: “In the inactive state, this docking site is in a bent conformation and thus cannot efficiently bind to infected or abnormal cells.” “If magnesium is present in sufficient quantities in the vicinity of the T cells, it binds to LFA-1 and ensures that it remains in an extended — and therefore active — position.” The researchers also found, through analyzing data from past clinical trials of cancer immunotherapies, that low serum levels of magnesium were associated with more rapid disease progression and shorter survival. The Swiss study appears in the journal Cell. *image by Pera Detlic from Pixabay
Sharks could potentially help in the fight against COVID-19, new research suggests. According to the study by researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota and biomedical company Elasmogen, a biomedical company in Scotland, antibody-like proteins derived from sharks' immune systems can prevent SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, its variants, and related coronaviruses from infecting human cells. The small, unique shark cells, known as VNARs, are around one-tenth the size of human antibodies, which allows them to reach even the tiniest of areas. The researchers found the VNARs can bind to infectious proteins in unique ways that bolster their ability to halt infection. Intriguingly, they were not just effective against SARS-CoV-2 , but also SARS-CoV-1, which caused the first SARS outbreak in 2003. While the researchers say their findings will not help in the fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as treatments using shark VNARs simply aren't yet available, they could hold some promise in the face of future coronavirus outbreaks. "The big issue is there are a number of coronaviruses that are poised for emergence in humans," says Aaron LeBeau, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of pathology who helped lead the study. "What we're doing is preparing an arsenal of shark VNAR therapeutics that could be used down the road for future SARS outbreaks. It's a kind of insurance against the future." The team published its findings in Nature Communications. *image courtesy of Andrea Bohl from Pixabay
New Covid-19 treatments should be widely available in France before the end of the year, the head of the country's Scientific Council has predicted. According to a report in Le Parisien newspaper, Jean-François Delfraissy, an immunologist and president of the Conseil scientifique, which advises the government on medical matters, said monoclonal and polyclonal antibody treatments would be made more widely available in the coming months. Monoclonal antibody treatments are made using Covid-19 survivors’ own antibodies and are designed to fight infection just as the natural immune system would. Former US President Donald Trump received monoclonal antibody drugs when he was hospitalised with Covid-19 in 2020. At the beginning of August, French health authorities authorised the use of monoclonal antibody treatments for immuno-compromised patients who cannot be vaccinated against the virus because of their conditions. The treatments are set to be rolled out for use as required by doctors among the wider population before the end of the year. A number of pharmaceutical companies are in the process of applying for medical authorisation. They would be “effective for high-risk patients, and should reduce the number of hospitalisations”, Le Parisien reported, but would only be available under medical supervision. The drugs are intended for use in patients who are already severely ill with Covid. They do not prevent people developing the illness in the first place. *Image by Klaus Hausmann from Pixabay
Experts in the UK say a cost effective and widely available drug can help save the lives of seriously ill COVID-19 patients. The drug, dexamethasone, a steroid, has been around since the early 1960s, and is usually given in low doses to patients with severe asthma, allergies and painful/swollen joints. It is also used to treat autoimmune conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. Dexamethasone’s effect on inflammation and our immune systems is what is believed to make it useful in treating patients with severe COVID-19 infections. The drug is part of the RECOVERY Trial, the largest clinical trial to date aiming to identify treatments that may be beneficial for COVID-19 patients. As part of the trial, researchers studied the effect of dexamethasone in 2,000 patients and compared that to the outcomes in 4,000 patients who did not receive it. Dexamethasone was found to cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth. This equates to one life saved for every eight on ventilators and every 20-25 treated with oxygen. One of the biggest benefits of dexamethasone is that it is not cost prohibitive, meaning it could be pivotal for treating COVID-19 in poorer countries. [Related reading: What does it mean for a vaccine if the new coronavirus mutates?]
Several studies have revealed that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting men and the potential reasons include everything from biology to bad habits. According to the World Health Organization, men have accounted for 69% of COVID-19 related deaths in Europe. Meanwhile, reports suggest that in New York City men have been dying from COVID-19 at almost twice the rate of women. It is thought that both genetics and lifestyle choices play a part when it comes to COVID-19 outcomes in men. First and foremost, because of their extra X chromosome, women have stronger immune systems and respond better to infections than men. Then there is the fact that more elderly men suffer from heart disease than elderly women and that high blood pressure and liver disease are more prevalent in men too. All of these conditions are factors that are associated with more negative COVID-19 outcomes. In addition, men are statistically more likely to smoke than women. In fact, according to Our World in Data figures, more than one-third (35%) of men in the world smoke, compared to just over 6% of women. With smoking one of the biggest risk factors for chronic lung disease, men are at a much greater disadvantage should they get COVID-19. [Related reading: Can you catch the new coronavirus twice?]
When you are infected with a virus, your immune system produces very specific antibodies to try and fight it off. It’s these antibodies that then provide us with immunity from future outbreaks of the same virus. If the virus comes back, the necessary antibodies are swiftly called to action and defeat it before it can make you feel unwell. However, reports emerged in February of a lady in Japan who was apparently given the all-clear having developed COVID-19, but who then tested positive for the virus a second time. But the biggest question this scenario raises is in regards to the reliability of the tests. The bottom line is we simply don’t yet know whether people can become infected with the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, a second time. Small animal experiments suggest reinfection is unlikely, but right now, we don’t have a definitive answer. Perhaps the most obvious place to focus is on related viruses, such as SARS. A 2017 study of SARS patients found that 89% of people who recovered had detectable antibodies two years after the infection had cleared. However, at the six-year mark, this went down to just two out of 23 patients, suggesting people have immunity, but perhaps not indefinitely. Our best hope will be if a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine can be developed which will provide rapid immunity. [Related reading: How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?]
Scientists from Cardiff University in the UK have discovered a part of our immune system that could be harnessed to kill all types of cancer. Despite their work being at an early stage, the team says the newly-discovered technique killed prostate, breast, lung and other cancers in lab tests. The findings of their research, which are published in the journal Nature Immunology, have not yet been tested in humans, but, nevertheless, the researchers say they hold “enormous potential.” The scientists made their potentially game-changing discovery while looking for “unconventional” ways the immune system naturally attacks tumours. They found a T-cell in blood that could find and kill a wide range of cancers, while leaving normal tissues untouched. Speaking about their findings, researcher Prof Andrew Sewell said: “It raises the prospect of a 'one-size-fits-all' cancer treatment, a single type of T-cell that could be capable of destroying many different types of cancers across the population.” While T-cell cancer therapies are nothing new, with treatments like CAR-T already being used to seek out and destroy cancer, the Cardiff researchers’ discovery is exciting because it could lead to treatments being developed that are more effective against solid cancers (those that form tumours). The researchers say their discovery has the potential to lead to a "universal" cancer treatment.
An innovative new blood test can detect breast cancer up to 5 years before symptoms appear, researchers say. Developed by a team at the University of Nottingham, England, the new blood test identifies specific immune system ‘autoantibodies’, which are produced when tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) are present – like those produced by breast cancer cells. While the test is still only partially effective, it could eventually provide the best chance of detecting breast cancer early, enabling faster treatment and a greater chance of success. In the pilot study, the researchers took blood samples from 90 breast cancer patients when they were diagnosed with breast cancer. They then matched these samples with ones from 90 patients without breast cancer. Then, they used a technology called protein microarray to test the blood samples for the presence of autoantibodies and 40 TAAs associated with breast cancer, plus another 27 TAAs that were not known to be linked with the disease). The researchers used a technology called protein microarray to rapidly test the blood samples for autoantibodies against 40 TAAs associated with breast cancer, plus another 27 TAAs that were not known to be linked with the disease. Speaking last Sunday at the U.K. National Cancer Research Institute conference in Glasgow, Scotland, researcher Daniyah Alfattani, a Ph.D. student at the University of Nottingham's Centre of Excellence for Autoimmunity in Cancer (CEAC), said: “The results of our study showed that breast cancer does induce autoantibodies against panels of specific tumor-associated antigens. We were able to detect cancer with reasonable accuracy by identifying these autoantibodies in the blood.” At present, annual mammograms are the best way for doctors to detect the presence of breast cancer while in its early stages.
Some species of bacteria are stripping off their outer layers in an attempt to evade antibiotics and survive. It’s a reality that could explain why some infections keep coming back. According to researchers at Newcastle University in the UK, the bacteria are “undressing” and removing their cell walls – the very part of them that some antibiotics target. The cell walls of some bacteria are made from sugars and amino acids. While they give the bacteria shape and protection, these walls provide a weak spot that can be exploited by antibiotics. Penicillin, the first antibiotic to be discovered and the most widely used in the world, works by disrupting the cell wall and causing the bacteria to burst. The study, which is published in the journal Nature Communications, found that bacteria associated with recurring urinary tract infections in elderly patients slipped out of their cell walls to avoid the effect of the antibiotics. It’s the first time that research has shown bacteria using this method to survive antibiotic treatment and while not all survive – most get taken care of by the body’s immune system - it does offer some explanation as to why certain infections come back again and again. The discovery could pave the way for new treatments to be developed, including combination therapies that target both the bacteria’s cell wall and inner workings.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2017, there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria in 87 countries, which resulted in 435,000 deaths – many of which were children. It remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of a child every two minutes. That’s why a new vaccine against the deadly mosquito-borne disease is being hailed as a landmark. The first vaccine of its kind, the RTS,S vaccine trains the body’s immune system to attack the malaria parasite. It is being given to children as part of a large scale pilot programme being conducted in Malawi. Previous, smaller trials showed that nearly 40% of 5-to-17-month olds who received the RTS,S vaccine were protected from malaria. The vaccine comes at a crucial time as malaria cases appear to be rising once more after decades of success in combatting the disease. Speaking about the pilot, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said: “Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given. The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death. “We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes.” Malawi is the first of three countries, along with Ghana and Kenya, where the vaccine will be rolled out. The aim is to immunize 120,000 children aged two years and below. Malawi, Ghana and Kenya were chosen because despite operating large programmes to tackle malaria, including promoting the use of mosquito nets, they still have high numbers of cases. The RTS,S vaccine has been more than three decades in the making.
It’s thought around one in 100 babies has genes that place them at increased risk of developing type 1, insulin-dependent diabetes. And unfortunately, at present, there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. But experts believe a new technique may be able to prevent high-risk babies from developing the condition. The idea is to use powdered insulin to train the immune systems of infants so that they are afforded life-long protection. Pregnant women attending maternity check-ups in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire in the UK are being asked to take part in the trial. Trial participants will be split into two groups, with half getting real insulin and the other half a placebo. Neither the participants nor the researchers will know which they received until after the trial. By spoon-feeding an infant insulin powder from six months to three years, experts hope their immune systems will be trained to tolerate insulin and prevent type 1 diabetes. A lifelong condition, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which causes insulin-producing cells in the pancreas to be destroyed. As a result, the pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin and the person's blood sugar (glucose) level becomes too high. Speaking about the trial, Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK, said: "This is a huge endeavour, so we would encourage women living in the South East who think they might be eligible to find out more - research like this can't happen without the incredible people who take part." [Related reading: Diabetes is actually five diseases, not two]
In the UK, prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men. It’s also overtaken breast cancer in recent years to become the third most common type of cancer. That’s why any news when it comes to potential prostate cancer breakthroughs is always exciting. Immunotherapy has been revolutionising the treatment of cancer and now a team from the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital in London have conducted a trial, the results of which they say are "spectacular" and a "big deal". The trial focussed on drugs that boost a patient’s immune system, saving the lives of some men with terminal prostate cancer. Immunotherapy works by helping a person’s immune system recognise and subsequently attack cancer cells. One of the study participants, Michael English, 72, was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005. Radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone-based therapies did not kill his cancer, however. Then, two years ago, he started taking the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab. Today, he is effectively cancer free, with scans no longer showing any signs of the tumour. However, it’s an approach that will not, unfortunately, help all men. In fact, only between 10% and 15% of patients had any response to the therapy at all. This is not something that’s unusual for immunotherapy. Nell Barrie, from Cancer Research UK, said: "The next step will be to find out how to tell which men will benefit from taking this drug. "This is important as although immunotherapy is exciting, it can have severe side effects".
The modern, germ-free lifestyles many children lead could be responsible for the most common type of cancer in children - acute lymphoblastic leukaemia - according to one of the UK’s most well-respected scientists. Professor Mel Greaves, from the Institute of Cancer Research, has been studying for 30 years how the immune system can become cancerous if it is not exposed to enough bugs early in life. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia affects one in 2,000 children and is more common in advanced, affluent societies, suggesting cleaner modern lifestyles could play a defining role. Prof Greaves says the disease happens in three stages: a genetic mutation inside the womb, a lack of exposure to microbes in early life and an immune malfunction and leukaemia in childhood. He believes that it could be possible to prevent the condition. Prof Greaves said: "The research strongly suggests that acute lymphoblastic leukaemia has a clear biological cause and is triggered by a variety of infections in predisposed children whose immune systems have not been properly primed." Unfortunately, preventing the disease isn’t as simple as exposing children to dirt. They need, according to Prof Greaves, contact with beneficial bacteria. The best way to do this is to give them a safe cocktail of bacteria, such as in a yoghurt drink, that will help boost their immune system. [Related reading: Thumb-suckers and nail-biters less prone to allergies – study]
Older individuals who do lots of exercise can prevent their immune systems from declining and protect themselves against infection, scientists say. For the research, scientists from King’s College London followed 125 long-distance cyclists, some of who were in their 80s. They found that some had the immune systems of much, much younger individuals. For example, Prof Norman Lazarus, 82, of King's College London, who co-authored the research and took part in it, was found to have the immune system of a 20-year-old. "If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it. It has wide-ranging benefits for the body, the mind, for our muscles and our immune system,” he said. Speaking about the research, Prof Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham and co-author, said people’s immune systems decline at a rate of about 2-3% a year from the age of 20. That’s why older individuals are more susceptible to infections, rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer. Because the cyclists were found to have the immune systems of much younger people, they have added protection against conditions that tend to affect older individuals. Furthermore, the researchers believe that physically active, older individuals respond better to vaccines, meaning they are also better protected against influenza. The good news is that you don’t need to be a competitive cyclist to reap the benefits. Just being more active and puffing yourself out from time to time can help.
Diabetes has long been split into two types: type 1 and type 2. But new research suggests it could actually be five different diseases and treatment could be tailored to tackle each form. Researchers in Sweden and Finland say the more complicated diabetes picture they’ve uncovered could lead to a new era of personalised medicine being ushered in. Affecting approximately one in 11 people around the world, diabetes doesn’t just play havoc with blood sugar levels, but also increases the risk of stroke, blindness, heart attack, kidney failure and limb amputation. Type 1 diabetes, which affects around 10% of sufferers in the UK, is a disease of the immune system that attacks the body’s insulin factories, leading to there being a shortage of the hormone to control blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is associated with poor lifestyle choices and obesity, which affect the way in which insulin works. For the study, the researchers analysed blood samples from 14,775 patients. They found that people could be separated into five distinct diabetes clusters. Talking to the BBC, Prof Leif Groop, one of the researchers, said: "This is extremely important, we're taking a real step towards precision medicine. "In the ideal scenario, this is applied at diagnosis and we target treatment better."
Scientists have developed a new antibody that can kill 99% of HIV strains and even prevent infections in primates. It works by attacking three different parts of the virus, making it difficult for HIV to resist its effects. The antibody, which has been engineered by scientists at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in conjunction with pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, has been hailed as an “exciting breakthrough” by the International Aids Society. The human body struggles to fight HIV because of the virus’s incredible ability to mutate and change. As a result, the immune system finds itself combatting multiple strains all at once – a task that is insurmountable. Human trials will now commence in 2018 to see whether the antibody can prevent and treat infections. Dr Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi and one of the report authors, said the new antibody is “more potent” and has “greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that's been discovered”. Until now, the best naturally occurring antibodies target 90% of HIV strains. At 99%, the new antibody is significantly more powerful. The findings of the study were published in the journal Science.
The world's first vaccine against malaria will be introduced in three countries - Kenya, Ghana and Malawi - starting in 2018; a move that the World Health Organisation (WHO) says has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives. The RTS,S vaccine, as it's known, trains the body's immune system to attack the malaria parasite, which is transmitted to people through mosquito bites. However, it is not yet known if the vaccine will be feasible to use in the poorest parts of the world where access to healthcare is often very limited. This is because the vaccine needs to be given four times over an 18-month period. The concern is that while the vaccine schedule could be followed in a closely-controlled and well-funded clinical trial, real-world situations may prove more difficult - especially in poorer countries. It's the primary reason the WHO is running trials of the vaccine in the three aforementioned countries. It is thought that high risk areas will be targeted first in each of the three countries, all of which already run large programmes to tackle malaria. The trial will involve more than 750,000 children aged between five and 17 months. In the clinical trial, the vaccine prevented nearly four in 10 cases of malaria in this age group. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said: "The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. "Information gathered in the pilot programme will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine. "Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa."
We recently informed you about how researchers from Cambridge University believe a chemical compound found in dogfish sharks could be used to potentially halt the onset of Parkinson's Disease (here). Now scientists in Australia hope a drug that mimics part of a shark's immune system could be used to help treat an incurable lung disease in humans. People with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) - a condition that scars lung tissue - find that their breathing becomes progressively harder and they develop a persistent dry cough. At present, there is no cure for IPF, so treatment focuses on symptom relief and slowing the progression of the disease. Initial tests with the drug, AD-114, showed that it can successfully kill the cells that cause fibrosis. Researchers hope that human trials with AD-114 can commence as early as next year. Dr Mick Foley, from the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science, was keen to stress that no sharks were harmed during the research, and just a single blood sample was taken from a wobbegong shark at Melbourne Aquarium for the tests. "It would be very nice to say one day that 'this person is alive because of what the sharks told us,'" Dr Foley said. IPF is a disease that kills more than 5,000 people in the UK alone every year, according to the British Lung Foundation.
A holiday, some music or a change of scenery could potentially boost the body's immune system and help it fight infection, according to new research. Scientists from the Queen Mary University of London found that if they spruced up the living spaces of mice, by adding things like running wheels, toys and colourful boxes, the mice's T-cells received a boost. These cells are crucial for the animals' immunity and help protect against disease. For the study, the researchers placed some mice in enriched environments with lots of stimulation, while others were housed in plain, old cages with sawdust. The scientists found that the mice in the more luxurious surroundings had higher levels of molecules that are good at responding to infections. As a result, these mice were better prepared for fighting infections. Talking about the findings of the study, Prof Fulvio D'Acquisto, lead researcher from the Queen Mary University of London, said: "This effect is remarkable because we haven't given them any drugs. All we've done is change their housing conditions. "You could say that we've just put them in their equivalent of a holiday resort for two weeks and let them enjoy their new and stimulating surroundings." Additional research is now being called for to see whether the same results are witnessed in humans. It could be that a walk on the beach; a more comfortable hospital bed; or listening to a piece of music may boost the human body's immune system.
Do any of your children suck their thumbs? How about bite their nails? While your instinct might be to try and discourage both, a new study has found that thumb-suckers and nail-biters are actually less likely to develop allergies. Reporting their findings in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers say the discovery is due to the hygiene hypothesis - a hypothesis that basically says exposure to germs at an early age strengthens the body's immune system. Among the 1,000 individuals assessed for the study in New Zealand, thumb-sucking and nail-biting between the ages of five and 32 appeared to prevent some allergies. Around one-third of the children were regular thumb-suckers and/or nail-biters, and their likelihood of them having allergies at age 13 to pets and dust mites was about a third lower than children who did not suck their thumbs or bite their nails. Furthermore, this apparent allergy protection stayed with them into adulthood, according to the team from the University of Otago, Dunedin. Speaking about the findings, Allergy UK nurse advisor, Holly Shaw, said: "Research that has been carried out in other countries also adds weight to this theory of the role the environment and gut microbiota play in shaping an individual's potential to develop a food allergy."
Our immune systems are able to fight bacteria, viruses and microbes. Therefore, you'd like to think that they could play a vital role in the fight against cancer too. Over the past 30 years, immunotherapy has emerged and grown as a therapeutic strategy in the field of oncology. This new class of cancer treatment harnesses the power of the immune system and its unique properties to fight cancer in a way that is more powerful than many that have come before it. Immunotherapy is also an exciting weapon for fighting cancer because of the potential long-term protection it gives against the disease; the fact that it causes fewer side effects than other traditional therapies; and can benefit more patients with different types of cancer. With this in mind, a team in Toulouse is looking to build upon the already fantastic base that immunotherapy has to make it an even more potent cancer therapy. They are looking to discover which patients respond to the treatment best, and Dr. Michel Attal, managing director of the Cancer Research Centre of Toulouse, said: "This is just the beginning. In the coming years, all cancer patients will, at one time or another, be treated with immunotherapy."
Scientists in Canada have apparently discovered a gene that causes a rare, but inherited form of multiple sclerosis. The researchers say that the inherited gene affects around one in every thousand MS patients, and is proof that the disease is passed down generations. It's been long suspected by scientists that MS had a genetic element, but it was always assumed that lots of difference genes were involved, as well as other environmental factors. For the research, scientists at the University of British Columbia studied the DNA of hundreds of families affected by MS in the hope that they would discover a culprit gene. Such a gene was found in two sets of families, both of which contained several members with a rapidly progressive form of MS. The researchers found that in these families, 70% of the individuals with the mutation developed the disease. It should be noted that there are still a multitude of other factors that may be necessary to trigger the disease process. Nevertheless, the discovery of the gene as a substantial causative risk factor is still a big breakthrough. When a person is suffering with MS, their body's immune system mistakenly attacks the protective layer of myelin which surrounds nerve fibres in the spinal cord and brain. This leads to muscle weakness, as well as other symptoms. The gene that was found to contain the mutation is called NH1H3, and the scientists believe that by targeting its pathway they can prevent or delay the onset of MS. Researcher Dr Carles Vilarino-Guell said: "These are still early days and there is a lot to test, but if we are able to repurpose some of these experimental drugs, it could shorten the time it takes to develop targeted MS treatments." More information can be found on the Neuron website.
The United States Congress designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month, which is why we have decided to do a short piece on the disease. According to American Cancer Society research, cervical cancer used to be the number one cause of cancer death in the United States for women. However, thanks to increased awareness and regular screening campaigns, the number of deaths from cervical cancer has dropped by more than 50% over the past 30 years. But despite all the good work that’s been done so far to combat the disease, some 12,900 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed in the US alone last year and over 4,000 women died because of the disease, which suggests that there is possibly more that could still be done to tackle this particular form of cancer. Cervical cancer is most common in women under the age of 50, yet very rarely occurs in women under the age of 20. Certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause almost all cases of cervical cancer and 40% of these HPVs can be transmitted during sexual intercourse. Two specific types – HPV-16 and HPV-18 – are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases globally. Other risks factors for cervical cancer include: having a family history of the disease; a weakened immune system; long-term mental stress; and smoking. Taking contraceptive pills has also been found to increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer. The importance of regular cervical cancer screening is highlighted by the fact that the disease presents very few symptoms in its early stages. Only when it becomes invasive do more noticeable symptoms start to occur, such as abnormal bleeding between periods and after sexual intercourse; heavy or prolonged periods; unusual vaginal discharge; and/or pain during sex. Official guidance from the US Preventative Services Task Force (UPSTF) says that women aged between 21 and 65 years old should undergo a Pap test every three years. So if you’re a woman you haven’t had a Pap test within the last three years, you should make an appointment with your appropriate medical physician as soon as possible. Photo via: http://www.cancerbox.org/cervical-cancer
Doctors in the UK say that multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who have received a treatment that is usually used for treating cancer are showing “remarkable” improvements. Some 20 MS patients have now received bone marrow transplants using their own stem cells and in some cases the treatment has enabled people who were paralysed to walk once more. Prof Basil Sharrack, of Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said: "To have a treatment which can potentially reverse disability is really a major achievement." MS is a neurological condition for which there is no known cure and affects around 100,000 people in the UK alone. It causes the body’s immune system to attack the lining of the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. The treatment, which is known as autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT), attempts to destroy the faulty immune system with chemotherapy before a new immune system is built using the patient’s own stem cells. The cells are so young that they haven’t yet developed the flaws which cause MS. Prof John Snowden, consultant haematologist at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said: "The immune system is being reset or rebooted back to a time point before it caused MS." One patient who received the treatment said that MS had completely changed his entire life. He went from running marathons one day to losing the sensation in his entire body the next. The new treatment, however, has allowed him to stand unaided once more. "It's been incredible. I was in a dire place, but now I can swim and cycle and I am determined to walk,” Steven Storey said.
People have long thought that being unhappy could be bad for your health – especially your heart – but a new decade-long study has revealed that previous research may have confused cause and effect. The study, which was led by Dr. Bette Liu of the University of South Wales in Australia and published in The Lancet, found that unhappiness is not a direct cause of ill health and increased mortality. Known as the UK’s Million Women Study, the research team analysed 719, 671 women who had a median age of 59 to discover whether happiness detrimental changes in stress hormones or the immune system resulted in a higher risk of death. One of the research team’s conclusions was that previous studies had failed to deal with reverse causality, in other words, that people who are ill tend to not be happy. For the research, female participants were asked to regularly rate their health, stress levels and happiness. The bottom line was that whether people were “never”, “usually” or “mostly” happy had no bearing on their odds of dying during the course of the study. Dr Liu said: "Illness makes you unhappy, but unhappiness itself doesn't make you ill. "We found no direct effect of unhappiness or stress on mortality, even in a 10-year study of a million women." The research did find, however, that light smokers were twice as likely to die during the study period and regular smokers three times. Reinforcing the reality that smoking is seriously bad for your health. Unhappiness, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily seem to be.
Insulin has been a life-saving treatment used by type 1 diabetes sufferers for nearly a century. But now scientists are seeking to discover if pills containing the same medicine also have the same preventative effect on the disease, which is rising steadily on a global scale today. In addition to its relatively high cost, insulin has to be injected, which many diabetics, especially children, dislike and is a reality that ultimately inhibits its use. The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that children who took insulin pills displayed immune system changes that could help prevent diabetes. However, while these results are encouraging, the study is considered small and cannot be said to be conclusive due to its short length. An ongoing, larger study is now underway to determine if the preliminary findings of the smaller study carry weight. "Does it prevent indefinitely? Does it slow it down, does it delay diabetes? That also would be a pretty big win," said Dr. Louis Philipson, a University of Chicago diabetes specialist involved with the study. Approximately 1.25 million Americans have Type 1 diabetes today and unlike Type 2 diabetes, which can be prevented with lifestyle choices, it has no known cure. Photo credit: GoodNewsNetwork
With just a single drop of your blood, VirScan can identify every virus you’ve ever had in your life and it can do so for around just $25. The research, which was recently published in the journal Science, could be vital for the diagnosis and treatment of viruses going forward. Contagious viruses with few obvious symptoms, like Hepatitis C, could become a thing of the past. Stephen Elledge, the lead author of the study, said: “There are people walking around with chronic Hepatitis C infections that have no idea they have them. Now imagine if this was a routine test that was done every time you went to the doctor. With things like Hep C, the earlier you treat them, the better." Imagine being able to walk into your doctor’s surgery and have a quick test to discover what previous viruses you’ve had, instead of filling out one of those tedious and often long-winded forms. Plus, the test may even pick up some viruses that you didn’t know you’d had! Once your body has defeated a virus, some of the special white blood cells that were released by your immune system at the time are then kept for reference purposes. Your body uses them as a reminder and to keep you protected from that same virus in the future. The study itself involved 569 people from the United States, Thailand, Peru and South Africa. It found that on average the participants tested positive for 10 species of virus. The most common being the flu, the common cold and gastrointestinal viruses. Photo credit: L'Express
A study of 582 people, conducted in Europe and the US, has found that Nivolumab leaves cancer cells open to attack from the body’s immune system by preventing them from being able to hide. Lung cancer kills almost 1.6 million people worldwide every year and is particularly difficult to treat as it is usually diagnosed late and sufferers often have other smoking-related diseases which make them unsuitable for surgery. The trial involved patients who had advanced lung cancer and had already tried other treatments. Individuals who were on standard therapy at this stage lived for another 9.4 months, but those being treated with Nivolumab lived for an average of 12.2 months. However, patients whose tumours were producing high levels of PD-L1 – a protein that inhibits the body’s natural defences – lived for another 19.4 months after taking Nivolumab. The study’s lead researcher, Dr Luis Paz-Ares from the Hospital Universitario Doce de Octubre in Madrid, Spain, said: "[The results] mark a milestone in the development of new treatment options for lung cancer." The data was presented by pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb to the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the findings were described as "giving real hope to patients". Cancer Research UK welcomed the results of the study and said that harnessing the power of the body’s immune system would be an "essential part" of cancer treatment. Photo credit: Phys.org
A ground-breaking new cancer vaccine, which is tailored for the individual and targets specific genetic errors in a patient’s tumour, has been developed in the US. According to a new report published in the journal Science, safety tests on three people showed that their immune systems could be ‘trained’ to fight skin cancer. The American team behind the findings say that the early results are a “significant step” towards developing personalised cancer vaccines. Harmful UV rays can turn otherwise healthy skin cells into potentially-lethal melanomas by damaging their DNA. The resulting tumours are a genetic mess, which differ from patient-to-patient and contain hundreds of random mutations. These genetic mutations were then analysed by the research team with the intention of predicting the new and unique flags that would be displayed by the cancer cells. These were then fed into a computer and an algorithm decided the best targets for a vaccine. The resulting personalised vaccines were then given to three test patients back in 2013 who all had advanced tumours and all of who had previously been treated with ipilimumab. One of the patients was in remission and has remained free from cancer; one still has tumours but they are stable; and the third’s tumours shrank after being given the vaccine before enlarging again but remaining stable. At this stage, the research was purely to see if the vaccines were safe and provoked an immune response. It has been hailed as successful on both counts.