Sky-mapping system can predict whether cancer treatment will work

Using image analysis tools developed for astronomy, researchers are predicting cancer therapy responses.

Sky-mapping system can predict whether cancer treatment will work
Credit: Greg Rakozy via Unsplash

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

Can a system for charting the stars be used to treat cancer? (And no, I don't mean astrology.) Researchers at Johns Hopkins think so. Using a sky-mapping algorithm developed by astronomers, the scientists have found a way to predict whether cancer will respond to immunotherapy.

"This platform has the potential to transform how oncologists will deliver cancer immunotherapy," Drew Pardoll, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, said in a Johns Hopkins' release.

Predicting the future is life or death: Immunotherapy harnesses the body's own immune system to attack cancerous tumor cells. But tumors have a multitude of nasty tricks to evade our immune system.

Immunotherapy needs to get around these tumor defenses, allowing our own powerful weapons to fight back.

An immunotherapy treatment for melanoma can block a protein called PD-1, helping the immune system spot and destroy cancer cells. But only some melanoma patients will respond well to anti-PD-1 drugs, and time is of the essence with an aggressive cancer like melanoma.

"The ability to predict response or resistance is critical to choosing the best treatments for each patient's cancer," the researchers state.

Lighting the way: To build their prediction model, the researchers took melanoma biopsies — about 127,400 mosaic images, comprising a million cells — and used immunofluorescence to highlight proteins in the tissue.

Immunofluorescence works via antibodies that glom on to certain proteins and glow, revealing their targets.

Using their tags, the researchers were able to illuminate the tumor's microenvironment by examining the immune cells in and around the melanoma. From there, they located six biomarkers that, taken together, were "highly predictive" of a cancer's response to anti-PD-1 therapy.

"The data outputs were linked to patient outcomes, informing in a clinically relevant way how cancer evades the immune system," the team wrote in their Science paper.

The fault in melanoma's stars: The key to this cancer-prediction algorithm was imaging techniques originally developed for astronomy.

Using a sky-mapping algorithm developed by astronomers, the scientists have found a way to predict whether cancer will respond to immunotherapy.

The image analysis tools were created for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a map of the universe spearheaded by Alexander Szalay, professor of physics, astronomy, and computer science.

"The sky survey 'stitched' together millions of telescopic images of billions of celestial objects, each expressing distinct signatures — just like the different fluorescent tags on the antibodies used to stain the tumor biopsies," Johns Hopkins explains.

The algorithm, called AstroPath, is already being applied to lung cancer, and the team hopes it will lead to therapeutic guidance for other cancers as well.

Every 27.5 million years, the Earth’s heart beats catastrophically

Geologists discover a rhythm to major geologic events.

Credit: desertsolitaire/Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
  • It appears that Earth has a geologic "pulse," with clusters of major events occurring every 27.5 million years.
  • Working with the most accurate dating methods available, the authors of the study constructed a new history of the last 260 million years.
  • Exactly why these cycles occur remains unknown, but there are some interesting theories.
Keep reading Show less

How Apple and Nike have branded your brain

A new episode of "Your Brain on Money" illuminates the strange world of consumer behavior and explores how brands can wreak havoc on our ability to make rational decisions.

Apple logo

Vegefox.com via Adobe Stock
popular
  • Effective branding can not only change how you feel about a company, it can actually change how your brain is wired.
  • Our new series "Your Brain on Money," created in partnership with Million Stories, recently explored the surprising ways brands can affect our behavior.
  • Brands aren't going away. But you can make smarter decisions by slowing down and asking yourself why you're making a particular purchase.
Keep reading Show less

How Apple and Nike have branded your brain

Powerful branding can not only change how you feel about a company, it can actually change how your brain is wired.

How Apple and Nike have branded your brain
Sponsored by Singleton
  • Powerful branding can not only change how you feel about a company, it can actually change how your brain is wired.
  • "We love to think of ourselves as rational. That's not how it works," says UPenn professor Americus Reed II about our habits (both conscious and subconscious) of paying more for items based primarily on the brand name. Effective marketing causes the consumer to link brands like Apple and Nike with their own identity, and that strong attachment goes deeper than receipts.
  • Using MRI, professor and neuroscientist Michael Platt and his team were able to see this at play. When reacting to good or bad news about the brand, Samsung users didn't have positive or negative brain responses, yet they did have "reverse empathy" for bad news about Apple. Meanwhile, Apple users showed a "brain empathy response for Apple that was exactly what you'd see in the way you would respond to somebody in your family."
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast