New cancer ‘vaccine’ helps immune system find, kill disease

"We inject one tumor and we see all of the other tumors just melt away."

New cancer ‘vaccine’ helps immune system find, kill disease
Pixabay
  • In a recent clinical trial, three of 11 patients saw significant regression or complete remission of lymphoma.
  • The approach is an immunotherapy, a relatively young field in cancer research that involves directing the immune system to kill cancer cells on its own.
  • The researchers suggested their approach might improve the efficacy of existing immunotherapies.

Promising results from a recent medical trial suggest scientists might soon be able to redirect the immune system to destroy cancer.

The immunotherapy approach — dubbed "in situ vaccination" by researchers at Mount Sinai — works somewhat similar to a vaccine. In the study, published in the journal Nature on April 8, 11 participants had one of their tumors injected with a steroid that recruits dendritic cells to the site. The participants then underwent a low dose of radiation, and were also given another stimulant to activate the dendritic cells, which then direct cancer-fighting T-cells to kill any tumors they encounter throughout the body.

"We're injecting two immune stimulants right into one single tumor," senior researcher Dr. Joshua Brody told HealthDay. "We inject one tumor and we see all of the other tumors just melt away."

It's too early to know exactly what to make of the results, however, and only three of the 11 patients saw their disease (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma) go into significant regression or complete remission. Still, cancer was halted in six of the patients for three to 18 months.

"It's really promising, and the fact you get not only responses in treated areas, but areas outside the field [of treatment with radiation] is really significant," Dr. Silvia Formenti, chairwoman of radiation oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, who wasn't involved in the study, told CNBC.

Why immunotherapies are the focus of intense study

Immunotherapy is a relatively young field in cancer research. It's gained traction in recent years because of its alluring promise: kill cancer not with harmful, dangerous drugs or radiation, but rather by harnessing the power of the body's immune system.

In 2018, James Allison and Tasuku Honjo won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their innovative work in developing immunotherapy treatments and for bringing them closer to mainstream acceptance and study.

"Allison's and Honjo's discoveries have added a new pillar in cancer therapy. It represents a completely new principle, because unlike previous strategies, it is not based on targeting the cancer cells, but rather the brakes — the checkpoints — of the host immune system," Klas Kärre, a member of the Nobel Committee and an immunologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said in a statement. "The seminal discoveries by the two laureates constitutes a paradigmatic shift and a landmark in the fight against cancer."

There are multiple types of immunotherapy. The one Kärre describes here is called checkpoint blockade, the approach that put former President Jimmy Carter's melanoma in remission in 2015. This immunotherapy technique involves administering drugs that release the immune system's "brakes" which, as the National Cancer Institute describes, "keep T cells (a type of white blood cell and part of the immune system) from killing cancer cells. These drugs do not target the tumor directly. Instead, they interfere with the ability of cancer cells to avoid immune system attack."

The recent clinical trial was only conducted on patients with lymphoma, but the researchers suggested their approach could be potentially used to treat other types of cancer — and that it could improve the efficacy of other immunotherapies, including checkpoint blockade.

"The in situ vaccine approach has broad implications for multiple types of cancer," said Brody, the study's lead author and the director of the Lymphoma Immunotherapy Program at The Tisch Cancer Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "This method could also increase the success of other immunotherapies such as checkpoint blockade."

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

Videos
  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
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