New cancer ‘vaccine’ helps immune system find, kill disease
"We inject one tumor and we see all of the other tumors just melt away."
- 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."
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
Numerous U.S. Presidents invoked the Insurrection Act to to quell race and labor riots.
- U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
- The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
- The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.
- Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
- Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
- Where's an El Niño when you need one?
Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.
NOAA expects a busy season
According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.
Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.
What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.
This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.
Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:
- The ocean there is warmer than usual.
- There's reduced vertical wind shear.
- Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
- There have been strong West African monsoons this year.
Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:
ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.
First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.
Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.
Image source: NOAA
Batten down the hatches early
If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.
Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."
Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.
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