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Two new studies identify whether cancer patients will respond to chemotherapy
Two new studies might have identified whether or not patients will respond to chemotherapy.
- Using radiomics, two new studies identified whether patients would respond to chemotherapy or not.
- This breakthrough occurred by investigating tissue around the tumor, instead of only looking at the tumor itself.
- This could lead to the cessation of much suffering for patients that will not respond to chemo.
We can thank warfare for one of the most important medical discoveries of the 20th century. An article published in The NY Times in 1946 sums up a fascinating study on the usage of "nitrogen mustards"—mustard gas used by the Germans in Italy, which exposed over 1,000 people to the effects of the bombs—that led to trials conducted in New Haven on the potential of utilizing this chemistry in the treatment of Hodgkin's disease (among other cancers).
The word 'chemotherapy' was coined by German-Jewish physician Paul Ehrlich over a century ago. It initially referred to the usage of chemicals to treat any disease, including antibiotics. Ehrlich was a bit of a medical savant, helping create treatments for syphilis and trypanosomiasis. He called his discoveries "magic bullets," denoting the mortal specificity these drugs had on their biological targets. Beginning in 1904, he used a variety of arsenics, bromides, and alcohols to try to kill cancer cells.
In 1915, Ehrlich fell ill with tuberculosis. He was frustrated that his nation was using the chemicals he studied for healing in order to create weapons of war. Right before he died he looked out over plants operated by Bayer and Hoechst, which were creating what would become known as mustard gas, frustrated that his nation, on the eve of World War I, had gone so far astray.
While Ehrlich remained skeptical that a cocktail of lab-produced drugs could effectively combat cancer—his research resulted in weak or ineffective drugs—time proved to be his only problem. Trials conducted in America in 1942 showed efficacy in the treatment of lymphomas. From this research came mustine (chlormethine), first sold under the name Mustargen, to be employed in the treatment of prostate cancer.
Downsizing the fight with cancer | Efstathios Karathanasis | TEDxCWRU
Chemotherapy is a mixed bag—every cancer patient knows this. As with mustard gas bombs dropped over villages in hopes of rooting out enemies amid a civil population (and inevitable civilian casualties), chemo is often more of a guess than a specific application (though more targeted chemotherapies have been developed over the decades). Chemo doesn't only destroy cancerous cells, it also halts the division of normal cells, resulting in immunosuppression, inflammation of the digestive tract, and hair loss.
While not a perfect medicine, few—though perhaps too many, at least in the conspiratorial holistic corners of the internet—doubt chemo's efficacy, though they remain concerned about the side effects. When I went through testicular cancer five years ago, I was given three post-surgery options: one to two rounds of chemotherapy; radiation therapy (which can lead to a secondary cancer); or monitoring. I chose one round as prevention. There was nothing pleasant about it. Those who endure a dozen rounds for more aggressive cancers face a myriad of consequences from the suppression of their immune systems.
Yet the alternative is even less appealing. You can't beat cancer as it's an embedded part of us. Humans don't exist without cancer cells. As physician and oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee writes in his biography of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies, cancer cells are "more perfect versions of ourselves." To root them out entirely means to also destroy the cells necessary for making us human.
Every one of us lives with cancer cells. Whether or not the disease forms is dependent upon a host of factors, including genetics, diet, fitness level, exogenous factors (such as living near chemical plants or underneath flight pathways).
Regardless, having cancerous cells is a fate none of us escape. Mukherjee continues:
"The secret to battling cancer…is to find means to prevent these mutations from occurring in susceptible cells, or to find means to eliminate the mutated cells without compromising normal growth."
Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee: Genetically Mapping the Future of Cancer
There's an art to the science of choosing the chemotherapy drugs included in a regimen; oncologists do not always choose correctly. This professional hurdle is slowly being overturned, thanks to research such as recent studies at Cape Western Reserve University that appear to have identified clues to whether or not a patient will respond to chemotherapy.
By scanning regions outside of the tumor observed on MRI and CAT scans, biomedical engineering professor Anant Madabhushi says that certain insights reveal whether lung and breast cancer patients will be benefited by chemotherapy.
One study sought a "signature," known as HER2-positive, that is included in 20 percent of all breast cancers. Through radiomics, which uncovers quantitative features invisible to the naked eye, researchers can discover HER2 by analyzing tissue around the tumor. Instead of undergoing a "one-size-fits-all" course of chemotherapy, patients with this signature could be better targeted—though the researchers state a definitive breakthrough is a few years away.
In a corresponding study using radiomics, lung cancer researchers are on the verge of an important discovery. As biomedical engineering doctoral researcher, Mohammadhadi Khorrami, states, only one in four lung cancer patients respond to chemotherapy, meaning that 75 percent will endure unnecessary consequences and considerable pain because research thus far has been limited to investigating the tumor itself.
Through these investigative techniques, Khorrami identified, with 77 percent accuracy, which patients would benefit from chemotherapy, a nine percent increase over just looking inside the tumor. Considering 228,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year, that's over 20,000 patients receiving better health care. As this particular regimen comes with a $30,000 price tag, a lot of financial and emotional strain can be saved through this new technique.
That we haven't figured out a specific cure to the range of cancers we face is not surprising, but the fact that we're gaining ground brings hope in the face of our species' greatest killers. Cancer might be an inherent part of us, yet if we can mitigate the pain and suffering it wreaks, such research will be worth it.
- Genetic "kill code" may help fight cancer without chemotherapy - Big ... ›
- Cancer cells hibernate to survive chemotherapy, finds study - Big Think ›
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.