Researchers from the University of Toronto published a new map of cancer cells' genetic defenses against treatment.
A moving target<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzNjQ2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDM3OTA0N30.z4u2eaulqRu8cslqqny8t9G7iaHr_DarbDJSFKLdDwI/img.jpg?width=980" id="21b22" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aefbbccdf3bb0d25bf14268ab87a821f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="IV drip" />
Credit: Marcelo Leal/Unsplash<p>Speaking to <a href="https://www.utoronto.ca/news/u-t-researchers-identify-genes-enable-cancer-evade-immune-system" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">U of T News</a>, lead author of the study molecular geneticist <a href="http://www.moleculargenetics.utoronto.ca/faculty/2014/9/30/jason-moffat" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Jason Moffat</a> of the university's <a href="https://ccbr.utoronto.ca/donnelly-centre-cellular-and-biomolecular-research" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research</a> says, "Over the last decade, different forms of immunotherapy have emerged as really potent cancer treatments, but the reality is that they only generate durable responses in a fraction of patients and not for all tumor types."</p><p>There can be a significant degree of heterogeneity between cancer cells from human to human, and even within the same person, making the development of therapies maddeningly difficult. Attempting to address potential cancer-cell vulnerabilities across these variations is a life-or-death game of whack-a-mole.</p><p>"It's an ongoing battle between the immune system and cancer, where the immune system is trying to find and kill the cancer whereas the cancer's job is to evade that killing," says Moffat.</p>
Mapping the mechanisms<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzNjQ3Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjQ1OTM0MX0.HNtivrlU9VBYxcG9JaWKvPJ5RrBsgqd8Fw6ohfSpfh0/img.jpg?width=980" id="0faa6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7687cdc5abe93503764c1c0401b65fd4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Illustration: genes (red, green, and blue spots within the nuclei of HeLa cells) artificially superimposed on images of multi-well plates.
Credit: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash<p>Moffat and his colleagues decided to investigate and identify genes within cancer cells that help them defeat treatment. Co-lead author Keith Lawson of Moffat's lab explains that "it's important to not just find genes that can regulate immune evasion in one model of cancer, but what you really want are to find those genes that you can manipulate in cancer cells across many models because those are going to make the best therapeutic targets."</p><p>To accomplish this, the researchers, working with scientists at <a href="https://www.agios.com" target="_blank">Agios Pharmaceuticals</a> in Cambridge, Massachusetts, first exposed cells from breast, colon, kidney and skin cancer tumors to T cells in lab dishes. This established a baseline of their responses to treatment. Next, using CRISPR, the scientists went through the cells, exhaustively turning off one gene at a time to determine its role in immunotherapy resistance by comparing the cells' response to the T cells compared to their original baseline response.</p><p>The team identified 182 "core cancer intrinsic immune evasion genes" that affected the cells' response to T cells. The fact that some of the identified genes were already known to be involved in resistance provided the researchers with some confidence that they were on the right track.</p><p>Still, many of the genes they ID'ed had not been previously implicated. "That was really exciting to see because it means that our dataset was very rich in new biological information," says Lawson.</p>
It's complicated<p>Unfortunately, Moffat's research also makes clear that defeating cancer-cell resistance is not as simple as removing certain genes. It's true that when the team switched off some of the genes they'd identified, the cancer cells became more vulnerable to T cells, but on the other hand, removal of some other genes made the cancer cells more resistant.</p><p>There also appear to be relationships between multiple genes that complicate matters. </p><p>The team explored the manipulation of the genes that allow cancer cells to engage in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autophagy" target="_blank">autophagy</a>, the process by which cells clear out no-longer useful materials to facilitate speedy recovery from damage. Surprisingly, when the researchers deleted certain genes responsible for cancer cells' autophagy, they found the cells' resistance to T cells increased. Apparently, removing one autophagy gene strengthened another mutated autophagy gene.</p><p>"We found this complete inversion of gene dependency," said Moffat. "We did not anticipate this at all. What it shows us is that genetic context — what mutations are present — very much dictates whether the introduction of the second mutation will cause no effect, resistance or sensitivity to therapy."</p><p>There remains a long road ahead when it comes to unraveling cancer cells' resistance to immunotherapy. However, this new study presents a new map that can help scientists navigate what comes next.</p>
Archaeology clues us in on the dangers of letting viruses hang around.
- A University of Otago researcher investigates the spread of disease in ancient Vietnam.
- The infectious disease, yaws, has been with us for thousands of years with no known cure.
- Using archaeology to investigate disease offers clues into modern-day pandemics.
History-Changing Archaeological Finds<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ed6ad05071e93f257aa0b73f4001c805"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gydYHHfnLhE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While we rightfully look toward infectious disease experts during times such as now, archaeologists also have plenty to offer. A <a href="http://journals.upress.ufl.edu/bioarchaeology/article/view/1173" target="_blank">new research article</a>, published in the journal, Bioarchaeology Journal, turns back the clock to ancient Vietnam. The findings offer important clues about why we need to eradicate COVID-19.</p><p>Lead author Melandri Vlok, a PhD student at the University of Otago in New Zealand (with support from researchers in Australia, Vietnam, Japan, and the UK), investigated a case of yaws that ran through the Neolithic archeological site of Mán Bạc in Northeast Vietnam. </p><p>Yaws remains a common infectious disease in at least 13 tropical countries, with up to a half-million infected each year. Hard skin lesions form on the victim's bodies; they can form painful ulcers. While lesions usually subside within six months, bone and joint pain and fatigue are common. Some cases last many years and result in permanent scars. On occasion, death follows a long battle. </p><p>Subsistence farmers in mainland China have long battled the environment. Finding the right soil and water sources for their crops has been a generational battle. Roughly 4,000 years ago, such farmers made their way into Mainland Southeast China (modern day Vietnam), where, as Vlok writes, "genetic admixture and social transition occurs between foragers and farmers." In 2018, Vlok traveled to Mán Bạc to study the remains of seven skeletons, which included two adults, two adolescents, and two children.</p><p>Her findings help give us perspective on today's proliferation of the coronavirus. As she <a href="https://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/releases/otago744185.html" target="_blank">says</a>, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This matters, because knowing more about this disease and its evolution, it changes how we understand the relationship people have with it. It helps us understand why it's so difficult to eradicate. If it's been with us thousands of years it has probably developed to fit very well with humans." </p>
My Son Sanctuary, Quang Nam, Vietnam.
Credit: Mrkela / Shutterstock<p>Yaws is not the only disease considered in the article. Tuberculosis, brucellosis, and cancers were also discussed. The goal of the research was to identify disease spread through cultures and the chronic problems left behind, sometimes for millennia. Vlok notes how temperature fluctuations in the Mán Bạc region affected a variety of diseases. Yaws appeared to have spread easily due to an abundance of water and vegetation, combined with increased population density—children are more likely to spread this disease.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Pre-industrialized agricultural communities have also been associated with increased incidence of yaws. The coastal region is also slightly warmer and more humid than inland northern Vietnam and therefore more conducive to the spread of yaws."</p><p>The Climate Clock is <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/09/21/climate-change-metronome-clock-nyc/" target="_blank">ticking down</a>. We're already experiencing the ravages of this global shift, and it's not going to get any easier if interventions are not immediately legislated. While no single science will help us wrap our heads around the immediate future, Vlok suggests factoring in archaeology. Past precedent matters.</p><p>Gazing back a few hundred generations offers important clues for the future—really, the present—that we must confront. A concerted effort by the World Health Organization in the 1950s couldn't eradicate yaws. Diseases that have an opportunity to hang around will exploit every advantage it can. The blasé attitude too many Americans currently hold about the novel coronavirus's dangers is going to have a reverberating effect through the generations. As Vlok concludes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This shows us what happens when we don't take action with these diseases. It's a lesson of what infectious diseases can do to a population if you let them spread widely. It highlights the need to intervene, because sometimes these diseases are so good at adapting to us, at spreading between us."</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
A large-scale study from King's College London explores the link between genetics and sun-seeking behaviors.
- There are a number of physical and mental health benefits to sun exposure, such as boosted vitamin D and serotonin levels and stronger bones.
- Addictions are multi-step conditions that, by definition, require exposure to the addictive agent and have also been proven to have a genetic factor. Countless people are exposed to addictive things, but not all become addicted. This is because of the genetic component of addiction.
- This large-scale study explores the link between sun-seeking behaviors and the genetic markers for addiction.
The benefits of sunlight<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMjI1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzk0NDUxNH0.lbYbZidJkNXPUcWM6m8cucuzAFOANkqPaIVfJdqkJ4Q/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C52%2C0%2C52&height=700" id="d5fcd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f44fcc9a31393c8102803eb50d01a19a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="woman sitting on dock in the sunlight" />
The mental and physical health benefits of sunlight have been heavily researched.
Credit: eldar nurkovic on Shutterstock<p>The benefits of sunlight have been widely discussed for many years. In fact, there are a number of physical and mental health benefits to sun exposure.</p><p><strong>Sunshine (and the lack of) impacts your hormone levels. </strong></p><p>Sunlight (and alternatively, the lack of sunlight) triggers the release of certain hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase serotonin, which is associated with boosting your mood and helping you feel calm and focused. </p><p>Alternatively, dark lighting triggers melatonin, a hormone that is helpful in allowing you to rest and fall asleep. Without enough sunlight, your serotonin levels can dip - and low serotonin levels have been associated with a higher risk of major depression with seasonal pattern (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder).</p><p><strong>Sunlight can build strong bones. </strong></p><p>Exposure to the ultraviolet-B radiation in the sun's rays can interact with your skin, causing it to create vitamin D. <a href="https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to NHS</a>, vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities or bone pain. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2008 study</a> has shown that even 30 minutes in sunlight (while wearing a bathing suit) can boost vitamin D levels. </p><p><strong>Can sunlight actually prevent cancer? </strong></p><p>Although heavy exposure to sunlight has been proven to contribute to certain skin cancers, a moderate amount of sunlight has actually been shown to have preventative benefits.</p><p><a href="https://cjasn.asnjournals.org/content/3/5/1548.full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to a 2008 study</a> from the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, those who live in areas with fewer daylight hours are more likely to have some specific cancers (including but not limited to colon cancer, ovarian cancer, and prostate cancer) than those who live in areas with increased daylight hours.</p><p><strong>Additionally, sunlight has been shown to help people with skin conditions such as psoriasis. </strong></p><p><a href="http://www.who.int/uv/faq/uvhealtfac/en/index1.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to the World Health Organization</a>, sun exposure may also be able to help treat skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, and acne. <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight#benefits" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Some research</a> has also indicated the sun benefits people who struggle with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus, and inflammatory bowel disease. </p>
Can you be addicted to the sun?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMjI1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzE5NTMwOX0.pHOWSr3FcIndYkBAVND1UsD8AheTQmxsePKRi3XvYTw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=31%2C0%2C32%2C0&height=700" id="93c87" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="384e08fdcd535ed2b792eef419af9e2c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="hands holding up the sun" />
The large-scale study examines the link between addiction and sunlight, with some surprising results...
Credit: KieferPix on Shutterstock<p>Addictions are multi-step conditions that, by definition, require exposure to the addictive agent. Due to the increase of serotonin (a chemical in the human body <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/serotonin" target="_blank">that has been proven</a> to help reduce depression, regulate anxiety, and maintain bone health), it's natural that being exposed to prolonged periods of sunlight could become somewhat addictive to the human body and mind. We crave things that make us feel good, and sometimes those cravings become something we depend on. This is the very nature of addiction.</p><p>Countless people are exposed to addictive things (substances, medications, and yes, even the sun), but not all become addicted. This is because of the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3506170/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">genetic component of addiction</a>. </p><p>A large-scale study from King's College in London examines more than 260,000 people to better understand how sun-seeking behavior in humans can be linked to genes involving addiction, behavior traits, and brain function. </p><p><strong>The study included two phases:</strong></p><p>Phase one suggested genetics play a role in sun-seeking behaviors and phase 2 helped pinpoint what those genetic markers are.</p><p>Phase 1: The researchers studied the detailed health information of 2,500 twins, including their sun-seeking behavior and their genetics. Identical twins in a pair were more likely to have similar sun-seeking behavior than non-identical twins, indicating that genetics plays a role here. </p><p>Phase 2: The team of researchers then were able to identify five key gene markers involved in this sun-seeking behavior from further analysis of 260,000 participants. Some of the genes indicated have been linked to behaviors traits that are associated with risk-taking and addiction (including smoking and alcohol consumption).</p><p><strong>What does this study really prove? </strong></p><p>Some may think it's natural to become addicted to something that makes you feel good. The physical and mental health benefits of the outdoors have been heavily studied...so what does this study really mean? </p><p>First and foremost, it means more research needs to be done to examine the link between human conditions and exposure to sunlight. Senior author Dr. Mario Falchi explains to the <a href="https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/addicted-to-the-sun-its-in-your-genes" target="_blank">King's College London News Center</a>: "Our results suggest that tackling excessive sun exposure or use of tanning beds might be more challenging than expected, as it is influenced by genetic factors. It is important for the public to be aware of this predisposition, as it could make people more mindful of their behavior and the potential harms of excessive sun exposure."</p><p>Additionally, it could mean alternative treatments, and further research needs to be conducted in terms of how we treat certain conditions that are caused or heavily influenced by human exposure to sunlight. </p>
Stewart is supporting a new bill that aims to extend health care and disability benefits to veterans who served alongside burn pits.
- Thousands of American veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to burn pits, which may have caused diseases like asthma and cancer.
- Burn pits were used as a crude way to dispose of waste, including plastics, body parts, dead animals, and hazardous chemicals.
- Despite gaps in the research linking exposure to medical conditions, advocates say the benefit of the doubt should go to veterans.
A lack of evidence?<p>Conclusive research on the links between burn-pit exposure and medical conditions is lacking. </p><p>But after the Vietnam War, there was also a lack of research on the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange. In 1991, Congress passed the <a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/agent-orange-act-was-supposed-to-help-vietnam-veterans-but-many-still-dont-#:~:text=In%201991%2C%20Congress%20passed%20the,the%20vet%20eligible%20for%20benefits." target="_blank">Agent Orange act</a>, which extended health benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from conditions linked to exposure. There was also an <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/07/911-cancer-study-pits-scientists-vs-first-responders/353352/" target="_blank">initial lack of evidence</a> showing that 9/11 first-responders developed conditions like cancer after inhaling pulverized dust at Ground Zero.</p><p>While scientists continue to study the effects of burn-pit exposure, advocates say lawmakers should err on the side of extending health care to ailing veterans.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If people were injured or affected and there's a plausible relationship or explanation for what's going on, the benefit of the doubt needs to go to the veteran," former V.A. Secretary Dr. David Shulkin said at the event on Tuesday. "To simply let people suffer and go without help from their government is not a satisfactory response."</p>
Why a survey claims Boomers demonstrate more knowledge and safer behavior.
- A new study suggests older Americans are more knowledgeable about COVID-19 than younger demographics.
- Respondents who scored higher in knowledge about COVID also tended to follow behavioral recommendations better than others.
- The study was conducted early in the pandemic, but the central finding may still hold up.