Breakthrough: Air Pollution/Cancer Research Challenges the Science on Tumors

“Scientists have uncovered how air pollution causes lung cancer,” reports the Guardian, “in groundbreaking research that promises to rewrite our understanding of the disease.”

The BBC is calling it “a discovery that completely transforms our understanding of how tumours arise.”

The team at the Francis Crick Institute in London showed that rather than causing damage, air pollution was waking up old damaged cells. One of the world’s leading experts, Prof Charles Swanton, said the breakthrough marked a “new era”. And it may now be possible to develop drugs that stop cancers forming.

The findings could explain how hundreds of cancer-causing substances act on the body. The classical view of cancer starts with a healthy cell. It acquires more and more mutations in its genetic code, or DNA, until it reaches a tipping point. Then it becomes a cancer and grows uncontrollably…. The researchers have produced evidence of a different idea. The damage is already there in our cell’s DNA, picked up as we grow and age, but something needs to pull the trigger that actually makes it cancerous….

Around one in every 600,000 cells in the lungs of a 50-year-old already contains potentially cancerous mutations. These are acquired as we age but appear completely healthy until they are activated by the chemical alarm and become cancerous. Crucially, the researchers were able to stop cancers forming in mice exposed to air pollution by using a drug that blocks the alarm signal.
The results are a double breakthrough, both for understanding the impact of air pollution and the fundamentals of how we get cancer.

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San Francisco Decriminalizes Psychedelics

San Francisco lawmakers have unanimously approved a measure calling for the decriminalization of psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca. DoubleBlind Mag reports: The Board of Supervisors approved the measure, sponsored by Supervisors Dean Preston (D) and Hillary Ronen (D), on Wednesday. While it doesn’t immediately enact changes to criminal justice policy in San Francisco, it urges police to deprioritize psychedelics as “amongst the lowest priority” for enforcement and requests that “City resources not be used for any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding the use of Entheogenic Plants listed on the Federally Controlled Substances Schedule 1 list.”

Decriminalize Nature San Francisco helped advance the resolution, which also implores city officials to “instruct” its state and federal lobbyists to push for psychedelics decriminalization in California and federally. The whereas section of the measure talks about emerging research that shows entheogenic substances have therapeutic potential to treat a wide range of mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance misuse disorder. It further notes that the “state legislature has already started the conversation around the decriminalization of personal possession of small amounts of seven psychedelic substances,” in the form of a bill from Sen. Scott Wiener (D) that passed the Senate and several Assembly committees before being significantly scaled back in a final panel and ultimately pulled by the sponsor.

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US Plans Shift To Annual COVID Vaccines Akin To Flu Shots

The United States is likely to start recommending COVID-19 vaccines annually, health officials said on Tuesday, as new boosters designed to fight currently circulating variants of the coronavirus roll out. Reuters reports: By the end of this week, 90% of Americans will live within five miles (8 km) of sites carrying updated vaccines, U.S. health secretary Xavier Becerra said at a White House briefing. Officials said people could get the new boosters this fall or winter alongside their regular annual flu shots, and said it was likely this would become a yearly ritual.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said even with the seven-day average of COVID hospitalizations down 14% to 4,500 per day, annual shots could save thousands of lives. “Modeling projections show that an uptake of updated COVID-19 vaccine doses similar to an annual flu vaccine coverage early this fall could prevent as many as 100,000 hospitalizations and 9,000 deaths, and save billions of dollars in direct medical costs,” she said. The redesigned boosters, green-lighted by U.S. health regulators last week, aim to tackle the BA.5 and BA.4 Omicron subvariants, which account for over 88% and 11% of circulating viruses, respectively, Walensky said. The so-called bivalent vaccines also still target the original version of the virus.

Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said unless a dramatically different variant emerges, annual vaccines should offer enough protection for most people, but that some vulnerable groups might need more frequent vaccinations. “We likely are moving towards a path with a vaccination cadence similar to that of the annual influenza vaccine, with annual, updated COVID-19 shots matched to the currently circulating strains for most of the population,” he said.

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An Eye Implant Engineered From Proteins In Pigskin Restored Sight In 14 Blind People

According to a new study published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, researchers implanted corneas made from pig collagen to restore sight in 20 people who were blind or visually impaired. “Fourteen of the patients were blind before they received the implant, but two years after the procedure, they had regained some or all of their vision,” notes NBC News. “Three had perfect vision after the surgery.” From the report: The patients, in Iran and India, all suffered from keratoconus, a condition in which the protective outer layer of the eye progressively thins and bulges outward. “We were surprised with the degree of vision improvement,” said Neil Lagali, a professor of experimental ophthalmology at Linkoping University in Sweden who co-authored the study. Not all patients experienced the same degree of improvement, however. The 12 Iranian patients wound up with an average visual acuity of 20/58 with glasses; functional vision is defined as 20/40 or better with lenses. Nonetheless, Dr. Marian Macsai, a clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of Chicago who wasn’t involved in the study, said the technology could be a game changer for those with keratoconus, which affects roughly 50 to 200 out of every 100,000 people. It might also have applications for other forms of corneal disease.

To create the implant, Lagali and his team dissolved pig tissue to form a purified collagen solution. That was used to engineer a hydrogel that mimics the human cornea. Surgeons then made an incision in a patient’s cornea for the hydrogel. “We insert our material into this pocket to thicken the cornea and to reshape it so that it can restore the cornea’s function,” Lagali said. Traditionally, human tissue is required for cornea transplants. But it’s in short supply, because people must volunteer to donate it after they die. So, Lagali said, his team was looking for a low-cost, widely available substitute. “Collagen from pigskin is a byproduct from the food industry,” he said. “This makes it broadly available and easier to procure.” After two years, the patients’ bodies hadn’t rejected the implants, and they didn’t have any inflammation or scarring.

But any experimental medical procedure comes with risk. In this case, Soiberman said, a foreign molecule like collagen could induce an immune reaction. The researchers prescribed patients an eight-week course of immunosuppressive eyedrops to lower the risk, which is less than the amount given to people who receive cornea transplants from human tissue. In those cases, patients take immunosuppressive medicine for more than a year, Lagali said. “There’s always a risk for rejection of the human donor tissue because it contains foreign cells,” he said. “Our implant does not contain any cells … so there’s a minimal risk of rejection.” The procedure itself was also quicker than traditional cornea transplants. The researchers said each operation took about 30 minutes, whereas transplants of human tissue can take a couple of hours. […] It’s not yet clear whether the surgery would work for patients who have other forms of corneal disease aside from keratoconus.

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VR Is As Good As Psychedelics At Helping People Reach Transcendence

David Glowacki, an artist and computational molecular physicist, has created a VR experience called Isness-D that aims to recapture a transcendence experience he had when he fell in the mountains fifteen years ago. “[O]n four key indicators used in studies of psychedelics, the program showed the same effect as a medium dose of LSD or psilocybin (the main psychoactive component of ‘magic’ mushrooms),” reports MIT Technology Review. From the report: Isness-D is designed for groups of four to five people based anywhere in the world. Each participant is represented as a diffuse cloud of smoke with a ball of light right about where a person’s heart would be. Participants can partake in an experience called energetic coalescence: they gather in the same spot in the virtual-reality landscape to overlap their diffuse bodies, making it impossible to tell where each person begins and ends. The resulting sense of deep connectedness and ego attenuation mirrors feelings commonly brought about by a psychedelic experience.

[…] To create it, Glowacki took aesthetic inspiration from quantum mechanics — as he puts it, “where the definition of what’s matter and what’s energy starts to become blurred.” For their paper, Glowacki and his collaborators measured the emotional response Isness-D elicited in 75 participants. They based their measurements on four metrics used in psychedelics research — the MEQ30 (a mystical experience questionnaire), the ego dissolution inventory scale, the “communitas” scale, and the “inclusion of community in self” scale. Communitas is defined as an experience of intense shared humanity that transcends social structure. Participants’ responses were then compared with those given in published, double-blind psychedelics studies. For all four metrics, Isness-D elicited responses indistinguishable from those associated with medium doses of psychedelics. On the mystical experience scale, Isness-D participants reported an experience as intense as that elicited by 20 milligrams of psilocybin or 200 micrograms of LSD, and stronger than that induced by microdoses of either substance. The findings have been published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

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Blocking Inflammation May Lead To Chronic Pain

Using anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids to relieve pain could increase the chances of developing chronic pain, according to researchers from McGill University and colleagues in Italy. Neuroscience News reports: Their research puts into question conventional practices used to alleviate pain. Normal recovery from a painful injury involves inflammation and blocking that inflammation with drugs could lead to harder-to-treat pain. […] In the study published in Science Translational Medicine, the researchers examined the mechanisms of pain in both humans and mice. They found that neutrophils — a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infection — play a key role in resolving pain. Experimentally blocking neutrophils in mice prolonged the pain up to ten times the normal duration. Treating the pain with anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids like dexamethasone and diclofenac also produced the same result, although they were effective against pain early on.

These findings are also supported by a separate analysis of 500,000 people in the United Kingdom that showed that those taking anti-inflammatory drugs to treat their pain were more likely to have pain two to ten years later, an effect not seen in people taking acetaminophen or anti-depressants. “Our findings suggest it may be time to reconsider the way we treat acute pain. Luckily pain can be killed in other ways that don’t involve interfering with inflammation,” says Massimo Allegri, a Physician at the Policlinico of Monza Hospital in Italy and Ensemble Hospitalier de la Cote in Switzerland.

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Scientists Try Injecting Tumor-Fighting Viruses Coated in Magnets Made By Soil Bacteria

To attack tumors, the Guardian reports, “scientists are developing magnetically guided microscopic projectiles that can be injected into patients’ blood.”

The project — led by researchers at Sheffield University — builds on progress in two key medical fields. The first involves viruses that specifically attack tumours…. After infection with an oncolytic virus, a cancer cell will burst open and die. The US Food and Drug Administration has already approved the use of T-Vec, a modified herpes simplex virus that infects and kills tumour cells and is now being used to treat people with certain types of melanoma, a skin cancer.
Unfortunately, the viruses soon get attacked by the body’s immune system. So the scientists want to coat the viruses with magnetic particles, so that magnets (outside a patient’s body) can quickly guide those viruses where they’re needed.

And to accomplish this they’re using a soil bacteria which is known to make magnets to align with Earth’s own magnetic field. “The essence of this approach is straightforward,” one of the project’s leaders explains to the Guardian. “We are using bugs as drugs…. we have found bacteria do a better job of manufacturing them than we could.”
Having developed the technology, the Sheffield team is now working to ensure they can manufacture sufficient supplies so that clinical trials on humans can begin soon. To date, trials have focused on animal models. “These early tests have been very encouraging and we now need to take the next steps to bring this technique to a state where it can be administered to humans — hopefully in a few years’ time.”

Thanks to Slashdot reader Falconhell for sharing the article!

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MS Symptoms May Have Been ‘Reversed’ In Immunotherapy Breakthrough

A new immunotherapy that targets cells infected with Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) has halted the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS) in a small trial. Perhaps even more incredibly, in some patients, it is possible that symptoms of MS were actually reversed, though this was not fully identified in the most recent presentation of results (PDF). IFLScience reports: [S]ignificant evidence has linked infection of EBV and the eventual development of MS. […] Attempting to “transform treatment of Multiple Sclerosis,” Atara Biotherapeutics has developed an allogeneic T-cell therapy called ATA188. The concept is simple — when cells are infected with EBV, they express small proteins called antigens on the cell surface, and the immunotherapy contains immune cells that target and destroy them.

In a trial of 24 patients who received the therapy, 20 saw improvements or stability in their symptoms and no fatal or serious adverse effects were reported. Early brain scans suggest that some damaged nerve cells may have been “repaired” by the therapy in a process called remyelination, which could mean a reversal of damage caused by MS in the nervous system, but this has not yet been confirmed. While the results are extremely promising, it is an early Phase 1 trial with a small sample size and no placebo or control group, so it is unclear whether the results are significant at this stage. However, it is unlikely that this repair would occur naturally, suggesting the therapy is having a beneficial effect on some level.

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Researchers Create Bacteria That Could Protect Your Gut From Antibiotics

In a new study published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, researchers from Harvard and MIT detail work they’ve done on a “living cellular therapeutic device” that promises to protect humans from the harmful side effects antibiotics can have on our guts. Engadget reports: Per Science Daily, they modified a strain of bacteria that is frequently used in cheese production to deliver an enzyme that can break down beta-lactam antibiotics. Many of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics in the US, including penicillin, fall under that family. Using gene editing, they further modified how their bacterium synthesizes the enzyme to prevent it from transferring that capability to other bacteria. The result is a treatment that reduces the harmful effects of antibiotics while still allowing those drugs to do their work.

In a study involving mice, the researchers found their bacteria “significantly” reduced the damage ampicillin did to the test subject’s gut microbes and allowed those communities to recover fully after just three days. By contrast, in mice that only received the antibiotic, the researchers saw a much greater loss of microbial diversity. “We are now focusing on getting these living therapies to patients and are finalizing the design of an effective, short, and inexpensive clinical trial,” said Andres Cubillos-Ruiz, the lead author of the study.

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