As usual, the health and biotechnology news released last week includes awesome high-tech developments. But the top headline of this Pulse issue is the discovery, by British scientists at the University of Salford (see below), that a humble and cheap remedy for the common cold sold over-the-counter seems to be highly effective against cancer.
12 patients awaiting surgery for breast cancer were given maximum daily dosages of N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) for three weeks between diagnosis and surgery. The treatment reduced the level of a protein called MCT4 by more than 80 percent, which is considered very encouraging because high levels of MCT4 are linked to aggressive cancer behavior and poor overall survival.
“In cell cultures in the laboratory, we had seen a near complete reduction in MCT4, but to achieve such a substantial result in breast cancer patients is extremely exciting indeed,” said Prof. Federica Sotgia. “Our idea was to repurpose an inexpensive FDA-approved drug, to examine if its antioxidant properties could target the feeding behaviour of cancer cells,” added Prof. Michael Lisanti. “To be able to inhibit MCT4 protein expression, in a non-toxic way, is huge step forward.”
This page lists brand names for NAC-based products in several countries.
Cheap nasal decongestant starves cancer cells. Cancer researchers at the University of Salford have found that N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC), a cheap over-the-counter nutraceutical often used as a nasal decongestant or a dietary supplement, is a powerful inhibitor of the tumor stroma, a cell compartment which is fundamental to the spread of cancer. The research results, published in Seminars in Oncology, show that the level of a protein called MCT4, which “brings energy” to cancer cells from nearby cells, fell by more than 80 in patients taking high dosages of NAC, drastically reducing the ability of the cancer cells to feed off nearby cells.
Engineering immune T-cells with CRISPR for more effective cancer immunotherapy. Researchers at Cardiff University have found a way to boost the cancer-destroying ability of the immune system’s T-cells, offering new hope in the fight against a wide range of cancers. A study published in Blood describes how the scientists used CRISPR genome editing to remove non-cancer specific receptors from T-cells and replace them with receptors that can recognize specific cancer cells and destroy them. According to the researchers, the findings are remarkable and likely to find use in future clinical applications of cancer immunotherapy.
AFM and CRISPR used for efficient, high throughput DNA mapping. Scientists at Virginia Commonwealth University have developed new nanoscale DNA mapping technology that could transform the way disease-causing genetic mutations are diagnosed and discovered. A research paper published in Nature Communications shows how the researchers used high-speed atomic force microscopy (AFM), combined with a CRISPR-based chemical barcoding technique, to map DNA nearly as accurately as DNA sequencing while processing large sections of the genome at a much faster rate. Based on this research, the scientists are now planning portable devices to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases linked to genetic mutations.
CRISPR used to convert bacteria into medical data recorders. Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have converted bacteria into microscopic data recorders. A study published in Science shows how the scientists used CRISPR to modify an ordinary laboratory strain of E. coli, enabling the bacteria to not only record their interactions with the environment but also time-stamp the events. In future medical applications, bacteria swallowed by a patient, might be able to record the changes they experience through the whole digestive tract.
Immersive VR offers a fantastic 3D voyage through the brain. Scientists at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering and the University of Geneva have developed a new immersive virtual reality (VR) system that allows them to visualize and interact with large volumes of 3D anatomical brain data. According to the researchers, the system, which was presented at the 2017 annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, allows them to analyze and quickly understand high-resolution brain images, with potential applications to studying the complex mechanical and biological interactions of brain probes.