Pulse 74: Happy Thoughts May Boost Your Immune System to Fight Cancer

31 July 2018
Giulio Prisco

Happy Thoughts

Scientists working on ways to combat dangerous cancers are exploring a treatment path that may wind up being as simple as feeling happy thoughts, Quartz reports. A study on laboratory mice by scientists at Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology, suggests that we might one day be able to treat cancer by triggering a primary reward region in the brain.

By artificially activating the brain’s reward system, the Technion researchers have dramatically reduced the size of cancerous tumors in mice. An open access research paper published in Nature Communications demonstrates the possibility to shrink cancerous tumors in lab mice by manipulating an area of the brain that, in humans, contains a complex neural network that controls positive emotions, expectations, and motivation.

“The main breakthrough in this study is the researchers’ success in harnessing the brain’s potential to boost the immune system in fighting cancer,” notes a Technion press release. “Understanding the brain’s influence on the immune system and its ability to fight cancer will enable us to use this mechanism in medical treatments.

It’s important to emphasize that this is still preliminary research with laboratory mice, very far  from clinical applications.

Nano carriers release drugs that kill senescent cells. Scientists at IRB Barcelona have designed a drug encapsulation system based on nano-vehicles, which selectively targets senescent cells. A study, published in EMBO Molecular Medicine, describes how nano-vehicles containing cytotoxic compounds killed senescent cells, and this resulted in therapeutic improvements in mice with pulmonary fibrosis or with cancer. According to the researchers, this paves the way for therapeutic approaches to eliminate senescent cells in many diseases.

Research advances in lab-grown human brain tissue. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have demonstrated how to grow brain “organoids,”  self-organizing mini spheres that now contain all the major cell types found in the human cerebral cortex, in laboratory dishes. A research paper published in Nature Methods shows that organoid systems with oligodendrocytes, the third major cell type in the central nervous system, provide a more accurate representation of cellular interactions that occur during human brain development.

Brain research could open new path to fight age-related cognitive diseases. Scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have found that aging vessels connecting the brain and the immune system play critical roles in both Alzheimer's disease and the decline in cognitive ability that comes with time. A study published in Nature describes how, by improving the function of the lymphatic vessels, the scientists have dramatically enhanced aged mice's ability to learn and improved their memories. According to the researchers, the findings could open a new path to treat or prevent Alzheimer's disease, age-related memory loss, and other diseases.

Video shows how enhancers in “junk DNA” activate genes. Researchers at Princeton University have captured video showing how pieces of DNA once thought to be useless can act as on-off switches for genes. The research results, published in Nature Genetics, show how segments of "junk DNA," called "enhancers," find and activate a target gene in living cells. The video allows researchers to see the enhancers as they find and connect to a gene to kick-start its activity. The researchers are persuaded that studying how enhancers activate genes could shed light on the development of many diseases including cancer.

Exercise protects from chronic diseases. Researchers at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research have found that people who engaged in the highest levels of total physical activity were twice as lively to avoid stroke, heart disease, angina, cancer, and diabetes, and be in optimal physical and mental shape 10 years later, experts found. A study followed more than 1,500 Australian adults, aged over 50, over a 10-year period. Published in Scientific Reports, the study shows that high levels of physical activity increase the likelihood of surviving an extra 10 years free from chronic diseases, mental impairment, and disability.

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