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August 18, 2009
By Elizabeth Landau
They’re ready to sting, and they know where they’re going.
They’re called “nanobees,” and they’re not insects — they’re tiny particles designed to destroy cancer cells by delivering a synthesized version of toxin called melittin that is found in bees.
“Melittin, which would otherwise result in substantial destruction of your red blood cells and other normal tissues if it were delivered intravenously alone, is completely safe when it’s on a nanoparticle,” said Dr. Samuel Wickline, director of the Siteman Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Nanobees are one of the latest examples of how nanotechnology may change the way diseases are treated.
Nanotechnology encompasses a wide array of innovations that make use of structures that are 100 nanometers or smaller. That means they generally cannot be seen under a regular microscope, but are larger than individual atoms. For example, a nanobee is less than 10 times diameter of a red blood cell, Wickline said.
Particles on the nanoscale are small enough to enter cells, but big enough to carry large doses of drugs, said Robert Langer, Institute professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a leader in the nanotech field.
“We are gradually forming a pipeline of nanotechnology-based products,” said Piotr Grodzinski, director of the National Cancer Institute’s Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, a program that funds eight Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence in the U.S., including Wickline’s and Langer’s research initiatives. “These things are happening as we speak.”
There have already been two approved cancer treatments on the market that make use of nanoparticles: ovarian cancer drug Doxil, approved in 1995, and breast cancer drug Abraxane, approved in 2005. Both of these involve medication bound with nanoparticles that circulate in the bloodstream for longer than conventional drugs and are expected to migrate to the tumor site, Grodzinski said. These drugs are being tested in some of the eight clinical trials associated with the NCI nano program.
Nanobees, by contrast, are engineered to travel directly to tumor cells without harming any others. They leave the healthy cells alone because the blood vessels around a tumor are like a “postal address” for the nanobees, Wickline said. These vessels express a particular protein to which a substance on the nanobees has a chemical affinity.
This principle of targeting harmful cells and leaving healthy cells intact is under development in many labs. It means efficient delivery of large concentrations of drugs, but with fewer side effects, experts say. One hundred trillion nanobees can be delivered in a single dose, and are not difficult to make, Wickline said. Also, scientists do not use real insects, so they’re “not decreasing the bee population,” he said.
So far nanobees have been tested only on mice, with promising results, researchers said. Wickline anticipates this therapy could become widely available in humans in about five years.
Dr. Ellen Vitetta, who also works on targeted nanotech cancer therapies at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, found the approach intriguing, but said it will be at least 10 years before something like this gets to the market. That’s because what works in mice doesn’t always work in humans, as she learned while developing a targeted antibody cancer treatment.
“People need to appreciate the time issues and the cost issues and just what sort of tests need to be done,” she said. “But it’s always fun and exciting to see a new approach, because who knows what’s going to end up at the finish line.”
Langer estimates that his group’s nanotechnology technique for prostate cancer could be in clinical trials by the middle of next year. The method involves putting an approved cancer drug, docetaxel, in a nanoparticle that has a homing device to take it directly to the tumor.
These nanoparticles are made out of some of the same materials often used for dissolvable sutures, Langer said. In addition to having an “affinity molecule,” which targets the tumor cells, these nanoparticles are coated with polyethylene glycol, which helps the particle get to its target without being “eaten” by white blood cells called macrophages.
Langer and colleagues have also been involved in a new treatment for ovarian cancer, as described in this month’s issue of the journal Cancer Research. The technique has shown success in mice, and could go into clinical trials within one to two years, said lead author Daniel Anderson at MIT. The group has published work on two methods, one using DNA and one using RNA. These particles do not have special targeting antibodies on them, but are injected straight into the abdominal cavity where the cancer cells are likely floating.
Other research groups are exploring the potential of carbon nanotubes, cylindrical carbon molecules that also have applications in electronics and other areas. Researchers led by Vitetta have developed a method of heating the nanotubes with infrared light, which then “cooked” and killed cancerous lymphoma cells.
Vitetta said she doesn’t want to move this treatment forward into humans until the researchers have resolved a number of issues about its potential toxicity.
Nanoparticles are also useful in medical diagnosis, researchers have found. Abigail Lytton-Jean, a postdoctoral fellow in Langer’s lab, worked at Northwestern University on showing that gold nanoparticles can help detect the presence of DNA. When the nanoparticles are coated with a DNA sequence, the solution changes color in the presence of the corresponding DNA. One possible application of this would be anthrax detection, she said.
While a lot of new research is ongoing with nano-sized materials, the particles themselves are not new, and therefore should not cause any more safety concerns than other materials used in medicine, experts say.
“There are going to be nanomaterials that are toxic for sure, but I definitely do not think that because something is nano there’s any more reason to have alarm,” Lytton-Jean said.
Many of the NCI-sponsored nano centers, located at universities across the country, have spun off small companies, Grodzinski said. Kerios, which will make the nanobees, and BIND, which will work on Langer’s group’s prostate cancer therapy, are two of the 25 companies that have arisen from the research.
The pharmaceutical giants, meanwhile, are watching what comes out of them, he said.
“They probably will acquire some of these companies,” he said.
August 15, 2009
By John Gever
Satellite technology could give public health officials advance warning of disease outbreaks likely to occur as a result of global climate change, researchers said.
Preliminary efforts have already produced models that predict spikes in diseases ranging from cholera to hantavirus on the basis of remote sensing data, according to Timothy Ford of the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, and colleagues.
Writing in the September issue of the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases, Ford and colleagues — including Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation — said novel patterns of infectious disease are likely to accompany the regional temperature and hydrological trends that add up to climate change.
“If climatologic data can be used to predict future disease outbreaks, public health interventions can be mobilized in a more timely and proactive manner,” they said.
“Successful predictive modeling of disease and the establishment of early warning systems have reached a critical junction in development. As we improve our understanding of the biology and ecology of the pathogen, vectors, and hosts, our ability to accurately link environmental variables, particularly those related to climate change, will improve.”
They added, “We cannot stress too strongly our belief that a strong global satellite program is essential for future disease prediction.”
They noted that the 2001 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that the average number of people exposed annually to storm surges — which frequently carry Salmonella, Vibrio, Cryptosporidium, and hepatitis pathogens — will probably rise from 50 million people worldwide today to 250 million in the 2080s.
Altered frequencies and tracks of storm systems are also likely to mean inland flooding of areas that aren’t exposed to it now. Ford and colleagues said areas of increasing drought may also be at risk for novel disease outbreaks. On example is meningococcal meningitis, which is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa during dry conditions and disappears at the start of the rainy season.
Climate Change May Bring on Disease
New patterns of vector-born diseases are another expected consequence of climate change.
Ford and colleagues pointed to several projects that have shown preliminary success in relating satellite data to disease:
Distribution of five out of six Anopheles gambiae mosquito species, vectors for the malaria parasite in Africa, has been modeled from remote sensing data on land use and climate parameters.
Remote sensing data in the southwestern U.S. correlated significantly with subsequent outbreaks of rodent-borne hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.
Eight of nine spikes in Bangladeshi cholera rates from 1998 to 2002 were successfully modeled on the basis of satellite data on sea surface height and temperature and chlorophyll A levels.
Ford and colleagues cautioned that the predictive power of these models is still weak. For example, 2005 Landsat imagery showing higher-than-normal rainfall in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado led health officials to warn of increased risk of hantavirus in those areas. The hypothesis was that rain promotes plant growth in the region, leading to a population boom in deer mice who carry the virus.
Cases indeed spiked in New Mexico during early 2006. But no increase occurred in Colorado, which actually saw fewer hantavirus infections than the previous year.
On the other hand, Ford and colleagues said, “these results are not necessarily a failure of prediction.” Instead, they suggested that people may have heeded the health warnings prompted by the prediction, avoiding deer mice habitats and hence the virus.
Public health officials would dearly love to be able to predict influenza outbreaks, and the seasonality of the disease has raised hopes that environmental data will somehow be used in predictive models, the researchers said. Unfortunately, scientists still don’t understand the specific factors underlying the flu’s seasonal nature.
Scientists Strive to Predict Outbreaks
If science can isolate the environmental drivers of seasonal diseases like influenza, better prediction will likely become a reality, they suggested.
“As we improve our understanding of the biology and ecology of the pathogen, vectors, and hosts, our ability to accurately link environmental variables, particularly those related to climate change, will improve,” Ford and colleagues wrote. “What has become clear over the past few years is that satellite imaging can play a critical role in disease prediction and, therefore, inform our response to future outbreaks.”
August 17, 2009
By Victoria Lambert
You wouldn’t exactly call chlorella an overnight success. The health benefits of the green algae that grows in freshwater ponds in the Far East have so far been limited to those in the know, and its progress to British medicine cabinets has been slow. Since it became available in tablet form in the UK three years ago, it has achieved an almost cultish appreciation as a superfood, but now scientific research could catapult it into the mainstream.
New research from Japan suggests that this green algae could be effective in fighting major lifestyle diseases. It has been shown to reduce body-fat percentage and blood-glucose levels and help those suffering from Type 2 diabetes, obesity or heart disease. Its benefits include boosting energy, aiding digestion and fighting depression.
What excited the scientists, including the notable Carnegie Institute in Washington DC, was that this green algae proved to be almost a dream food. It is packed with protein – twice as much as spinach – and about 38 times the quantity of soybeans, and 55 times that of rice. It also contains nine essential amino acids, as well as vitamins and minerals.
These are the latest in a long line of health claims – ranging from boosting the immune system in cancer patients to improving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Chlorella is a tiny, unicellular green algae, three to eight micrometres in diameter, which when grown in large quantities in South East Asia and Australia gives lakes and rivers a green tint. Before being used as a supplement, it must be gathered, dried to a paste, crushed to a fine emerald green powder, and converted to tiny, soft, crumbly tablets, which smell vaguely of the sea.
Although chlorella was discovered by a Dutch microbiologist in 1890 and studied as a potential protein source by German scientists, it wasn’t until after the Second World War that the reality of food shortages, combined with the expectation of a population boom, led to bureaucrats globally examining chlorella in the hope that it could be used to feed the masses cheaply – this proved uneconomic. Later, NASA studied it with a view to feeding it to astronauts, and perhaps growing it on space stations.
It is currently being used in the UK to help cancer patients. Nadia Brydon, senior therapist in complementary medicine at Breast Cancer Haven, the charity that supplies integrated health care to support women with breast cancer, is convinced it is an important food source with many health benefits.
“So many of us eat a calorie-dense, nutrionally-deficient diet that it is no wonder we’re all getting sick and tired all the time,” she says.
Nadia says chlorella is a great way of taking on magnesium, which can be found in green vegetables. “Magnesium is one of nature’s antidepressants and helps us cope with stress. One of our best sources is from chlorophyll in green plants – and chlorella is bursting with that,” she says.
Nadia also believes chlorella is highly protective against toxins. “We are bombarded with chemicals in pesticides and fungicides; chlorella helps to get them out of the body. It is a fantastic detoxifier and deodorant.”
Tests have shown that chlorella stimulates the growth of probiotic or friendly bacteria, and its cell walls absorb toxins within the intestine and encourage peristalsis – the muscular contraction that moves material through the bowels – preventing constipation and toxic material in the stool being reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
As it is a natural food, chlorella is safe for most people to take; but one exception seems to be those who are prescribed warfarin. This is because chlorella contains vitamin K1, which is important in helping blood clotting – the very opposite of warfarin, which acts as an anticoagulant.
But it’s not just the alternative medicine fraternity who are fans. Prof Randall Merchant, professor of Neurosurgery and Anatomy at Virginia Commonwealth University, in the US, has been involved in research into brain tumours, traumatic brain injury, and stroke. In 1986, he began clinical trials, funded by chlorella producer Sun Chlorella ‘A’, into whether the algae might boost a patient’s immune system.
“Fascinating,” is how he describes the results. “It didn’t make brain tumours go away or shrink, so it didn’t cure the cancer, but it did help the patients by boosting their immune system so that they resisted opportunistic infections.”
Since then, Prof Merchant has performed clinical trials to test whether chlorella could be useful in helping with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, ulcerative colitis and hypertension. In the first two trials, his team found that “patients’ symptoms diminished quite nicely”. For hypertension, the results were more dramatic; while it lowered blood pressure in about 50 per cent of cases, which was promising, the studies showed that it also significantly lowered serum cholesterol.
In 2008, he examined the effects chlorella has on those with metabolic syndrome – the collection of symptoms that often lead to the cells in our bodies becoming less sensitive to insulin, and therefore a precursor to diabetes.
Prof Merchant says: “It seems that chlorella turns on the genes that control the way insulin is normally used by the cells in the body. This research shows that chlorella could in theory help correct the problems of metabolic syndrome. It is not a magic bullet, but taking it is one other preventive thing you can do, like exercise or watching your diet.”
August 17, 2009
By David Gutierrez
One in seven scientists report that they have known colleagues to falsify or slant the findings of their research, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and published in the journal PLoS One.
A number of scientific data falsification scandals have emerged in recent years, such as the case of a South Korean researcher who invented data on stem cell research. At the same time, increasing controversy over close industry ties to medical research has called into question whether researchers who take money from drug companies might be induced to falsify their data.
“Increasing evidence suggests that known frauds are just the tip of the iceberg and that many cases are never discovered,” said researcher Daniele Fanelli.
The researchers reviewed the results of 21 different scientific misconduct surveys that had been performed between 1985 and 2005. All respondents were asked whether they or anyone they knew of had taken part in either fabrication (outright invention of data) or “questionable practices.”
Questionable practices were any improper procedure short of fabrication, including failing to publish results contradicting one’s prior research, modifying data based on a “gut feeling,” changing conclusions after pressure from a funder or selectively choosing which data to include in an analysis.
One in seven scientists said that they were aware of colleagues who had engaged in fabrication, while nearly half — 46 percent — admitted to knowing of colleagues who had used questionable practices. Only two percent, however, admitted to fabricating results themselves.
While two percent is higher than previous estimates of the prevalence of data fabrication, researchers believe that the number is still too low. In all likelihood, it reflects both a reluctance by researchers to admit to serious misconduct and a tendency to interpret one’s behavior as favorably as possible — questionable instead of fabrication, or acceptable rather than questionable.
Researchers in the medical and pharmacalogical fields were the most likely to admit to misconduct than researchers in other fields.
August 18, 2009
By S.L. Baker
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a malignant disease of the bone marrow, is the most common cancer diagnosed in children. In fact, nearly one third of all pediatric cancers are cases of ALL. Although this form of cancer can be cured in many cases, in the worst case scenarios the cancer crowds out normal cells in the bone marrow, metastisizes to other organs and takes the lives of about 15 percent of the youngsters it attacks. What triggers so many kids, usually between the ages of three and seven, to develop this cancer in the first place? A new study just published in the August issue of the journal Therapeutic Drug Monitoring raises the suspicion that commonly used household pesticides are the cause.
Previous studies in agricultural areas of the US have shown strong associations between pesticides and childhood cancers but this is the first research conducted in a large, urban area to look at the connection. The study, conducted between January of 2005 and January of 2008, involved 41 pairs of children with ALL and their mothers and a control group of 41 matched pairs of healthy children and their mothers. The volunteer research subjects were all from Lombardi and Children’s National Medical Center and lived in the Washington metropolitan area.
Urine samples collected from the children and their mothers were analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to look for metabolites that provide evidence of household pesticide exposure. Specifically, the scientists were looking for metabolites associated with the pesticides known by their chemical name as organophosphates (OP). The researchers found evidence of the pesticides in the urine of more than half of all the participants, but levels of two common OP metabolites, diethylthiophosphate (DETP) and diethyldithiophosphate (DEDTP), were significantly higher in the children who suffered from cancer. What’s more, the mothers who participated in the study filled out questionnaires that revealed more moms whose kids had cancer used pesticides (33 percent) than did the mothers in the control group (14 percent) whose youngsters were cancer-free.
“We know pesticides — sprays, strips, or ‘bombs,’ are found in at least 85 percent of households, but obviously not all the children in these homes develop cancer. What this study suggests is an association between pesticide exposure and the development of childhood ALL, but this isn’t a cause-and-effect finding,” the study’s lead investigator, Offie Soldin, PhD, an epidemiologist at Lombardi, said in a statement to the media. “Future research would help us understand the exact role of pesticides in the development of cancer. We hypothesize that pre-natal exposure coupled with genetic susceptibility or an additional environmental insult after birth could be to blame.”
While the scientists aren’t ready to flat out say pesticides cause cancer, when you look at the big picture and see what is already known about the havoc pesticides appear to cause in the human body, it makes sense for parents and parents-to-be to ditch pesticides — for their own health and for the health of their children. For example, NaturalNews has previously reported on the link between residential pesticides and childhood brain cancer, and the strong association between a serious pre-cancerous blood condition and exposure to pesticides.
August 18, 2009
New York Times
By Andrew Pollack
Scientists in Israel have demonstrated that it is possible to fabricate DNA evidence, undermining the credibility of what has been considered the gold standard of proof in criminal cases.
The scientists fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva. They also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.
“You can just engineer a crime scene,” said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, which has been published online by the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. “Any biology undergraduate could perform this.”
Dr. Frumkin is a founder of Nucleix, a company based in Tel Aviv that has developed a test to distinguish real DNA samples from fake ones that it hopes to sell to forensics laboratories.
The planting of fabricated DNA evidence at a crime scene is only one implication of the findings. A potential invasion of personal privacy is another.
Using some of the same techniques, it may be possible to scavenge anyone’s DNA from a discarded drinking cup or cigarette butt and turn it into a saliva sample that could be submitted to a genetic testing company that measures ancestry or the risk of getting various diseases. Celebrities might have to fear “genetic paparazzi,” said Gail H. Javitt of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University.
Tania Simoncelli, science adviser to the American Civil Liberties Union, said the findings were worrisome.
“DNA is a lot easier to plant at a crime scene than fingerprints,” she said. “We’re creating a criminal justice system that is increasingly relying on this technology.”
John M. Butler, leader of the human identity testing project at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said he was “impressed at how well they were able to fabricate the fake DNA profiles.” However, he added, “I think your average criminal wouldn’t be able to do something like that.”
The scientists fabricated DNA samples two ways. One required a real, if tiny, DNA sample, perhaps from a strand of hair or drinking cup. They amplified the tiny sample into a large quantity of DNA using a standard technique called whole genome amplification.
Of course, a drinking cup or piece of hair might itself be left at a crime scene to frame someone, but blood or saliva may be more believable.
The authors of the paper took blood from a woman and centrifuged it to remove the white cells, which contain DNA. To the remaining red cells they added DNA that had been amplified from a man’s hair.
Since red cells do not contain DNA, all of the genetic material in the blood sample was from the man. The authors sent it to a leading American forensics laboratory, which analyzed it as if it were a normal sample of a man’s blood.
The other technique relied on DNA profiles, stored in law enforcement databases as a series of numbers and letters corresponding to variations at 13 spots in a person’s genome.
From a pooled sample of many people’s DNA, the scientists cloned tiny DNA snippets representing the common variants at each spot, creating a library of such snippets. To prepare a DNA sample matching any profile, they just mixed the proper snippets together. They said that a library of 425 different DNA snippets would be enough to cover every conceivable profile.
Nucleix’s test to tell if a sample has been fabricated relies on the fact that amplified DNA — which would be used in either deception — is not methylated, meaning it lacks certain molecules that are attached to the DNA at specific points, usually to inactivate genes.