New Drugs Force Immune System To Turn On Cancer

Cancer Research UK scientists have shown that a class of experimental drug treatments already in clinical trials could also help the body’s immune system to fight cancer, according to a study published recently in the journal Cell.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh revealed that a protein called Focal Adhesion Kinase, or FAK – which is often overproduced in tumours – enables cancer cells to elude attacks by the immune system.

University of Edinburgh

FAK usually sends signals to help healthy cells to grow and move around.

But the researchers discovered it plays a different role in cancer cells, changing the nature of the immune system so that it protects the cancer cells rather than destroying them.

They then showed that using an experimental FAK inhibitor** prevented this change in the immune system allowing the cancer cells to be treated as a threat.

This is the first time that FAK inhibitors have been shown to influence the immune system, and particularly whether or not it recognises and fights cancer. This provides an unexpected and exciting potential new use for existing FAK inhibitor drugs.

The research was carried out in mice with a form of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, but is likely to also apply to other cancers. The results showed that tumours completely disappeared when the mice were given FAK inhibitors.

This research was funded by Cancer Research UK, European Research Council, and the Medical Research Council.

Dr Alan Serrels, one of the lead authors, at the Edinburgh Cancer Research UK Centre at the University of Edinburgh, said: “FAK is hi-jacked by cancer cells to protect them from the immune system. This exciting research reveals that by blocking FAK, we’ve now found a promising new way to help the immune system recognise the cancer and fight it.

“The drug in this study is already in early stage clinical trials and could potentially be an excellent complement to existing immunotherapy treatments. Because it works within tumour cells rather than influencing the immune cells directly, it could offer a way to reduce the side effects of treatments that harness the power of the immune system against cancer.”

Nell Barrie, senior science communications manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “This promising research suggests these drugs may be able to help the immune system to destroy cancer cells.

“Research to maximise the power of the immune system is a really exciting area that Cancer Research UK scientists are exploring in detail. This particular approach hasn’t yet been tested in people, but there are plans to now find out how it could benefit patients alongside other immunotherapy treatments.”

-MFP News Services

Childhood Colds and Flues Might Increase Stroke Risk For Children

MINNEAPOLIS – Stroke is very rare in children, but colds, flu and other minor infections may temporarily increase stroke risk in children, according to a study published recently in an online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The study also found routine childhood vaccines may decrease the risk of stroke.

loyola u

“Parents should be reassured that while the risk was increased, the overall risk of stroke among children is still extremely low,” said José Biller, MD, with the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago, author of a corresponding editorial and a Fellow with the American Academy of Neurology. “It is possible that changes in the body as a result of these infections, such as inflammation and dehydration, could tip the balance in a child who is already at a higher risk for stroke. Parents should not be alarmed if their child has a cold that it will lead to a stroke.”

For the study, researchers reviewed the medical charts and conducted parent interviews of 355 children under 18 diagnosed with a stroke and 354 stroke-free children of similar ages. Scientists looked at whether the children had been exposed to infection and also their vaccine history.

Of the participants, 18 percent of the children with stroke had an infection the week before the stroke occurred and 3 percent of the children who did not have a stroke had an infection the week before the interview with researchers. The children with a stroke were six times more likely to have an infection in the previous week than those who did not have a stroke.

The researchers found that the risk of stroke was increased only for infections in the prior week, indicating that the effect of infection on stroke risk is short-lived. Infections that occurred a month or six months prior were not associated with an increased risk.

Children who were poorly vaccinated were at a higher risk of stroke than those who had most or all of their routine vaccinations. Children who had received some, few, or none of their routine vaccinations were seven times more likely to have a stroke than those who received most or all of their vaccines. Eight percent of the children with strokes were poorly vaccinated, compared to 1 percent of those who did not have strokes.

“If our results hold up in further studies, controlling infections like colds and flu through hand-washing and vaccines may be a strategy for preventing stroke in children,” said study author Heather J. Fullerton, MD, MAS, with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.

-MFP News Services

Worldwide Burden of Leptospirosis is Larger Than Originally Thought

New Haven, Conn. – The global burden of a tropical disease known as leptospirosis is far greater than previously estimated, resulting in more than 1 million new infections and nearly 59,000 deaths annually, a new international study led by the Yale School of Public Health has found.

Professor Albert Ko and colleagues conducted a systematic review of published morbidity and mortality studies and databases, and for the first time developed a disease model to generate a worldwide estimate of leptospirosis’ human toll. The results were published recently in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Yale University

While leptospirosis is relatively unknown in the developed world, it is a growing scourge in resource-poor settings throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia, and island nations. The spirochetal bacteria that causes the disease is shed in the urine of rats and other mammals. The pathogen survives in water and soil and infects humans upon contact through abrasions in the skin.

Ko, chair of the Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Disease at Yale School of Public Health, said the finding shows leptospirosis is one of the leading zoonotic (diseases passed between animals and humans) causes of morbidity and mortality in the world and is a call to action.

“The study identified an important health burden caused by this life-threatening disease, which has been long neglected because it occurs in the poorest segments of the world’s population,” said Ko, who has studied the disease for years in Brazil’s urban slum communities, or favelas. “At present, there are no effective control measures for leptospirosis. The study provides national and international decision makers with the evidence to invest in initiatives aimed at preventing the disease, such as development of new vaccines, as well as targeting the underlying environmental and social conditions, rooted in social inequity, that lead to its transmission.”

The researchers said that the incidence of the disease has the potential to grow even further in the coming decades due to global climate change and rapid urbanization. The disease is particularly prevalent in urban slums where inadequate sewerage and sanitation, combined with extreme climatic events and heavy seasonal rainfall, enhance contact with contaminated environments, causing epidemics. It is estimated that the world’s slum population will double to 2 billion people by 2030.

Leptospirosis results in severe illness and has emerged as an important cause of pulmonary hemorrhage and acute renal failure in developing countries, where death occurs in 10% of patients, and hemorraghing occurs in up to 70%.

It is likely that the latest numbers still underestimate the problem, the researchers noted, as leptospirosis patients are frequently misdiagnosed with malaria, dengue, or other illnesses. There is also not an adequate diagnostic test for the disease.

Prior inconclusive estimates of the leptospirosis burden have contributed to its status as a neglected tropical disease and hampered efforts to develop effective prevention and control measures, the researchers said.

-MFP News Services