. Scientific Frontline

Monday, November 29, 2021

FDA approves pioneering drug for ovarian cancer surgery

Ovarian cancer patient Carol Giandonato admits to being apprehensive when her oncologist told her he wanted to make her cancer cells turn fluorescent green.

"Am I going to glow in the dark? Will I be green?" she asked him.

Her surgeon explained that when viewing the cancer site, the cancerous lesions would be illuminated with near-infrared light during surgery.

Using this approach, her surgeon was able to find a hidden tumor that would have otherwise gone undetected. Giandonato was one of the first patients for a new drug designed to help surgeons find ovarian cancer tumors and cells — that imaging agent was just approved Monday (November 29) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The drug will be released with the brand name Cytalux. It was invented at Purdue University and will be released by On Target Laboratories.

The imaging agent is delivered via an IV injection between one and nine hours before the surgery for ovarian cancer. The fluorescent imaging agent binds to the cancer cells, allowing surgeons to find additional tumors in 27% of the patients, which would have otherwise been left behind, according to results of the Phase 3 clinical trial.

Pesticides Can Affect Multiple Generations of Bees

The blue orchard bee, shown here on the lacy phacelia wildflower,
was exposed to a neonicotinoid for the study.
Credit: Clara Stuligross/UC Davis
A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis, finds that pesticides not only directly affect bee health, but effects from past exposure can carry over to future generations. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that bees may require multiple generations to recover from even a single application.

Bees play a critical role in agricultural ecosystems, providing pollination for many important crops. In most agricultural areas, bees may be exposed to pesticides multiple times, over multiple years. Studies to date have only looked at exposure to pesticides in one life stage or over one year.

“It was important for us to understand how exposure persists from one generation to the next,” said lead author Clara Stuligross, a Ph.D. candidate in ecology at UC Davis. “Our findings suggest we need to be doing more to help mitigate risks or we limit critical pollination services.”

Rhythms of the krill

Diffuse sunlight, moonlight, aurora, and artificial light can all be seen during the Arctic Polar night, including near Kongsfjorden, Svalbard. Svalbard is an archipelago northeast of Greenland. When it is lightest in the Arctic polar night, usually around the middle of the day known as midday twilight, Arctic krill (inset) know to swim down to the bottom in order to hide from predators. When it is darkest in the Arctic polar night, they swim to the surface in search of bioluminescent food.
Photo by Geir Johnsen Photo illustration inset by Tammy Beeson

Around 11:30 a.m. or so, you might find yourself hankering for lunch. The reason for this is that our biological rhythms are trained to tell ourselves when we are hungry, and when we do get that craving, our bodies know that it’s time to eat. The same is true for visual rhythms.

During the day, it is typically lighter than at night. Because of this, our visual system changes so that it can be ready to work under brighter light conditions. During the night time, our eyes become more sensitive to adjust to the lack of light available.

It turns out that the same thing happens for Arctic krill. When it is lightest in the Arctic polar night — a time of year at high latitudes when the sun remains below the horizon for the entire 24-hour period — usually around the middle of the day known as midday twilight, the Arctic krill know to swim down to the bottom in order to hide from predators. When it is darkest in the Arctic polar night, that’s when they swim to the surface in search of bioluminescent food.

A new study published in the PLOS Biology Research Journal looked at this visual sensitivity rhythm in Arctic krill during the Arctic polar night.

New cancer therapy from Yibin Kang’s lab

Yibin Kang
Photo by Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications
Imagine you could cure cancer by targeting one tiny gene. Imagine that same gene occurred in every major cancer, including breast, prostate, lung, liver and colon. Imagine that the gene is not essential for healthy activity, so you could attack it with few or no negative side effects.

Cancer biologist Yibin Kang has spent more than 15 years investigating a little-known but deadly gene called MTDH, or metadherin, which enables cancer in two important ways — and which he can now disable, in mice and in human tissue, with a targeted experimental treatment that will be ready for human trials in a few years. His work appears in two papers in today’s issue of Nature Cancer (Paper One, Paper Two).

“You can’t find a drug target better than this: MTDH is important for most major human cancers, not important for normal cells, and it can be eliminated with no obvious side effects,” said Kang, Princeton’s Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Molecular Biology and one of the principal investigators of the Princeton Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.

“In the two papers we are publishing back-to-back today, we identify a compound, show it is effective against cancer, and show that it is very, very effective when combined with chemotherapy and immunotherapy,” said Kang. “Even though metastatic cancers are scary, by figuring out how they work — figuring out their dependency on certain key pathways like MTDH — we can attack them and make them susceptible to treatment.”

For years, Kang has focused on metastasis — the term for cancer’s ability to spread from one place to another in the body — because he knows that metastasis makes cancer deadly. While 99% of breast cancer patients survive five years after diagnosis, only 29% do if the cancer has metastasized, according to current numbers from the National Cancer Institute.

Sizing Up the Challenges in Extracting Lithium from Geothermal Brine

The hot brine that comes up from the subsurface as part of geothermal power production at the Salton Sea in California is a rich stew of minerals, including iron, magnesium, calcium, sodium, and lithium. Using various extraction techniques, lithium chloride can be extracted from the brine, then processed into other forms for battery production.
Credit: Jenny Nuss/Berkeley Lab

If you had a jar of marbles of many different colors but wanted only the green ones, how could you efficiently pick them out? What if it wasn’t marbles but a jar of glitter, and there was sand, glue, and mud mixed in? That begins to describe the complexity of the brine pumped out from beneath California’s Salton Sea as part of geothermal energy production.

For geothermal fields around the world, produced geothermal brine has been simply injected back underground, but now it’s become clear that the brines produced at the Salton Sea geothermal field contain an immense amount of lithium, a critical resource need for low-carbon transportation and energy storage. Demand for lithium is skyrocketing, as it is an essential ingredient in lithium-ion batteries. Currently there is very little lithium production in the U.S. and most lithium is imported; however, that may change in the near future.

Nibbling prehistoric herbivore sheds new light on Triassic diversity

Credit: Mark Witton
A Triassic herbivore, known for its supposed similarities to a modern-day ostrich, has been revealed to have entirely different approach to feeding from previously thought, according to research at the University of Birmingham.

The new discovery reveals a much broader diversity of herbivore behavior during the Triassic period than has been recognized to date.

Called Effigia, the animal was about the size of a gazelle and lived in North America around 205 million years ago. Its fossil remains were found in the Ghost Ranch Quarry in New Mexico in the 1940s, although the material was not formally described by paleontologists until 2006.

The remains had been relatively poorly preserved in the quarry and the skull, in particular, was quite badly deformed, making accurate reconstruction problematic. Early analysis of the specimen concluded that it belonged to the group of reptiles that includes crocodilians and birds and which started to flourish in the Triassic period.

Although more closely related to crocodilians, Effigia’s lightweight body, elongated neck, large eyes and beak shared many similarities with a modern-day ostrich, leading researchers to believe the animal fed by pecking plant material from the ground.

People want a better world after the COVID-19 pandemic but don’t believe it will really happen

Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels
People strongly favor a fairer and more sustainable way of life in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite not thinking it will actually materialize or that others share the same progressive wishes, according to new research which sheds intriguing light on what people have missed most and want for the future.

The international study, led by the University of Bristol, reflects people’s preferences in the United Kingdom and United States in the early as well as later stages of the pandemic, and shows striking commonality in their perspectives.

A “fairer future with grassroots leadership” was around four times more popular, favored by some 40% of participants, than a “return to normal”, which only garnered support from little more than 10%, in both the UK and US, when presented with various scenario options for the future.

However, the majority of respondents expected normality to resume regardless of their preferences, mistakenly believing their views were in the minority and that most wanted a return to the status quo.

Lead author Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol, said: “The findings revealed people’s appetite for positive change, but also a strong sense of skepticism about whether this would actually materialize or that their views were in fact widely shared.

“This is important for everyone, including leaders and policy makers, to know so we can recognize and raise awareness of the common consensus contrary to popular belief. When people start to feel in the majority with their hopes, this instils greater belief and action towards achieving and making them real.”

The paper, entitled ‘Losses, hopes, and expectations for sustainable futures after COVID,’ and published in the journal Humanities & Social Sciences Communications, comprised two online questionnaires undertaken between May and July, 2020, and July 2021, involving nearly 1,000 (981) adults in total aged from 18 to 85 years old.

Monkeys go fishing to survive harsh Japanese winters

Snow monkey (Japanese macaque Macaca fuscata) 
Photo by Prof. Alexander Milner
Snow monkeys living in one of the world’s coldest regions survive by ‘going fishing’ – scooping live animals, including brown trout, out of Japanese rivers and eating them to stay alive, a new study reveals.

The snow monkey (Japanese macaque Macaca fuscata) is native to the main islands of Japan, except Hokkaido. The most northerly living non-human primate find that snow cover limits the availability of their preferred foods in the Kamikochi area of Chubu Sangaku National Park of the Japanese Alps.

With favorite foods difficult to find, the snow monkeys run low on energy and face death by starvation, but groundwater-fed streams flow during the winter with a constant water temperature of about 5 0C and are easily accessible for Japanese macaques to search for alternative live food.

Led by University of Birmingham experts, the international research team published its findings today in Scientific Reports - the first published scientific paper of Japanese macaques definitively eating freshwater animals in streams, including brown trout.

Previously, Japanese macaques have been shown to opportunistically capture marine fish, either when being dried or washed up on beaches, whilst closely-related species have been shown to feed on freshwater fish.

Researchers found brown trout in Japanese macaques’ fecal samples and believe that macaques capture brown trout in shallow pools along the stream margin.

Researchers developed mini-breast cancer as a new weapon against the most common type of breast cancer

Breast cancer tissue in a culture model in which hormone receptors disappear (left) and within the culture model developed in this study which maintains the hormone receptors (right). The hormone receptors are indicated in green.
Image: Pauliina Munne

Breast cancer is currently the most common form of cancer among the working age in Finland. Most breast cancers belong to a so-called hormone receptor-positive subtype. This means that there are hormone receptors on the cancer cells that receive hormones from the body and trigger a chain reaction that increases cancer growth.

These breast cancers can be effectively treated with hormone therapies. However, in 40 percent of the cases the effectiveness of the treatments decreases over time until it becomes difficult to control the cancer with medication. Additionally, it is problematic to study the effects of hormone therapies, the lack of treatment response, and new therapies that may be effective in unresponsive cancers as hormone receptors disappear completely from breast cancer cells under laboratory cell culture conditions.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki and Aalto University have found a way to keep the hormone receptors under laboratory conditions in their gel-grown mini-breast cancers. This discovery opens new avenues for the development of hormonal therapies, the study of individual drug responses, and the elucidation of the mechanisms of drug resistance.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Morally divided societies more likely to elect extreme political leaders

Unorthodox leaders who shake up the political system are more likely to be elected if people believe their society is morally divided and breaking down, University of Queensland research has found.

Dr Charlie Crimston from UQ’s School of Psychology said people may vote outside their own political orientation if they felt the need to restore moral order.

“Our research is the first that provides evidence of the causal links between moral division and the desire to elect extreme leaders as a potential solution,” Dr Crimston said.

“The study found that if people believed there was a breakdown in societal fabric, they were more likely to elect an authoritarian figure to restore order, such as Donald Trump or Pauline Hanson.

“On the other hand, if there is a feeling of lack of leadership in society, voters may be drawn to a progressive leader to unify and lead the country in a new direction, such as Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex.”

The paper examined core values of groups such as right and left wing voters in Australia, the US, and the UK and the perception that opposing groups have incompatible moral values.

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