Monday June 18, 2018

World’s first venom database to help find more cures

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New York: Data scientists at Columbia University have created the first catalogue of known animal toxins and their physiological effects on humans.

VenomKB, short for Venom Knowledge Base, summarises the results of 5,117 studies in the medical literature describing the use of venom toxins as painkillers and as treatments for diseases like cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart failure.

Drawn from an automated analysis of the literature, VenomKB documents nearly 42,723 effects on the body.

Though modern medicine makes use of only a small fraction of the toxins documented thus far, the researchers hope that the catalogue will spur the discovery of new compounds and medical treatments.

“With this list we can take stock of what we know about venoms and their therapeutic effects,” said Nicholas Tatonetti, an assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Columbia.

Tatonetti and colleagues sifted through more than 5000 venom-related studies. They found 42,723 unique mentions of venoms having a specific effect on the body.

The toxic proteins and amino acids known as peptides that make up venom act on cell receptors and ion channels, controlling how cells behave.

By mimicking or altering how these toxins act on specific human cells, researchers can develop drugs that inhibit pain or treat diseases.

About a dozen major drugs have emerged from this strategy so far. For example, the widely used type 2 diabetes drug Byetta is made from the toxin exenatide found in the saliva of the venomous Gila monster lizard native to the Americas.

Another drug, bombesin, uses a toxin found in the skin of the venomous European fire-bellied toad to treat gastrointestinal disorders.

The Malayan pit viper, Gila monster, European fire-bellied toad, and cone snail account for about 18 percent of the 5,117 venom-related studies now catalogued in VenomKB.

Yet there are 10 million or more venomous species that have yet to be studied.

The study appeared the journal Scientific Data.

(IANS)

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Immunotherapy Becomes World’s First Therapy which Cured Breast Cancer

A "highly personalized" anti-cancer therapy

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Research technician Ashwini Balakrishnan works in the immunotherapy research lab of Dr. Stanley Riddell at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, March 28, 2017.
Research technician Ashwini Balakrishnan works in the immunotherapy research lab of Dr. Stanley Riddell at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, March 28, 2017. VOA

A woman with an aggressive form of breast cancer which defied chemotherapy and spread to other organs, was cured with an experimental treatment that triggered her immune system, researchers said Monday.

The woman has been cancer-free for two years, reported the U.S.-based team, presenting their results as “a new immunotherapy approach” for the treatment of patients with a late-stage form of the disease.

Other experts not involved in the work hailed it as “exciting”.

So-called “immunotherapy” has already been shown to work in some people with cancer of the lung, cervix, blood cells (leukaemia), skin (melanoma) and bladder.

But an immune breakthrough for bowel, breast and ovary cancer has remained elusive.

In the latest study, a team extracted immune cells called lymphocytes from the patient, tweaked them in the lab, then reinjected them.

Cancer patient
Cancer patient, flickr

The woman was 49 when she signed up for the clinical trial after several attempts at a cure through conventional treatments had failed, said the study published in the scientific journal Nature Medicine.

The cancer had spread to various parts of her body, including the liver.

A person’s immune system is designed to kill invaders, including rogue, cancerous cells. But it can fail, often because it cannot recognize cancer cells containing the patient’s own DNA.

Immunotherapy trains a patient’s own immune cells to recognize and fight cancer.

For the new study, researchers took lymphocytes from a tumor in the woman’s body and scanned them for specific types which reacted to mutant, cancerous cells.

Complete regression

These were reactivated or “switched on” in the lab and injected back, along with a so-called “immune checkpoint inhibitor” — another type of immunotherapy that has shown success in other types of cancer.

Cancer survivor
Cancer survivor, flickr

This resulted in a “highly personalized” anti-cancer therapy that yielded “complete tumor regression,” the researchers wrote.

In a comment also published by Nature Medicine, expert Laszlo Radvanyi from Canada’s Ontario Institute for Cancer Research said the woman’s response to the treatment was “unprecedented” for such advanced breast cancer.

This work showed “we are now at the cusp of a major revolution in finally realizing the elusive goal of being able to target the plethora of mutations in cancer through immunotherapy,” he wrote.

In a reaction via the Science Media Centre in London, immunotherapy professor Alan Melcher of The Institute of Cancer Research said the trial was “fascinating and exciting.”

The work “provides a major ‘proof-of-principle’ step forward, in showing how the power of the immune system can be harnessed to attack even the most difficult-to-treat cancers,” he said.

Peter Johnson, an oncology professor at the Cancer Research UK Centre, said the study confirmed the immune system can recognize some cancers, and “if this can be stimulated in the right way, even cancers that have spread to different parts of the body may be treatable.”

The technique is “highly specialized and complex”, he cautioned, and may not be suitable for many patients. (VOA)