Thursday August 16, 2018

To Treat Brain Cancer Scientists Taking Polio’s Help

The result is a longer life for patients whose brain cancer returned

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A radiologist examines the brain X-rays of a patient. In a small study, patients with brain tumors were given genetically modified poliovirus, which helped their bodies attack the cancer.
A radiologist examines the brain X-rays of a patient. In a small study, patients with brain tumors were given genetically modified poliovirus, which helped their bodies attack the cancer. VOA
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There’s an exciting new breakthrough in treating some types of deadly brain tumors, that uses, of all things, a polio virus. Doctors at Duke Health in North Carolina genetically altered the virus because it produces such a strong immune response in our bodies. The result is a longer life for patients whose brain cancer returned. All had glioblastoma, an aggressive and lethal type of brain cancer. Of the 61 patients in the study, 21 percent who got this new treatment had were alive three years later.

While that number is low, the survival rate for glioblastoma is normally even lower, usually, a year and a half after diagnosis. The researchers compared the study group to a group of patients drawn from historical cases at Duke. Only four percent of these patients survived three years after treatment.

Dr. Annick Desjardins, one of the authors, said not all patients respond, but if they do, they often become long-term survivors. Desjardins said, “The big question is, how can we make sure that everybody responds?”

Stephanie Hopper was the first patient in the Duke study. She was diagnosed with glioblastoma eight years ago. She had the tumor removed, but two years later, it returned. The modified virus is directly injected into the brain during surgery. After treatment, Hopper’s tumor shrunk to the point where it’s barely noticeable in her brain scans, and the tumor is continuing to shrink.

Dr. Darell Bigner is the senior author of the study which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. He explained that by modifying the virus, it destroyed its ability to infect nerve cells and cause polio, but the virus retained the ability to kill cancer cells. In fact, the modified virus targeted the tumor cells.

Prior to the study, the researchers decided they needed a different approach to treating glioblastomas which is why they looked at experimenting with the polio virus.

There's an exciting new breakthrough in treating some types of deadly brain tumors, that uses, of all things, a polio virus. Doctors at Duke Health in North Carolina genetically altered the virus because it produces such a strong immune response in our bodies
There’s an exciting new breakthrough in treating some types of deadly brain tumors, that uses, of all things, a polio virus. Doctors at Duke Health in North Carolina genetically altered the virus because it produces such a strong immune response in our bodies. Flickr

One of the goals of a phase one trial is to find a dose that is safe. In some patients, the therapy caused their brains to swell and they experienced seizures and other bad side effects so the dose was lowered. Study participants were selected according to the size of their recurring tumor, its location in the brain and other factors designed for patient protection.

For five of the 61 patients in the trial, the cancer returned. They were treated a second time and Bigner says, “Those that we’ve been able to follow long enough have responded to the treatment the second time. That’s extremely important.” Combining the polio virus with other approved therapies is one approach already being tested at Duke to improve survival.

Also read: A One-Shot Nanoparticle Vaccine for Polio is Developed by MIT scientists

The researchers are continuing their work on treating glioblastomas and planning other studies as well. They want to test the therapy on children’s brain tumors. The therapy may also expand beyond brain tumors to include breast cancer and melanoma patient as well. (VOA)

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Scientists Take Step Toward Creating Artificial Embryos

Experts said the results suggested human embryos could be created in a similar way in future — a step that would allow scientists to use artificial embryos rather than real ones to research the very earliest stages of human development

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FILE - An embryologist demonstrates fertilization techniques at a clinic in New York, Oct. 3, 2013. In work published Monday, scientists moved closer to creating artificial embryos. (VOA)

An international team of scientists has moved closer to creating artificial embryos after using mouse stem cells to make structures capable of taking a crucial step in the development of life.

Experts said the results suggested human embryos could be created in a similar way in future — a step that would allow scientists to use artificial embryos rather than real ones to research the very earliest stages of human development.

The team, led by Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, a professor at Britain’s Cambridge University, had previously created a simpler structure resembling a mouse embryo in a lab dish. That work involved two types of stem cells and a three-dimensional scaffold on which they could grow.

But in new work published Monday in the journal Nature Cell Biology, the scientists developed the structures further — using three types of stem cells — enabling a process called gastrulation, an essential step in which embryonic cells begin self-organizing into a correct structure for an embryo to form.

“Our artificial embryos underwent the most important event in life in the culture dish,” Zernicka-Goetz said in a statement about the work. “They are now extremely close to real embryos.”

embryo-cells
The early stages of embryo development are when a large proportion of pregnancies are lost and yet it is a stage that scientists know very little about.

She said the team should now be better able to understand how the three stem cell types interact to enable embryo development. And by experimentally altering biological pathways in one cell type, they should be able to see how this affects the behavior of the other cell types.

“The early stages of embryo development are when a large proportion of pregnancies are lost and yet it is a stage that we know very little about,” said Zernicka-Goetz.

“Now we have a way of simulating embryonic development in the culture dish, so it should be possible to understand exactly what is going on during this remarkable period in an embryo’s life, and why sometimes this process fails.”

Also Read: Scientists in US Successfully Edit Genes of Human Embryos in the First Attempt

Christophe Galichet, a senior research scientist at Britain’s Francis Crick Institute who was not directly involved in this work, agreed that the results held promise.

“While [this study] did not use human stem cells, it is not too far-fetched to think the technique could one day be applied to studying early human embryos,” he said in an emailed comment. “These self-assembled human embryos would be an invaluable tool to understand early human development.” (VOA)