News and Notes July 2023


    Electricity to cure prostate cancer?

    Surgeons described a treatment using electrical currents to destroy difficult to reach tumours, ‘amazingly simple and quick’. The one-hour ‘Nanoknife’ operation uses a technique called irreversible electroporation to administer electrical pulses into the tumour, cutting open the membrane of the cells in a far less invasive manner than standard treatments, meaning there are fewer risks to surrounding organs and tissues.

    Prostate cure

    Huge therapeutic potential of psychedelics

    In an interview with Dr. Jennifer Mitchell – a professor in the Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry & Behavioral Science in the School of Medicine at the University of California, she discussed what scientists have found so far about the effectiveness of MDMA, LSD, mescaline, ayahuasca and psilocybin in treating PTSD, chronic pain, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

    One key factor, according to Dr Mitchell, is to administered these substances in conjunction with some form of psychotherapy. For psilocybin, you're looking at a six-hour dosing session starting in the morning, and for MDMA, an eight-hour dosing session. You are not taking home a bottle of pills and taking those twice a day as you would, say, an antidepressant. Preparation beforehand is important and each ‘journey’ is with a group of trained providers: therapists, psychedelic facilitators, psychiatrists and clinical research coordinators. This evaluation includes tracking the heart rate and blood pressure of the participants as cardiovascular risk is a concern.

    The environment in which you take the psychedelic is of the utmost importance.

    A protein for better treatment of type 1 diabetes

    Researchers have been studying a protein called BefA, produced by gut bacteria, which triggers insulin-producing cells to replicate. Understanding how BefA works could potentially lead to therapeutic methods to stimulate beta cell production, offering potential treatments for type 1 diabetes.

    In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks beta cells, reducing their population and limiting insulin production. The researchers found that the gut microbiome plays a role in stimulating growth of beta cell populations during early childhood development. BefA, when it disrupts the membranes of insulin-producing cells, triggers these cells to reproduce, increasing the population of cells capable of making insulin.

    The researchers observed that BefA specifically targets beta cells, possibly due to the unique sensitization of these cells to cues that cause membrane permeabilization. They believe that having a healthy and diverse gut microbiome is essential for building and maintaining a pool of beta cells, reducing the risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

    Protein BefA

    Folic acid link and risk of suicide attempts

    A study conducted at the University of Chicago that examined the relationship between folic acid (vitamin B9) treatment and suicide attempt and found that patients who filled prescriptions for folic acid experienced a 44% reduction in suicidal events, including suicide attempts and intentional self-harm.

    These findings could improve suicide prevention efforts, especially because folic acid is easily accessible, has no significant side effects, and is cost-effective. The longer a person took folic acid, the lower their risk of suicide attempts tended to be.

    Overall, the study suggests that folic acid supplementation may have potential in suicide prevention efforts, but further research is needed to establish a causal relationship and its efficacy in preventing suicide events.

    Folic Acid

    What is Immunotherapy?

    Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that harnesses the body's immune system to fight against cancer cells. It works by stimulating the immune system or using substances made by the body or in a laboratory to enhance its ability to recognize and attack cancer cells.

    There are different approaches to immunotherapy, but one common strategy involves the use of checkpoint inhibitors. Checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that block certain proteins on immune cells, allowing them to recognize and attack cancer cells more effectively. These proteins, known as checkpoints, normally prevent the immune system from attacking healthy cells, including cancer cells that can evade immune detection. By inhibiting these checkpoints, immunotherapy helps to unleash the immune response against cancer.

    Immunotherapy has shown significant success in treating various types of cancer, including melanoma, rectal cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, and certain types of lymphomas. It is often used in combination with other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted therapy, depending on the specific situation and cancer type.

    A clinical trial conducted by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has achieved a remarkable 100% remission rate for rectal cancer patients using immunotherapy without radiation. The trial (published in The New England Journal of Medicinefocused on patients with a specific genetic mutation in their tumors and found that immunotherapy alone resulted in complete disappearance of the cancer. This groundbreaking research offers new hope for using immunotherapy as a first-line treatment for certain types of rectal cancer, potentially sparing patients from the side effects of traditional treatments.

    Immunotherapy for cancer

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