Articles from March 2023

Marked Donor Bone Marrow Cells Attack Cancer, Not Healthy Tissue

A groundbreaking process developed by researchers from University of Missouri is offering new hope in the fight against blood cancers, such as lymphoma and leukemia.

A pair of researchers at the School of Medicine have developed a process for marking transplanted donor bone marrow cells so that the immune cells only attack cancerous cells but not healthy tissue. One of the reasons bone marrow transplants are often a last resort for patients with blood cancers is graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a common occurrence where transplanted donor immune cells attack both malignant and healthy cells in the recipient.

Our ability to biologically label these donor immune cells so that they will attack cancerous cells in the host and then stop themselves from attacking healthy tissue offers new hope that bone marrow transplants can be safer and more effective for patients,” said co-lead researcher, Esma S. Yolcu, PhD, professor of Child Health and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. “The stem cells in bone marrow have tremendous potential to combat autoimmune diseases, such as type-1 diabetes and blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. It is critical to solve the puzzle of GVHD to unlock the full potential of bone marrow cell transplant treatment regimens.”

Yolcu and Haval Shirwan, PhD, also a professor of Child Health and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, developed the ProtEx™ platform technology to generate recombinant biologics that instruct immune cells to achieve a desired treatment outcome. Engineered donor cells display on their surface instructions for the transplanted immune cells to attack only the cancerous cells and then self-destruct before attacking healthy tissue in the host, thus preventing GVHD.

This approach has significant potential as a treatment on its own or in combination with other clinical regimens to increase the efficacy of stem cell transplants,” said Shirwan. “The process of engineering the donor cells is straightforward and efficient, making it suitable for clinical translation.”

In their research to date, the ProtEx™ engineered immune cells have been effective in overcoming GVHD following transplantation in mice as well as in a humanized mouse model. Transplantation with the engineered cells was effective in preventing acute GVHD without a detectable negative impact on the recipient immune system. The concept is presently being pursued for testing in a large animal model of GVHD as a prelude to clinical translation for the treatment of hematological cancers.

Yolcu and Shirwan’s research was recently published in Blood Advances, entitled “Engineering donor lymphocytes with Fas ligand protein effectively prevents acute graft-versus-host disease. The lead authors disclosed that they have a provisional patent on using SA-FasL-engineered cells as a prophylactic approach for acute GVHD. The researchers also recently received a National Institutes of Health grant for their research at the Roy Blunt NextGen Precision Health Building on a treatment for type-1 diabetes that uses transplanted stem cells derived insulin producing cells to replace the need for regular insulin injections.


Elon Musk: ‘Mark My Words — A.I. Is Far More Dangerous Than Nukes’

Tesla and SpaceX boss has doubled down on his dire warnings about the danger of artificial intelligence. The billionaire tech entrepreneur called AI more dangerous than nuclear warheads and said there needs to be a regulatory body overseeing the development of super intelligence, speaking at the South by Southwest tech conference in Austin, Texas on Sunday. It is not the first time Musk has made frightening predictions about the potential of artificial intelligence — he has, for example, called AI vastly more dangerous than North Korea — and he has previously called for regulatory oversight.Musk, however, is resolute, calling those who push against his warningsfools” at SXSW.

The biggest issue I see with so-called AI experts is that they think they know more than they do, and they think they are smarter than they actually are,” said Musk.

This tends to plague smart people. They define themselves by their intelligence and they don’t like the idea that a machine could be way smarter than them, so they discount the idea — which is fundamentally flawed.” Based on his knowledge of machine intelligence and its developments, Musk believes there is reason to be worried.

I am really quite close, I am very close, to the cutting edge in AI and it scares the hell out of me,”added Musk. “It’s capable of vastly more than almost anyone knows and the rate of improvement is exponential.

Musk pointed to machine intelligence playing the ancient Chinese strategy game Go to demonstrate rapid growth in AI’s capabilities. For example, London-based company, DeepMind, which was acquired by Google in 2014, developed an artificial intelligence system, AlphaGo Zero, that learned to play Go without any human intervention. It learned simply from randomized play against itself. The Alphabet-owned company announced this development in a paper published in OctoberMusk worries AI’s development will outpace our ability to manage it in a safe way. “So the rate of improvement is really dramatic. We have to figure out some way to ensure that the advent of digital super intelligence is one which is symbiotic with humanity. I think that is the single biggest existential crisis that we face and the most pressing one.”

To do this, Musk recommended the development of artificial intelligence be regulated. “I am not normally an advocate of regulation and oversight — I think one should generally err on the side of minimizing those things — but this is a case where you have a very serious danger to the public,” explained Musk. “It needs to be a public body that has insight and then oversight to confirm that everyone is developing AI safely. This is extremely important. I think the danger of AI is much greater than the danger of nuclear warheads by a lot and nobody would suggest that we allow anyone to build nuclear warheads if they want. That would be insane,” he said at SXSW.

And mark my words, AI is far more dangerous than nukes. Far. So why do we have no regulatory oversight? This is insane.”

Musk called for regulatory oversight of artificial intelligence in July too, speaking to the National Governors Association. “AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation than be reactive,” Musk said in July.


Biohybrid Device Restores Function in Paralysed Limbs

Researchers have developed a new type of neural implant that could restore limb function to amputees and others who have lost the use of their arms or legs. In a study carried out in rats, researchers from the University of Cambridge used the device to improve the connection between the brain and paralyzed limbs. The device combines flexible electronics and human stem cells – the body’s ‘reprogrammablemaster cells – to better integrate with the nerve and drive limb function.

Previous attempts at using neural implants to restore limb function have mostly failed, as scar tissue tends to form around the electrodes over time, impeding the connection between the device and the nerve. By sandwiching a layer of muscle cells reprogrammed from stem cells between the electrodes and the living tissue, the researchers found that the device integrated with the host’s body and the formation of scar tissue was prevented. The cells survived on the electrode for the duration of the 28-day experiment, the first time this has been monitored over such a long period.

The scientists say that by combining two advanced therapies for nerve regenerationcell therapy and bioelectronics – into a single device, they can overcome the shortcomings of both approaches, improving functionality and sensitivity.

While extensive research and testing will be needed before it can be used in humans, the device is a promising development for amputees or those who have lost function of a limb or limbs.

The results are reported in the journal Science Advances.


messenger RNA (or mRNA) “Teaches” Our Bodies How to Fight Diseases on Our Own

Dozens of clinical trials are testing mRNA treatment vaccines in people with various types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer, and melanoma. Some vaccines are being evaluated in combination with drugs that enhance the body’s immune response to tumors. But no mRNA cancer vaccine has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use either alone or with other cancer treatments.

mRNA vaccine technology is extremely promising for infectious diseases and may lead to new kinds of vaccines,” said Elad Sharon, M.D., M.P.H., of NCI‘s Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis. “For other applications, such as the treatment of cancer, research on mRNA vaccines also appears promising, but these approaches have not yet proven themselves.”

With findings starting to emerge from ongoing clinical trials of mRNA cancer vaccines, researchers could soon learn more about the safety and effectiveness of these treatments, Dr. Sharon added. Over the past 30 years, researchers have learned how to engineer stable forms of mRNA and deliver these molecules to the body through vaccines. Once in the body, the mRNA instructs cells that take up the vaccine to produce proteins that may stimulate an immune response against these same proteins when they are present in intact viruses or tumor cells. Among the cells likely to take up mRNA from a vaccine are dendritic cells, which are the sentinels of the immune system. After taking up and translating the mRNA, dendritic cells present the resulting proteins, or antigens, to immune cells such as T cells, starting the immune response.

Dendritic cells act as teachers, educating T cells so that they can search for and kill cancer cells or virus-infected cells,” depending on the antigen, said Karine Breckpot, Ph.D., of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium, who studies mRNA vaccines. The mRNA included in the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna coronavirus vaccines instructs cells to produce a version of the “spikeprotein that studs the surface of SARS-CoV-2. The immune system sees the spike protein presented by the dendritic cells as foreign and mobilizes some immune cells to produce antibodies and other immune cells to fight off the apparent infection. Having been exposed to the spike protein free of the virus, the immune system is now prepared, or primed, to react strongly to a subsequent infection with the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus.


How to Detect Breast Cancer Four Years Before it Developed

While some developments of AI can sound pretty scary there are times when advancements in technology can do a great deal of good. Certain forms of technology are being used to help diagnose conditions that impair a person’s mobility and there have been advances in the way we’re using Artificial Intelligence (AI) too.  AI is being used in cancer screening technology to pick up potential issues long before they develop into something harmful.

This technology is currently being used to great success in Hungary, while the US, UK and the rest of Europe are also looking at testing it for themselves. While there are still many hurdles to get through, this technology could be a valuable tool for radiologists and ultimately be a lifesaver. Speaking to CNN, Dr Larry Norton of the Lauder Breast Center explained that while the technology has been around for decades AI is becoming a useful tool in refining the process and helping identify potential health issues.

An AI program was successfully able to detect breast cancer in a woman four years before it developed

“AI is a tool that machines use for looking at images and comparing those images to ones that have already been recorded in the machine to identify abnormalities,” said  Dr Norton. “This technology can look at mammograms and identify areas that a human radiologist may want to look at more carefully. “It’s called computer assisted detection, it’s actually been around since the late 1990s but the technology is improving.”

There’s lots of abnormalities that you see, they’re changes that are not really cancer. You can’t call everything cancer because anyone going for a mammogram is gonna need a biopsy. That’s not very practical. “What this work does is it identifies risk. It can tell a woman ‘you’re at high risk of developing breast cancer’ before you develop breast cancer,” explains the researcher.

However, he stressed that while AI had made some impressive advancements, this technology was in place to help human decision-makers rather than outright replace medical professionals.

One thing humans can do that machines can’t do is order special tests. Things like contrast enhanced mammograms and MRIs,” Dr Norton said. “The other thing humans can do is look at previous mammograms and see if there’s any changes.” “We’ve got to think of AI as a tool for helping radiologists look at the images better. It’s not a standalone test, it’s not gonna replace a radiologist.”

According to the New York Times, the use of this AI technology in breast cancer screening has reduced the workload of a radiologist by around 30 percent while increasing cancer detection rates by 13 percent which sounds like entirely positive news. They also report that the AI was tested with some of the most challenging cancer cases where the early signs of breast cancer had not been spotted by radiologists, with the AI successfully managing to identify the cancer.

There have been previous instances of AI being used to detect lung cancer and the technology was highly successful.


Soldiers Control Robotic Dog by Thought

New technology is making mind reading possible with positive implications for the fields of healthcare, aerospace and advanced manufacturing. The technology was recently demonstrated by the Australian Army, where soldiers operated a Ghost Robotics quadruped robot using the brain-machine interface. Photo supplied by Australian Army. Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have developed biosensor technology that will allow you to operate devices, such as robots and machines, solely through thought-control. The advanced brain-computer interface was developed by Distinguished Professor Chin-Teng Lin and Professor Francesca Iacopi, from the UTS Faculty of Engineering and IT, in collaboration with the Australian Army and Defence Innovation Hub. As well as defence applications, the technology has significant potential in fields such as advanced manufacturing, aerospace and healthcare – for example allowing people with a disability to control a wheelchair or operate prosthetics.


The hands-free, voice-free technology works outside laboratory settings, anytime, anywhere. It makes interfaces such as consoles, keyboards, touchscreens and hand-gesture recognition redundant,” said Professor Iacopi. “By using cutting edge graphene material, combined with silicon, we were able to overcome issues of corrosion, durability and skin contact resistance, to develop the wearable dry sensors,” she said.

A new study shows that the graphene sensors developed at UTS are very conductive, easy to use and robust. The hexagon patterned sensors are positioned over the back of the scalp, to detect brainwaves from the visual cortex. The sensors are resilient to harsh conditions so they can be used in extreme operating environments. The user wears a head-mounted augmented reality lens which displays white flickering squares. By concentrating on a particular square, the brainwaves of the operator are picked up by the biosensor, and a decoder translates the signal into commands.

The technology was recently demonstrated by the Australian Army, where soldiers operated a Ghost Robotics quadruped robot using the brain-machine interface. The device allowed hands-free command of the robotic dog with up to 94% accuracy. “Our technology can issue at least nine commands in two seconds. This means we have nine different kinds of commands and the operator can select one from those nine within that time period,” Professor Lin said. “We have also explored how to minimise noise from the body and environment to get a clearer signal from an operator’s brain,” he said.

The researchers believe the technology will be of interest to the scientific community, industry and government, and hope to continue making advances in brain-computer interface systems.


Experimental Pill Breakthrough Sees Cancer Vanish in a Third of Leukaemia Patients

Terminal leukaemia patients who were not responding to treatment now have hope for a cure, thanks to a new experimental pill called revumenib. This drug has completely eliminated cancer in a third of the participants in a long-awaited clinical trial in the United States. Although not all patients showed complete remission, scientists remain hopeful as the results indicate that the pill might pave the way to a cure for leukaemia in the future.

We’re incredibly hopeful by these results of patients that received this drug. This was their last chance,” said study co-author Dr Ghayas Issa, a leukaemia physician at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. “They have progressed on multiple lines of therapy and a fraction of them, about half, had disappearance of their leukaemia cells from their bone marrow,” he told Euronews Next.

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a type of cancer that attacks the bone marrow, where blood cells are produced, and causes the uncontrolled production of defective cells. Revumenib is a new class of targeted therapy for acute leukaemia that inhibits a specific protein called menin. The drug works by reprogramming leukaemia cells back into normal cells. Menin is involved in the complex machinery that gets hijacked by leukaemia cells and causes normal blood cells to turn into cancerous ones. By using revumenib, Issa explained, the engine is turned off and leukaemia cells are turned back into normal cells, resulting in remission.

This formula has already saved 18 lives as part of the clinical trial, whose promising results were published this month in Nature. The preliminary results showed that 53 per cent of patients responded to revumenib, and 30 per cent had a complete remission with no cancer detectable in their blood. Based on the data from this trial, in December 2022 the US Food and Drug Administration granted revumenibbreakthrough therapy designation” to help fast-track its development and regulatory review.

This is definitely a breakthrough and it’s a result of years of science. A lot of groups had worked hard in the lab to understand what is causing these leukaemias,” Issa said. However, he explained that the drug does not work for all patients. It is for a specific subset of leukaemias that generally have missing or mislabeled genes or a chromosome fusion. The experimental pill targets the most common mutation in acute myeloid leukaemia, a gene called NPM1, and a less common fusion called KMT2A. Combined, these mutations are estimated to occur in about 30 to 40 per cent of people with acute myeloid leukaemia.

The phase 1 trial enrolled 68 patients at nine US hospitals. All of them had seen their leukaemia return after other treatments or had never responded well to traditional chemotherapy drugs in the first place.


Alzheimer’s: Why Certain Frequencies Blast Amyloid Plaques

In 1906, a German psychiatrist and neuroanatomist performed an autopsy on the brain of a patient who displayed abnormal symptoms while alive. Over the course of several years, this woman’s behavior, as well as her speech and language, became erratic. She forgot who people were, became paranoid, and, as her condition worsened, suffered total memory loss. When her doctor dissected her brain, he found unusual plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in her cerebral cortex. He quickly alerted his colleagues of this “peculiar severe disease.” The doctor was Alois Alzheimer. More than a century later, the medical community is still trying to understand Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a neurodegenerative brain disorder. But early studies have demonstrated that we may be able to mitigate some of the damage created by AD simply by exposing people to certain waves of sound and light.

Li-Huei Tsai, a neuroscientist and the director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has spent the past three decades working to understand and treat neurodegenerative diseases, in particular AD.

It has not turned out to be a disease attributable to just one runaway protein or just one gene,” Li- Huei explained in a 2021 op-ed in The Boston Globe. “In fact, although Alzheimer’s is referred to as a single name, we in the Alzheimer’s research community don’t yet know how many different types of Alzheimer’s there may be, and, therefore, how many different treatments might ultimately prove necessary across the population.”

AD researchers have traditionally pursued small-molecule pharmaceuticals and immunotherapies that target a single errant protein, the amyloid. But Li-Huei believes Alzheimer’s to be a broader systemic breakdown, and she has thought about more encompassing, and hopefully effective, treatments. For several years now, her lab has pursued novel approaches using the aesthetic interventions of light and sound. We know the influence that light and sound have on the human body. People suffering from seasonal affective disorder benefit from light therapy. Blue light before bed stimulates our brain and disrupts sleep. Sound vibrations change our physiology. But how might this work on a brain experiencing AD?


Towards Universal Cancer Immunotherapy

Scientists at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have made a breakthrough towards designing an off-the-shelf treatment for immunotherapy against cancer. A synthetic protein tweak can allow immune cells from any donor to be given to any patient without the risk of a dangerous immune reaction. Cancer patients might one day benefit from being administered immune cells from healthy donors. But as things stand, receiving donor cells can cause severe or even fatal immune reactions. A researcher at ETH Zurich has now developed a technology that avoids these.

Edo Kapetanovic is a medical doctor, but for a while now he has devoted himself entirely to research in synthetic immunology. He has completed his doctoral studies in immunoengineering and is working at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich in Basel. His big goal is to develop new cancer therapies by providing patients with immune cells derived from donor blood. He is now getting closer to this goal: he has managed to modify donor cells so that they attack only the tumour cells and not patient’s healthy cells. The technology has been tested in the lab in human cells, but it will take more time and development before the patients can benefit from the technology.

Administering donor cells is far from straightforward: the immune system is specialised in distinguishing foreign molecules from ‘self’ and will attack any foreign cell. This is particularly dangerous for immunocompromised patients, as donor cells can recognize patient cells as foreign and trigger a violent and, consequently, fatal immune response in the recipient, known as a graft-versus-host reaction. That is why today’s immunotherapeutic treatments for cancer mainly use a patient’s own immune cells rather than donated cells.

Kapetanovic and his team have now succeeded in engineering immune cells that are safe of graft-versus-host reaction. Generally speaking, approved immunotherapies for cancer take one of two approaches, and both depend on cells known as killer cells, mostly killer T cells. In one approach, experts extract the patient’s own killer cells and modify them in the lab so that they specifically recognise and eliminate cancer cells. These modified cells are then administered to the patient.

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Artificial Intelligence Develops Cancer Treatment in Just 30 Days

In less than a month, researchers have used AlphaFold, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered protein structure database, to design and synthesize a potential drug to treat hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of primary liver cancer. The researchers successfully applied AlphaFold to an end-to-end AI-powered drug discovery platform called Pharma.AI. That included a biocomputational engine, PandaOmics, and a generative chemistry engine, Chemistry42. They discovered a novel target for HCC – a previously undiscovered treatment pathway – and developed a “novel hit molecule” that could bind to that target without the aid of an experimentally determined structure. The feat was accomplished in just 30 days from target selection and after only synthesizing seven compounds.

In a second round of AI-powered compound generation, researchers discovered a more potent hit molecule – although any potential drug would still need to undergo clinical trials. The study – published in Chemical Science – is led by the University of Toronto Acceleration Consortium Director Alán Aspuru-Guzik, Nobel laureate Michael Levitt and Insilico Medicine founder and CEO Alex Zhavoronkov.

While the world was fascinated with advances in generative AI in art and language, our generative AI algorithms managed to design potent inhibitors of a target with an AlphaFold-derived structure,” Zhavoronkov said. “AlphaFold broke new scientific ground in predicting the structure of all proteins in the human body,” added co-author Feng Ren, chief scientific officer and co-CEO of Insilico Medicine. “At Insilico Medicine, we saw that as an incredible opportunity to take these structures and apply them to our end-to-end AI platform in order to generate novel therapeutics to tackle diseases with high unmet need. This paper is an important first step in that direction.”