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News digest – when muscle turns to bone, prostate cancer tests, ‘zombie’ cancer cells and more

by Nick Peel | Analysis

12 April 2014

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  • Our researchers uncovered a remarkable genetic link between a rare condition that turns muscle into bone and a deadly form of childhood brain tumour called DIPG. We covered the research in this blog post.
  • New research from our scientists found that the tests used to define how aggressive prostate cancer is underestimated the severity of the disease in over half of cases assessed during their study. The Telegraph and The Guardian were among the many media outlets to cover the research.
  • The Independent covered early results from the AACR cancer conference in the US showing that a new treatment which encourages the body’s own immune system to target cancer cells could be used to treat patients with advanced melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
  • The Mail Online and The Telegraph covered research showing that a high fat diet is linked to a type of breast cancer sensitive to both the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. It’s still not clear exactly what role saturated fat may play in breast cancer risk. Our advice is eat a healthy, balanced diet, low in saturated fat, salt and red and processed meat and high in fibre, fruit and vegetables.
  • US researchers found that a drug used to reduce the levels of copper in the body slows the growth of tumours driven by a faulty version of a protein called BRAF in mice. It’s early days, but this could offer a new way to target cancers, such as melanoma, that rely on faulty forms of BRAF. The Mail Online covered this and NHS Choices gave an excellent breakdown of the findings (although the Telegraph’s headline got the story the wrong way round…)
  • Following the recent 50th anniversary of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), the BBC covered the serendipity of its discovery. And we concluded our two part story on the virus with a look at the ongoing research that could help prevent and treat cases of cancer linked to the infection in the future. We’ve also got a special edition of our monthly podcast focusing on 50 years of EBV, including interviews with Anthony Epstein himself and other key researchers.
  • The phrase ‘zombie cancer cells’ caught our eye this week. It referred to an intriguing bit of early research showing that cancer cells could use a cellular recycling system called autophagy to resurrect themselves during the process of cell death. MedicalXpress has more info.
  • This interesting article from the Independent explored how maths is being used to plot the evolutionary journey of cancer and how this could be used to support research in the lab.

And finally

  • Premature headlines followed some interesting early research showing that DNA released by a tumour into the blood could be used to detect a certain type of lung cancer. This is a fascinating area of research – and one that we’ve written about before – but more work is needed to test the technique in larger numbers of people before we can be sure it is reliable. This NHS Choices article has an in depth breakdown of the findings.