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News digest – apricot kernels, CRISPR, waiting time target missed (again) and… is tap water bad?

by Aine McCarthy | Analysis

13 August 2016

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  • STAT News published an interesting article describing the key challenges that need to be overcome if precision medicine – providing cancer patients with the right treatment at the right time – is to become a reality. We’ve also written about this topic before.
  • The New York Times and ABC news were among those who reported that the immunotherapy drug nivolumab (Opdivo) failed clinical trials testing it as an initial treatment for advanced non-small cell lung cancer. Watch our animation to find out how these types of drugs, called checkpoint inhibitors, work.
  • The Express highlighted the importance of exercise in reducing the risk of cancer and other diseases. This was based on research suggesting exercising more than the World Health Organisations recommendations can reap more health benefits. While you don’t need to start training for Tokyo 2020, this research adds to what we already know – being active every day and making small, everyday changes can make a big difference to your health.
  • As the BBC reported, it’s taking far too long for some cancer patients to be treated by the NHS. For two and a half years, the 62 day cancer waiting time target has been missed, and the latest data show that more than half of NHS Trusts in England are now failing to meet these standards. This, as our graphic below highlights, is simply unacceptable.


  • Scottish researchers have uncovered a way that ovarian cancers become resistant to certain treatments – a story covered by the Herald Scotland and Pharma Times. Understanding the mechanisms of drug resistance could help doctors to select the best treatments for women whose cancer has stopped responding, although this will need to be further tested in clinical trials before it could be made more widely available.
  • Kurzgesagt (In a Nutshell) published a fantastic animation explaining CRISPR, a gene editing technique that could revolutionise how we treat a variety of diseases, including cancer. If you’re interested in learning more about the technique we highly recommend watching the animation. And to find out more about how the technique is helping scientists understand cancer, read our blog post.
  • This piece published in The Verge examines why apricot kernels aren’t a cure for cancer. In fact, they can be incredibly dangerous because amygdalin, a compound found in apricot kernels, is converted to cyanide in the body. There’s more info about amygdalin on our website.
  • Phys Org reported how a Chicago-based scientist has developed a potential new way to speed up testing drugs targeted against a crucial molecule that helps cells survive. When topoisomerase works, it unknots DNA, and the new technique – which is still in the early testing stages – shows if a drug has switched off topoisomerase by measuring how much DNA is knotted or unknotted.
  • Could brushing your teeth regularly really keep bowel cancer at bay? According to the Daily Mail it could – but when you look at the research more closely, the team of scientists were studying one type of bacteria in mice that had already developed bowel tumours. They also found this bacteria in some human bowel tumour samples but that doesn’t mean that’s what caused the person’s cancer. It’s a really interesting field of research, but we’re a long way from knowing if bacteria in your mouth play a role in the growth of bowel cancer. Brushing your teeth regularly is still a good idea though!

And finally…

  • Another dose of headline scare tactics to grab our attention – this time, the Independent warning us about the cancer-causing dangers of drinking tap water in the US. According to a team of researchers led from Harvard University, levels of chemicals known as ‘polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances’ – PFASs for short – were higher than recommended safety levels in 66 out of 4,864 public water supplies tested. But before you start panic buying bottled water on your holidays, there’s no firm evidence that PFASs directly cause cancer in people, or what amount you’d have to consume to increase your risk (if indeed there is any link).