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News digest – Microsoft, Chan and Zuckerberg take on disease, fitness trackers, obesity in Scotland and… turmeric?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

24 September 2016

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Turmeric cancer
Can turmeric prevent cancer?
  • The tech and health worlds collided this week as software giant Microsoft launched ambitious plans to apply its computer skills to cancer research. And if you ignore the somewhat over-the-top claim that they’ll ‘solve’ cancer ‘in the next 10 years’, there is some fascinating and potentially transformational research they have planned. Wired has the details, and here’s a rundown of all the projects on the Microsoft blog.
  • Next up, Priscilla Chan and her husband Mark Zuckerberg (the guy behind Facebook) unveiled their own plans to ‘cure, prevent and manage’ all disease with a $3bn (£2.3bn) investment over the next 10 years. It’s a fairly lofty goal, and the BBC asked some experts if it was possible. But once again, investment in top-quality research can only be a good thing, right?
  • The Scottish Health Survey revealed worrying figures showing that more than a quarter of Scottish children are overweight or obese. Our news report has the details.
  • Confusion emerged this week over who in the NHS pays for a type of drug called bisphosphonates that are usually used to treat bone disease. There’s some evidence the drugs could help stop breast tumours spreading to the bone, reports the BBC, as a charity claimed women may be missing out on the drugs. England’s Cancer Strategy has already recommended the need for clear guidelines about when bisphosphonates should be used for cancer and how they will be paid for.

Number of the week


The dollars that Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg plan to spend to ‘cure, prevent and manage’ all disease

  • A clinical trial for types of advanced cancer has become the first of its kind to show that precision medicine – or tailoring treatment for individual people – can slow down the time it takes for a tumour to grow back. Our press release has the details.
  • Being able to measure the cellular ‘ecosystems’ in tissues where ovarian tumours have spread to could help predict how aggressive the tumours are, according to scientists in London. The Telegraph has more on this one.
  • A gene that controls the body’s internal ‘clock’ could be linked to how likely some breast cancer cells are to spread, reports New Scientist.
  • A European research study found a link between an anxiety disorder and the risk of dying from cancer in men. The study doesn’t show that anxiety causes cancer, as the Telegraph and Independent report, but it raises an important issue around the stress that is often felt following a cancer diagnosis.
  • This incredibly moving account of a mother’s experience of seeing her daughter being treated and surviving cancer brings home the need for kinder treatments that limit the long-term side effects some children face.
  • US researchers questioned the faith that people may be placing in fitness trackers as they look to lose weight. The BBC has the details and the Guardian provided more context on why these negative results might have been seen

And finally

  • Running an experiment on TV doesn’t mean the findings can dodge the same standards that would apply to the research being published in a scientific journal. That’s why results implying that curcumin – a compound that gives turmeric its yellow colour – protects against cancer that were broadcast on the BBC’s ‘Trust me I’m a doctor’ were a little misleading. Reports on the BBC and the Mail Online promoting the show outlined the interesting findings, but there’s a lot more work to be done. Despite some promising results from laboratory studies, and very small studies in humans, we’re a long way off knowing if curcumin plays a role in preventing cancer.