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News digest – Nobel Prize week, night shifts and breast cancer risk, keeping tumour cells asleep, gut microbes and… invisibility cloaks?

by Justine Alford | Analysis

8 October 2016

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Scientists are helping lift cancer cells' invisibility cloak.
  • It’s that time of year when we celebrate some of the greatest achievements in science – Nobel Prize week. And Monday saw the Prize for Physiology or Medicine awarded for the discovery of how cells eat themselves. This self-devouring process is important for cancer – read our blog to find out why.
  • A new study partly-funded by Cancer Research UK has shown that working night shifts has little or no effect on a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Previous research suggesting there was a link has made big headlines, so this should help reassure women working night shifts. You can find out more on our press release.
  • A new French study has shown a way in which pancreatic cancer cells interact with their environment, receiving a molecule from corrupted healthy neighbours that could make the tumour more aggressive. Importantly, this discovery could open up a new way to predict patients’ outlook. Our news report has the details.
  • Can cancer cells get Alzheimer’s disease? Well, not exactly. But a new US study has found that, in ‘sleeping’ cancer cells, molecules important for cancer progression are tangled in a similar way to what goes on in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients. And when these molecules unravel, the cancer cells wake up. Targeting this process in the future could potentially block cancer growth. The Daily Mail and Times covered this.

Number of the week

1.4 million

The number of women followed for a study looking at night shifts and breast cancer risk

  • Less could be more when it comes to cervical cancer screening, according to new research from the Netherlands. For women over 40 who test negative, screening for the cancer-causing human papillomavirus once a decade offers as much or even protection from cervical cancer as screening for abnormal cells every five years. NHS Choices has a good roundup of the work, and our news report also covered the story.
  • A new private company has been born out of Syncona and Cancer Research Technology to develop new cancer treatments: Achilles Therapeutics. With a whopping £13.2 million in funding, the company will develop new drugs that boost the immune system against cancer. Check out our press release for more info.
  • How are different areas of the country faring when it comes to diagnosing and treating cancer patients? New ratings published by NHS England tell the tale, highlighting many areas needing to step up efforts in order to keep up with the health service’s ambitious goals.
  • Two different gut microbes can help boost the effectiveness of a commonly used anticancer drug, according to new French research. The bacteria stimulate cancer-fighting immune cells, a discovery that could lead to new ways of harnessing the power of the immune system against tumours.

And finally…

  • Not just reserved for Harry Potter: an ‘invisibility cloak’ that helps cancer cells disguise themselves to hide from the immune system’s surveillance has been discovered by Canadian researchers. As a cancer progresses, some tumour cells stop making a signalling molecule called IL-33. Without this molecule, the immune system struggles to recognise cancer cells. The researchers say this discovery could lead to new ways of kicking the immune system back into action against cancer.