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News digest – radiotherapy investment, immune cell exhaustion, 3D-printed torso, and… cycling?

by Aine McCarthy | Analysis

29 October 2016

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An image of a woman undergoing radiotherapy treatment.
  • Radiotherapy got the investment it needs this week when NHS England announced it will spend £130m upgrading or replacing machines across England. This is great news, and will help deliver better treatment to more patients.
  • The Government outlined plans to help get new drugs and treatments to patients faster. The recommendations were included in a new report with input from patients, doctors, scientists and pharmaceutical companies.
  • The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges published guidelines recommending chemotherapy shouldn’t be offered to dying cancer patients, as it may do more harm than good. But in some cases, chemotherapy can help relieve symptoms of advanced cancer. Any treatment offered to patients should be discussed and carefully weighed up in terms of potential benefit.
  • A drug already in clinical trials for leukaemia could be used to treat women with triple negative breast cancer. Women with this type of cancer are given chemotherapy, but in some cases the treatment stops working. This drug, which works by blocking a molecule called PIM-1, could make the cancer cells vulnerable to chemotherapy again.
  • Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research in London identified a new drug combination that could be used to treat malignant rhabdoid tumours, a type of cancer that’s most common in infants and toddlers. It’s early stage research, but it’s exciting – especially because there aren’t many treatments available for this type of cancer.

Number of the week


The number of radiotherapy machines that need to be replaced by the end of next year.

  • According to work published by scientists at Kumamoto University in Japan, oesophageal cancer patients who test positive for a particular bacterium are more likely to do worse compared to those who test negative. Testing tumours for the bacterium could help predict patient outlook, but larger studies are needed to confirm the link.
  • AbdoMan’, a 3D-printed human torso, could help doctors test new treatments and learn more about existing ones, like internal radiotherapy. It’s early days, but the technology may help find lower doses of radiotherapy that are still effective but cause fewer side effects.
  • New research from scientists at the University of Pennsylvania might explain why immunotherapy drugs don’t work for all patients. They showed that in some patients, the drugs can cause specialised immune cells – called T cells – to become exhausted, meaning they don’t work as well. The work could lead to new drug combinations that help make immunotherapies work for more patients.

And finally

  • The Daily Mail claimed that cycling too quickly could increase your risk of lung cancer. But don’t hang up your helmet just yet! The study was done using computers and maths, to predict a person’s pollution exposure, rather than looking at real people. And a previous study found that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risk from pollution.