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News digest – CAR T cells, nanomachines, vaping in teens and… selfies diagnosing cancer?

by Gabriella Beer | Analysis

2 September 2017

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T cell cancer immunotherapy
A human T cell.
  • A medical milestone was reached this week as the US approved CAR T cell therapy for a small number of children and young adults with a particular type of leukaemia. The go-ahead for the new treatment, which engineers a patient’s own immune cells to fight cancer, was widely reported.
  • The Government announced plans to pour £146 million into the life sciences sector, says the BBC and PharmaTimes. The new funds aim to accelerate the discovery of new medicines, and there will also be a focus on finding ways to detect cancer earlier, as we reported.
  • Our researchers in Glasgow found a new way of killing cancer cells in the lab, reports the Mail Online and Express. The newly discovered process, which involves the immune system, has the potential to be more effective at getting rid of cancer cells as well as generating fewer side effects, according to the researchers. The next step is to see if it works in mice.
  • The majority of teens who experiment with vaping don’t normally keep it up, says the Guardian and The Telegraph. We also covered the study that looked at e-cigarette use in 11 – 16 year olds.
  • Our physicists in Cambridge have used their knowledge of light and sound to capture images of prostate cancers in mice in new detail. The Express ran the story, we also blogged about the research, and the scientists behind the discovery explain more in this video.
  • Watch our physicists in Cambridge discuss their new paper on YouTube
  • Scientists in Durham have invented nanomachines that can drill holes into cancer cells in a dish and kill them, according to the Telegraph. The team now need to see if these tiny molecules work in animals with cancer.
  • The latest study looking at fruit and veg consumption claims that eating three or four portions a day may be enough to stay healthy. The Guardian says this new estimate is good for those in low and middle income countries where people struggle to afford the recommended five portions. But, when it comes to fruit and veg, the more the better, so this isn’t your cue to cut down.

Number of the week


The cost in dollars of one dose of CAR T cell therapy

  • The Sun warned readers that not all skin cancers start in existing moles. They report that as well as keeping old moles in check, it’s good to pay attention to new ones that crop up. Here are our top tips on how to enjoy the sun safely.
  • Statins and cancer were in the headlines again, after a new study led to claims that the cholesterol lowering drugs might reduce the risk of breast cancer. But the unpublished study behind the reports didn’t test the effect of statins on breast cancer risk, and there isn’t good evidence to suggest that taking this type of drug reduces the risk of cancer.
  • We covered a team of scientists in the US who have developed experimental models for 12 types of childhood cancer and given the information to the scientific community for free. The hope is that these models can be used by other scientists to test out new cancer drugs for children, speeding up progress.
  • The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said the breast cancer drug fulvestrant wasn’t cost effective for NHS use due to lack of evidence that it extended lives. But the Mail Online says experts believe the drug can stall the disease for up to three months. We also reported on this.
  • STAT News looked at why discussions around palliative and end-of-life care are so important, particularly in the age of immunotherapy. And a year on from a data report on cancer deaths 30 days after chemotherapy, we found that one hospital in England is starting those conversations earlier.

    And finally

  • An app caused a stir this week as claims were made it could spot early signs of pancreatic cancer. By using a smartphone camera to take pictures of the whites of the eyes, the app is said to measure bilirubin levels responsible for giving people jaundice, which can also be a sign of pancreatic cancer. While a ‘selfie’ diagnosis sounds convenient, the tech would need to go through rigorous clinical trials before we’ll know if it can spot the disease, especially because jaundice can also be a sign of many other health conditions.