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News digest – cancer blood test progress, health food police, Tessa Jowell and… a ‘cancer-detecting mole’?

by Gabriella Beer | Analysis

21 April 2018

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T cell cancer immunotherapy
A human T cell.
  • Baroness Tessa Jowell, who has an aggressive brain tumour, is the first to donate her medical information to a universal database called the Universal Cancer Databank, says the BBC and the Guardian. Scientists worldwide will have free access to this new database, in the hope of speeding up improvements to cancer treatments and developing new ones.
  • Patients with a certain type of advanced lung cancer lived longer when given a chemotherapy drug with immunotherapy compared to those on chemo alone. Read the New York Times for the details.
  • The Telegraph hailed a small immunotherapy trial as a ‘game-changer’. Results suggest that giving lung cancer patients immunotherapy before surgery may reduce chances of the cancer spreading afterwards. But more people will need to be tested before the results might change how people are treated.
  • Efforts to develop a universal cancer blood test are well on the way. Science looks at a study carried out by a US tech company that’s trying out three different cancer tests. Each test looks for tumour DNA in the blood of people who already have different types cancer, and the company hopes to test this as a possible way of detecting cancers at an early stage.
  • Waitrose is training shop assistants to be ‘health food police’, according to The Telegraph. They aim to encourage shoppers to make healthy choices and will also be a source of nutritional advice if asked.
  • The Government has said that the UK will align as closely as possible with EU rules on clinical trials following Brexit. Our news report has the details.
  • The BBC discuss whether googling your cancer after a diagnosis is a good idea.
  • And this opinion piece in The Guardian raised the question of how to sensitively approach talking about a cancer experience if you’re in the public eye.
  • We announced our new collaboration with the American Association for Cancer Research. PharmaTimes has more.
  • The Independent reports warnings from MPs that NHS cuts to training and technology budgets could affect personalised medicine. Making treatment decisions based on a patient’s genetics could transform their care, but some politicians say this can only happen if staff have the right training.

And finally

  • The Telegraph suggests that a skin implant, or ‘artificial mole’, could flag up cancer in the body before existing tests. But this technology has not yet been tested in people, which the story wasn’t quick to point out. High levels of calcium in the blood might be one way to show the presence of some cancers. So researchers engineered cells to produce melanin, a pigment that makes moles dark, in the presence of calcium. In mice with cancer the engineered cells were activated. But there’s a lot more to be done before this could be used in people. One thing is how to skirt the issue that high levels of calcium in the blood can indicate many other health problems unrelated to cancer.