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News digest – childhood leukaemia theory, AI diagnosis, junk food ads and ‘cancer-killing viruses’

by Gabriella Beer | Analysis

26 May 2018

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Infection theory for childhood leukaemia proposed

A senior UK scientist has reviewed 30 years of research, suggesting a possible cause for the most common type of childhood leukaemia. The BBC reports his theory for a three-step process that could lead to children developing acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Professor Mel Greaves says it starts with a genetic fault that happens in the womb, followed by a lack of exposure to germs in the first year of life, and proposes that an infection might push primed cells to becoming cancerous. But this full sequence of events is rare, and there’s no way to prevent these cases of leukaemia just yet. Our blog post digs into the details of the study.

Government will fund AI research to diagnose diseases earlier

The Prime Minister has promised millions of pounds to develop artificial intelligence systems that could analyse large quantities of NHS data. Theresa May hopes industries and charities will work with the NHS to develop algorithms that could scour patient data and lifestyle information and warn GPs when a patient should be referred to a specialist. The Guardian has more on this initiative that aims to diagnose diseases, including cancer, earlier.

England’s sugar crack down makes slow progress

Public Health England set out its sugar reduction programme last year, but according to the Huffington Post, many food companies have failed to make progress in reducing the amount of sugar in their products. Those making foods like yoghurt and cereal have manged to hit the programme’s sugar reduction target of 5%, but biscuit and chocolate makers have been slow to act.

Junk food ads fuel obesity

The Telegraph and The Sun pointed out the clear link between advertising junk food on TV and obesity in kids. Our study, that was discussed at an obesity research conference this week, shows that exposing children to just one more junk food ad a week can cause up to 5lbs in weight gain a year. Read our press release for more.

‘Water resistant’ sunscreens are far less effective after swimming

A new report suggests sunscreens that claim to be water resistant work far less well after taking a swim. It underlines that no sunscreen is 100% effective, and should be used alongside shade and clothing. The BBC covered the story, and here are our tips for staying safe in the sun.

WCRF’s tips to cut cancer risk

The World Cancer Research Fund announced updated recommendations on how to cut cancer risk through diet and being active. And they’re unlikely to come as a surprise. The Mail Online covered the 10-point plan that includes keeping a healthy weight, limiting red and processed meat, drinking fewer sugary drinks and cutting down on alcohol. Our experts say the occasional bacon butty or the odd glass of wine are nothing to stress over, it’s what you do most days that matters. Small changes that you can stick to can help stack the odds in your favour.

And finally

Our scientists in Cardiff have engineered a common respiratory virus to kill ovarian cancer cells in mice. The virus homes in on a molecule on the surface of ovarian cancer cells and infects them, while leaving healthy ones alone. The BBC makes it clear that the virus is some way off being used to treat cancer patients. Next, rigorous tests are needed to see if the virus is safe to use in people. Our scientists in Oxford are doing a similar thing with the same virus but are modifying it to attack lung cancer cells in mice. Read more about cancer-killing viruses here.