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News digest – sponge on a string, junk food watershed, prostate cancer AI and mobile phones?

by PA Media Group | Analysis

1 August 2020

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Parent and child making healthy food

With news about the coronavirus pandemic developing daily, we’re pulling together the latest government and NHS health updates from across the UK in a separate blog post, which we’re updating regularly.

Sponge on a string could transform oesophageal cancer diagnosis

A new ‘sponge on a string’ test could identify 10 times more people with Barrett’s oesophagus – a precursor to oesophageal cancer – than current testing methods, according to our scientists. Find out more in our blog post and the Express & Star.

New obesity strategy launched in ‘landmark day for nation’s health’

The UK Government has launched a new strategy to tackle obesity in the UK. New measures include restrictions on junk food marketing on TV and online, along with bans on multi-buy offers and certain instore promotions on high fat food products. There are also new rules for displaying calories on restaurant menus. The new strategy arrives amid growing evidence of a link between obesity and an increased risk from COVID-19. Head over to our blog or BBC News for the story.

AI could help detect prostate cancer

Using artificial intelligence (AI) software to scan biopsy samples could help flag prostate cancers that may otherwise have gone undetected. Medical experts have said that while the algorithm could be useful in overcoming pathologists’ own biases, the findings don’t necessarily prove that the AI’s diagnosis can be considered superior to humans, and that more research with larger samples sizes is needed. More on this at iNews.

Scientists identify new drug target for aggressive breast cancer

iNews reports scientists have uncovered a way to slow breast cancer stem cell growth in the lab. The team were particularly interested in stem cells that are resistant to hormone therapy, which can often be present when breast cancers come back after treatment, and believe the target they’ve identified could open the door to new treatments. Dr Bruno Simões from the University of Manchester said: “There’s a very long way to go before we can say if this approach will help these women, but we are excited by our findings.”

‘Higher end of normal’ blood platelet count could indicate cancer

Blood platelet counts at the high end of normal could be linked to an increased risk of cancer in men aged 60 or over, according to new research by the University of Exeter. High platelet count (otherwise known as thrombocytosis) has previously been linked to cancer, but this study looked at the records of 300,000 patients with platelet counts that were at the high end of the normal range. But despite the size of the study, more research is needed to confirm the link and talk of a diagnostic tool may be premature. Read more at MedicalXpress.

Scientists develop new method to selectively kill off cancer cells

New Atlas reports on a new development where scientist use “synthetic lethality” – when a build-up of DNA errors that normally wouldn’t harm a cell suddenly become deadly – to selectively kill off cancer without harming healthy cells in the lab. It’s still early days, but researchers hope the study could open the door to new drug targets.

And finally…

Mobile phones and cancer have hit the headlines again, as new research claims to have found a link between levels of blue light – used in billboard ads as well as many tablet and mobile devices – and an increased risk of bowel cancer.

But despite some bold headlines, the study only compared levels of blue light in different neighbourhoods using satellite images, rather than looking at individual people’s exposure. The study found that residents in areas with the highest exposure to outdoor blue light – the same light used in many tablet and mobile devices – had a higher risk compared to those with the lowest exposure.

Experts have said that while the findings are ‘interesting’, the research wasn’t able to take in consideration several factors linked to bowel cancer, and it’s impossible to tell from this study whether artificial light causes the disease. More on this at Daily Mail and Sky News.

Scarlett Sangster is a writer for PA Media Group