Research Roundup: Goldilocks, Brain Cancer and More

Clinical Research


Every week there are numerous scientific studies published. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ones.

Goldilocks and Curing Brain Cancer

Goldilocks, most people remember, tasted three types of porridge in order to find the one that was not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School reported on a “Goldilocks” balance that can control the body’s immune response to brain cancer. They published their research in the journal Advanced Therapeutics.

“Our body has armies of white blood cells that help us fight off bacteria, viruses and cancer cells,” said senior author Clark C. Chen, Lyle French Chair in Neurosurgery and Head of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “One of the key reasons why glioblastoma is so aggressive is that it shuts off this immune system.”

The researchers injected hollowed silica particles into glioblastoma cells, a particularly virulent form of brain cancer, to help recruit white blood cells. They then treated the tumors with high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU). The ultrasounds “blew up” the glass particles, which ruptured the cancer cells, which released particles that attracted the immune cells. By modulating the ultrasound, they could create different temperatures, hence Goldilocks.

“Impressively, immunotherapy works only when the ultrasound is adjusted to maintain a stable body temperature as the cancer cells are ruptured,” Chen said. “Temperatures that deviate too much from the body temperature appear to compromise the effectiveness of the white blood cells. This ‘Goldilocks’ aspect of immunotherapy was not previously appreciated.”

New Class of Drugs May Fight Chemotherapy Resistance

Researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, identified a drug that appears to be effective in cancers that become resistant to chemotherapy. The drug is called BOS172722 and it forces cancer cells to multiply faster, which would seem to be counterintuitive. The drug is an MPS1 inhibitor. MPS1 plays a primary role in controlling chromosome organization during cell division. It makes sure that chromosomes are properly distributed between daughter cells. When inhibited with the new drugs, the cancer cells sped through cell division and resulted in the wrong number of chromosomes, which lead to earlier cell death.

Antipsychotics Linked to More Hospital Stays for Alzheimer’s Patients

A recent study found that Alzheimer’s patients who received antipsychotics had 11 more hospital days over a two-year period than Alzheimer’s patients not receiving antipsychotics. The research was based on the nationwide register-based MEDALZ cohort in Finland from 2005 to 2011, looking at 70,718 people. Data on antipsychotic use was pulled from the Finnish Prescription Register. It may reflect that patients receiving antipsychotics may have more severe behavioral and psychological symptoms.

The Timekeepers of the Gut’s Immune System

Researchers identified a new type of immune cell that tracks time in the gut. They are called type 3 innate lymphoid cells (ILC3) and maintain intestine function in a normal, healthy way. These cells strengthen the barrier between gut bacteria and the intestinal cells. These cells can be disrupted by changes to circadian rhythms, such as nightshift work or jet lag, which can affect the gut’s immune system.

CRISPR Used to Make Fruit Flies Mimic the Monarch Butterfly

Monarch butterflies and some other insects have evolved to allow them to eat milkweed, which is normally toxic. They all have the same mutation that allows them to do so. Researchers have now used CRISPR gene editing to make the same mutations in fruit flies. And yes, the fruit flies gained resistance to the milkweed toxin. The reason this is beneficial to insects is that they can eat milkweed without getting sick, but if then eaten by certain animals, they will be toxic to those animals. This research is the first time anyone has recreated an evolutionary mutation resulting in new adaptation to the environment in a multicellular organism.

Common Denominator IDed that Triggers Asthma in Favorable Environments

In the last 50 years, asthma has increased in industrialized countries related to environmental changes, such as excessive hygiene, ambient air pollution and respiratory viral infections. Researchers have now identified a commonality among these, specific innate immune cells called neutrophils. In all environmental models in mice, the neutrophils found in the lungs caused inflammation that helps allergic responses like asthma. When treated with drugs that prevent neutrophil recruitment, they were protected from disease development.

How Gallstones are Formed

Although gallstones are in the ten most common reasons for hospital stays, how they are formed was previously unknown. Researchers have now identified the mechanism behind it. By researching a broad range of gallstones in humans collected in museums, and in the bile from pigs, and from patients, they found all gallstones were covered with small amounts of a type of white blood cell called neutrophil granulocytes. They are the body’s first type of defense, attacking bacteria, pathogens and crystals. But while attempting to ingest crystals, which are part of the cause of gallstones, the cells die and cover the crystals with their genetic materials. The nets of genetic materials are neutrophil extracellular traps (NET) and they clump together and form stones.


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