Research Roundup: Possible Melanoma Vaccine and More


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

A Possible Nano-Vaccine for Melanoma

Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel have developed a nano-vaccine for the disease, which has been effective in preventing melanoma in mouse models and in treating tumors and metastases that results from melanoma.

“The war against cancer in general, and melanoma in particular, has advanced over the years through a variety of treatment modalities, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy,” stated Ronit Satchi-Fainaro, chair of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and head of the Laboratory For Cancer Research and Nanomedicine, who co-led the research. “But the vaccine approach, which has proven so effective against various viral diseases, has not materialized yet against cancer. In our study, we have shown for the first time that it is possible to produce an effective nano-vaccine against melanoma and to sensitize the immune system to immunotherapies.”

The research group used particles about 170 nanometers in size made of a biodegradable polymer. They stuffed each particle with two peptides, or short chains of amino acids, that are expressed in melanoma cells. They then injected the nanoparticles into a mouse model of melanoma. The nanoparticles behave like known vaccines for viral diseases, stimulating the mice’s immune systems, causing them to identify and attack cells containing the two peptides, i.e., melanoma cells. They studied the effectiveness of the nano-vaccines under various conditions and found it prevented melanoma, delayed the progress of the diseases, and also appeared to work in preventing or slowing brain metastases.

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Middle-Aged Stress Linked to Cognitive Decline in Older Women

An analysis of 900 Baltimore adults linked stressful life experience in middle-aged women, but not in men, to greater cognitive decline later in life. The researchers argue that this adds evidence to that argument that stress hormones play an uneven gender role in brain health. The participants were asked if they experienced traumatic events in the past year such as combat, rape, a mugging, a physical attack, watching someone be attacked or killed, be threatened or lived through a natural disaster. They then followed-up about marriage, divorce, death of a loved one, job loss, severe injury or sickness and other types of stress. The greater the number of stressful life events in the last year in midlife women was linked to greater decline in cognition later.

Proteins that Might Restore Hearing

When sound-detecting cells, called hair cells, in the inner ear are damaged, they do not regenerate and lead to hearing loss. Researchers have now identified two proteins that control when hair cells develop in mammals. They believe this has the potential to restore hearing in people with irreversible deafness. About 90% of genetic hearing loss is caused by problems with hair cells or damage to the auditory nerves that connect the hair cells to the brain. Hair cells can also be damaged by exposure to loud noises or some viral infection. The proteins are called Activin A and follistatin.

APOE Variant May Help Longevity

A variant of the APOE gene, APOE4 has been linked for quite some time with higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Now, researchers evaluating 38,537 people of European ancestry found a rare APOE variant, APOE2, which only found in 1% of the population, and appears to be linked to prolonged life. The APOE gene, located on chromosome 19, codes for apolipoprotein E, which regulates lipid transport and uptake. Not much is known about the function of the APOE2 gene variant.

Diets Rich in Choline Appear to Decrease Risk of Dementia

Choline is an essential nutrient that appears in food in a variety of compounds. It is necessary for the creation of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland showed that the risk of dementia was 28% lower in men with the highest intake of dietary phosphatidylcholine compared to men with the lowest intake. Dietary phosphatidylcholine is found in eggs and meat.

Possible Way of Curing HIV

Researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston may have found a way to eradicate the HIV virus. Anti-viral drugs do a good job of forcing the HIV to stop replicating, but the virus goes dormant and hides within the immune system. The research group discovered that the protein BRD4 has a key role in regulating the production of new copies of the HIV gene. The researchers designed, synthesized and studied several small molecules to selectively program BRD4 to suppress HIV. They chose a lead compound, ZL-580, and in their tests, it significantly delayed the reactivation of dormant HIV after ART was halted.

Using Nanosecond Pulsed Electric Fields to Activate Immune Cells

Nanosecond pulsed electric fields (nsPEFs) have been found to physically stimulate various types of matter. Researcher from Kumamoto University in Japan recently found that if they used nsPEFs to stimulate immune cells, the immune cells behaved as if they were being stimulated by bacteria. Rather than necessarily using the techniques to improve immune therapies, the researchers believe the nsPEFs would more likely be used to help determine the function of different immune cells.

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