A new approach to detecting cancer earlier from blood tests 0

Cancer scientists led by principal investigator Dr. Daniel De Carvalho at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre have combined “liquid biopsy,” epigenetic alterations and machine learning to develop a blood test to detect and classify cancer at its earliest stages.

The findings, published online today in Nature, describe not only a way to detect cancer, but hold promise of being able to find it earlier when it is more easily treated and long before symptoms ever appear, says Dr. De Carvalho, Senior Scientist at the cancer centre, University Health Network.

“We are very excited at this stage,” says Dr. De Carvalho. “A major problem in cancer is how to detect it early. It has been a ‘needle in the haystack’ problem of how to find that one-in-a-billion cancer-specific mutation in the blood, especially at earlier stages, where the amount of tumour DNA in the blood is minimal.”

By profiling epigenetic alterations instead of mutations, the team was able to identify thousands of modifications unique to each cancer type. Then, using a big data approach, they applied machine learning to create classifiers able to identify the presence of cancer-derived DNA within blood samples and to determine what cancer type. This basically turns the ‘one needle in the haystack’ problem into a more solvable ‘thousands of needles in the haystack’, where the computer just needs to find a few needles to define which haystack has needles.

The scientists tracked the cancer origin and type by comparing 300 patient tumour samples from seven disease sites (lung, pancreatic, colorectal, breast, leukemia, bladder and kidney) and samples from healthy donors with the analysis of cell-free DNA circulating in the blood plasma. In every sample, the “floating” plasma DNA matched the tumour DNA. The team has since expanded the research and has now profiled and successfully matched more than 700 tumour and blood samples from more cancer types.

Beyond the lab, next steps to further validate this approach include analysing data from large population health research studies already under way in several countries, where blood samples were collected months to years before cancer diagnosis. Then the approach will need to be ultimately validated in prospective studies for cancer screening.

Dr. De Carvalho is a trained immunologist (University of Sao Paulo, Brazil) with postdoctoral training in cancer epigenomics (University of Southern California, USA) whose research focuses on cancer epigenetics. He holds the Canada Research Chair in Cancer Epigenetics and Epigenetic Therapy and is an Associate Professor in Cancer Epigenetics, Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto.

The research was supported by University of Toronto’s McLaughlin Centre, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research through the Province of Ontario, and The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.

 

Source: Sciencedaily.com

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Radio drama improves people’s attitude to health 0

A radio drama project to promote child nutrition, agriculture and maternal/child health issues has shown an improved attitude of listeners to such issues.

According to the project implemented for six months at Saboba and Savelugu Assemblies in the Northern Region in 2018, those, who listened to the radio dramas on child nutrition, agriculture and maternal/child health issues, improved in terms of their attitude towards those issues compared to those, who did not listen.

The project, whose findings were released at a workshop in Tamale on Friday, used radio dramas to propagate messages on good nutrition, health and agricultural practices to listeners to assess if listening to such messages would have any impact on their lives.

It was implemented by the Texas A&M University School of Public Health in the United States, University for Development Studies (UDS), Ghana Health Service (GHS), Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and Community Health Nurses Training College, Tamale.

Dr Mahama Saaka, Senior Lecturer, Department of Nutritional Sciences of UDS, who presented the findings at a forum in Tamale, said even though the attitude of listeners improved, it did not result in a change in their health conditions as malnutrition was still high at the area.

Dr Saaka suggested that Ghana Health Service scale up the project to reach a large number of the population to help change their attitudes to help improve the country’s health indicators.

Professor Lisako McKyer, Associate Dean for Climate and Diversity, Health Promotion and Community Health Science at Texas A&M University was hopeful that the project marked the beginning of a productive partnership amongst the implementers saying “Together, we can and we will positively impact the lives of all.”

Hajia Azara Amadu, Northern Regional Nutrition Officer lauded the project saying it was in line with the behavioural change campaigns of the GHS to promote improved health practices amongst the people.

Source: GNA

Teen Dies of Tapeworm infection after eating under-cooked Pork 0

A man died after eating under-cooked pork caused parasitic larvae to invade his brain.

The 18-year-old, who has not been named but is known to be from India, was rushed to a hospital after he lost consciousness following a seizure.

An MRI brain scan revealed the patient had cysts throughout his brain, with the damage being consistent with the life-threatening condition neurocysticercosis.

Neurocysticercosis occurs when parasitic larvae found in under-cooked pork build-up in the body until they invade the central nervous system, triggering seizures.

Despite doctors’ best efforts to save him, the man died two weeks later.

Results of an MRI scan revealed the man had numerous cysts in his cerebral cortex (pictured as white dots)
Lesions were also found in his brain stem and cerebellum (seen as white dots)

Results of an MRI scan revealed the man had numerous cysts in his cerebral cortex (pictured left as white dots). Lesions were also found in his brain stem and cerebellum (seen right)

The case report was written up in The New England Journal of Medicine by Dr Nishanth Dev, of ESIC Medical College, Faridabad, in the north Indian state of Haryana. Dr Dev treated the patient.

The man was rushed to ESIC Medical College after he endured tonic-clonic seizures.

These occur when an electrical discharge affects the entire brain and cause a patient to lose consciousness immediately.

Tonic-clonic seizures usually last one-to-three minutes.

If they continue for more than five minutes or in quick succession, the patient may require life-saving treatment.

Once at hospital, doctors noted the man seemed confused.

This is common of tonic-clonic seizures, with most patients feeling tired and disorientated for up to several days or even weeks after.

The man’s parents reported he had been complaining of pain in his groin for the past week.

A physical examination also revealed he had swelling in his right eye, as well as tenderness in his right testicle.

An MRI scan showed the patient had numerous cysts in his cerebral cortex – the outermost layer of the brain, which is responsible for thinking and processing information collected via our five senses.

Lesions were also in his brain stem, which is at the base of the vital organ, and sends messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

And cysts were found in his cerebellum – the area at the back of the brain that coordinates voluntary movements, like posture, speech and coordination.

Doctors noted the extent of the man’s brain damage was consistent with that of neurocysticercosis.

Neurocysticercosis occurs when the parasitic larvae Taenia solium invades bodily tissue from the intestine, and build ups in the central nervous system, muscles, skin and eyes.

Serum tests confirmed the man was infected with T. solium.

Doctors decided against treating him with antiparasitic drugs due to them typically worsening inflammation in those who have cysts in their brain.

These medications can also cause cerebral edema – excessive accumulation of water in the brain – and vision loss.

The man was therefore treated with the anti-inflammatory steroid dexamethasone, which is more commonly used to relieve conditions like allergies, arthritis and psoriasis.

He was also given anti-epilepsy drugs.

Sadly, however, it was not enough to save him.

WHAT IS NEUROCYSTICERCOSIS?

Neurocysticercosis is a parasitic infestation caused by larval cysts of the pork tapeworm Taenia solium.

These cysts can enter the brain, leading to life-threatening seizures.

People develop the condition by eating undercooked pork.

They may also swallow microscopic eggs passed in the faeces of a person with an intestinal tapeworm if they do not properly wash their hands after going to the toilet and contaminate surfaces or uncooked food.

The World Health Organization recognises neurocysticercosis as a leading cause of adult epilepsy worldwide.

Neurocysticercosis can be prevented through proper handwashing.

Treatment often involves medication to reduce swelling in the brain and kill tapeworms.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 

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