Tuesday, January 8, 2013

This week in science: Cancer on the Brain

This week I will get back into the lab, back to TAing and give a research update seminar. Somewhere along the way I hope to find time to finish reading The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Because I've spent the last week or so engrossed with such an amazing book, I've found my mind dwelling on cancer (a topic well outside my field of work) more than usual.

Here's a couple interesting current stories, all related to cancer, whether it's prevention, early diagnosis or treatment; all worth reading.

Of course the beginning of the new year means about 1/4 of people (myself included) have set weight related resolutions (although that's not what I'm calling mine). Or maybe you set another popular goal, to lead a healthier lifestyle (quit smoking? drink less). Either way, you might be looking for a little inspiration to get you though the beginning stage and to the point where it becomes a habit. Cancer Research UK has collected a set of inspirational individuals who have had success with their goals in the past year, and subsequetly dramatically reduced their risk of developing some 40% of cancers which have been linked to unhealthy lifestyle. Check out one video here, or click on through for the other 3 inspirational stories.

On the other hand, what if your risk for cancer is something you cannot change? This New York Times article adresses the question of "is it better to know, genetically your risk?" It's written by a young woman, who's been knowingly BRCA1 positive for most of her life (a mutation which carries a 98% chance of developing breast cancer. With the advent of the $1000 dollar genome era, and websites such as 23andme.com offering to give your information about not only your genetic heredity but also you risk for a large list of diseases for as little as $100; you have to ask yourself, do you really want to know. Or, is ignorance really bliss?

And what if you already know. What's on the horizon, treatment wise? Out with the old conventional chemotherapies, cell and virus based therapies are in vogue in research groups around the world. Of particular interest: How about cytotoxic T-cells targeted at the tumor? Isolated in low quantity from patients, converted into stem cells to be rapidly multiplied; redifferentiated and and reintroduced. A home grown, autologous, army against cancer; personalized medicine at its best. Recent work out of Japan show's that we may be getting close to developing this kind of 'miracle' treatment, read about it at the BBC here.

A pair of Tcells attacking a cancer cell, image source.

That's all for this week, stay tuned for more review of the above mentioned book (spoiler I love it so far) and DFTBA.


  1. Sara ... I'm intrigued by your blogs, impressed with your credentials, and I love your humor! Would love to have you read and comment on my book "Cancer On The Brain," which was recently published. I know for certain you will be honest!


    1. Jay! Thanks for contacting me, I'd love to read your book, have added it to my book list, you will for sure be hearing from me with a review soonish (in the middle of the Springsteen Biography that recently came out)



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