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Can Zika Virus Be Used to Treat Brain Cancer?

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Over the past few years, our awareness of the Zika virus has grown, but only because of headlines that describe how devastating it can be. Fortunately, scientists have recently found a useful purpose for the pandemic bug: brain cancer treatment.

Researchers out of the Washington University School of Medicine (St Louis) and University of California San Diego found that this particular virus is able to target and destroy the stem cells that drive growth of glioblastoma, a common—and deadly—type of brain tumor.

Every year, about 12,000 people in the United States alone receive a diagnosis for glioblastoma.

According to Michael Diamond, of Washington University School of Medicine, “Our study is a first step towards the development of safe and effective strains of Zika virus that could become important tools in neuro-oncology and the treatment of glioblastoma.”

The study co-lead goes on to say, “However, public health concerns will need to be addressed through pre-clinical testing and evaluations of the strains’ ability to disseminate or revert to more virulent forms.”

This research, of course, is still in its early stages, but has wonderful long term implications. Treatments for this type of brain tumor have not been very consistent and most people who are diagnosed with glioblastoma will die within two years.

That is because the stem cells that power the tumors are not easy to kill and they are good at hiding from the body’s natural immune system; and the treatments we do have tend to be ineffective.

Study co-lead Milan Chheda comments, “It is so frustrating to treat a patient as aggressively as we know how, only to see his or her tumor recur a few months later.”

Also from Washington University School of Medicine, Chheda goes on to say, “We wondered whether nature could provide a weapon to target the cells most likely responsible for this return.”

Jeremy Rich, from the University of California San Diego and the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, also co-authored the study. He comments, “This effort represents the creative synthesis of three research groups with complementary expertise to attack a deadly cancer by harnessing the cause of another disease. Adults with Zika may suffer less damage from their infection, suggesting that this approach could be used with acceptable toxicity.”

The results of this study were published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine.

The standard treatment is aggressive – surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation – yet most tumors recur within six months. A small population of cells, known as glioblastoma stem cells, often survives the onslaught and continues to divide, producing new tumor cells to replace the ones killed by the cancer drugs.
In their neurological origins and near-limitless ability to create new cells, glioblastoma stem cells reminded postdoctoral researcher Zhe Zhu, PhD, of neuroprogenitor cells, which generate cells for the growing brain. Zika virus specifically targets and kills neuroprogenitor cells.

In collaboration with co-senior authors Diamond and Milan G. Chheda, MD, of Washington University School of Medicine, and Jeremy N. Rich, MD, of UC San Diego, Zhu tested whether the virus could kill stem cells in glioblastomas removed from patients at diagnosis. They infected tumors with one of two strains of Zika virus. Both strains spread through the tumors, infecting and killing the cancer stem cells while largely avoiding other tumor cells.

The findings suggest that Zika infection and chemotherapy-radiation treatment have complementary effects. The standard treatment kills the bulk of the tumor cells but often leaves the stem cells intact to regenerate the tumor. Zika virus attacks the stem cells but bypasses the greater part of the tumor.

“We see Zika one day being used in combination with current therapies to eradicate the whole tumor,” said Chheda, an assistant professor of medicine and of neurology.
To find out whether the virus could help treat cancer in a living animal, the researchers injected either Zika virus or saltwater (a placebo) directly into the brain tumors of 18 and 15 mice, respectively. Tumors were significantly smaller in the Zika-treated mice two weeks after injection, and those mice survived significantly longer than the ones given saltwater.

If Zika were used in people, it would have to be injected into the brain, most likely during surgery to remove the primary tumor. If introduced through another part of the body, the person’s immune system would sweep it away before it could reach the brain.

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Potentially Dangerous Asian Tick Infested 8 States

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Asian Tick Infests 8 States

Entomologists issued a new warning about the rapid spread of a particularly aggressive tick this season. Initially discovered in New Jersey, the Long-horned tick has now been found in eight states, including North Carolina and as far west as Arkansas.

Scientists report the tick can infest a host rapidly, with femalesproducing thousands of tick eggs at a time asexually. Each tick will gorge itself on the host’s blood until the tick can barely move. The pest has been known to draw enough blood from animals to induce anemia.

Also known as the East Asian Tick, or its biological name of Haemaphysalislongicornis, the newcomer to America is not easily identified without a microscope. Its distinctive “long horns” are not visible to the naked eye.

Initially, authorities thought the first of the ticks werediscovered last summeron a sheep in New Jersey. When the sheep’s owner brought a sample of what she pulled off her pet, Department of Health officials discovered the sheep and her entire paddock were infested with the creatures.

Since the sheep had not traveled anywhere in years, officials are at a loss to explain how the tick came to be in New Jersey. The Health Department later confirmed that a tick discovered on a dog in another New Jersey county in 2013 was also a long-horned tick.

Despite an aggressive attempt to kill the ticks, which included sheering the sheep and removing vegetation from the paddock, additional long-horn ticks were discovered this spring. That prompted a state alert that the ticks had “successfully wintered”, surviving freezes, snow, and rain.

During routine tick monitoring, which can as simple as dragging sheets through meadows, more of the East Asian menace were discovered in Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina by June. Over the summer, New York, Arkansas, Maryland, and Pennsylvania also reported cases.

Asian Tick Infests 8 States

The good news about East Asian Ticks

So far, none of the long-horned ticks found in the United States carried any diseases. That is not to say they are completely harmless to your animals, which can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of ticks if not recognized quickly.

The exotic pests are controlled by the most common repellents and behaviors we use against out domestic ticks. Deet is the most effective chemical repellent.

Officials also remind everyone to use long sleeves, pants, and socks while walking through high grass and be sure to check yourself and children for ticks when you get home.

The bad news about East Asian Ticks

Even though no disease-carrying ticks have been found in the United States yet, these ticks are known to cause serious health issues in their native country.

Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenic Anemia (SFTA) and Japanese Spotted Fever are among several diseases spread by the tick in other countries. Both can be fatal if not treated promptly. It is not yet known if the East Asian tick can spread Lyme Disease.

Scientists warn dairy farmers to check livestock. The ticks can spread an animal disease called theileriosis, which causes decreased milk production in cows and potentially fatal blood loss in calves.

What you need to do about long-horned ticks

Pet owners and farmers should regularly check their animals for ticks. Learn how to safely remove them from animals (or yourself).

Every local health department accepts ticks for identification and disease testing. Place the tick in a plastic bag with a small stick, leaf, or a piece of cotton (to keep it from getting crushed) and deliver it to the health department.

If you find a tick on yourself, remove it and clean the area thoroughly with soap and water. Be attentive to any signs or symptoms of illness and be sure to tell your doctor about the tick. In most cases, even the most serious ailments can be headed off by prompt treatment.

 

 

 

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Moderate Drinking Can Help You Live A Little Longer?

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And now some good news for casual drinkers:  a new study claims that moderate consumption of wine and beer (and coffee) can actually increase lifespan.  Working with a group of 1,700 subjects older than 80, since 2003, a research team out of University of California-Irvine says that people who drank moderate amounts of alcohol and/or coffee lived longer than those who abstained [from either or both].  They also say they learned that those who live longer tend to be on the heavier side in their 70s than those who or on the underweight side. 

Now, to be sure, the researchers are still trying to understand these results  Lead study researcher Dr. Claudia Kawas notes, “I have no explanation for it, but I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity,” in a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference.  

She explains that the “The 90+ Study” has been tracking the health of these study subjects for roughly the last 15 years, adding, “Those who consumed approximately two glasses of beer or wine a day were 18 percent less likely to experience premature death.”

On the other hand—or, concurrently, perhaps—the researchers also found that those who consumed about two cups of coffee per day also decreased their risk for early death by 10 percent.  However, it is also very important to note that daily activity was also a factor that reduced premature death. This assuaged the researchers to suggest that keeping a healthy weight (not underweight) and engaging in regular physical activity and eating healthy can not only stave off premature death but also chronic disease. 

At the end of the day, Dr. Kawas reminds that they still do not really know why modest drinking—and a few extra pounds—seems to help people live a little longer, but this study soundly speaks for such a case. 

Other interesting facts they found include:

  • Those who are slightly overweight—not obese—reduced their odds of premature death by 3 percent
  • As few as 15 minutes and as many as 45 minutes of daily physical activity could reduce premature death by up to 11 percent
  • Spending about 2 hours a day on a hobby could decrease risk for early death by as much as 21 percent

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New 5-Cluster Classification for Diabetes

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For a long time, the medical industry has associated diabetes into two categories.  Type 1 diabetes, of course, is genetic; you are born with it. Type 2 diabetes is also known as Adult-Onset diabetes and is a lifestyle disease that evolves over time, associated with the body’s eventual resistance to insulin. 

More recent studies, however, now suggest that there are actually 5 different types of diabetes. Or, rather, Scandinavian researchers argue that the two types could further divide into five total clusters with different physiological and genetic distinctions.

From data on roughly 15,000 patients, taken from five cohorts in Finland and Sweden, the researchers used six standard measurements to identify these five clusters.  Essentially there are two mild forms and three severe forms.

The first form is basically Type 1 diabetes, attributed to a genetic predisposition. The remaining four dissect Type 2 diabetes into different degrees of severity.

  • Cluster 1:  Severe Autoimmune Diabetes (SAID)
  • Cluster 2:  Severe Insulin-Deficient Diabetes (SIDD)
  • Cluster 3:  Severe Insulin-Resistant Diabetes (SIRD)
  • Cluster 4:  Mild Obesity-Related Diabetes (MOD)
  • Cluster 5:  Mild Age-Related Diabetes (MARD)

According to consultant and Imperial College London clinical scientist Dr. Victoria Salem, most specialists have long pursued that are 2-tier diabetes definitions is “not a terribly accurate classification system.” She goes on to say, “There is still a massively unknown quantity – it may well be that worldwide there are 500 subgroups depending on genetic and local environment effects,” adding that this is definitely going to improve the way we think about diabetes as a disease.

Lead study author Leif Groop, MD, PhD, of the Lund University Diabetes Center in Malmö, Sweden, and Folkhalsan Research Centre, Helsinki, Finland, comments, 

“Existing treatment guidelines are limited by the fact they respond to poor metabolic control when it has developed, but do not have the means to predict which patients will need intensified treatment.”

Finally, McGill University’s Rob Sladek, MD, explains in an accompanying editorial, “This study moves us towards a more clinically useful diagnosis, and represents an important step towards precision medicine in diabetes. Nevertheless, the finding that simple parameters assessed at the time of diagnosis could reliably stratify patients with diabetes according to prognosis is compelling and poses the challenge of development of methods to predict outcomes of patients with type 2 diabetes that are more generalizable and comprehensive.” 

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