Month: June 2022

Partially Paralysed Man Uses Robotic Arms to Feed Himself

Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels

Recent advances in neural science, robotics, and software have enabled scientists to develop a robotic system that responds to muscle movement signals from a partially paralysed person relayed through a brain-machine interface. Human and robot act as a team to make performing some tasks a piece of cake.

Two robotic arms – a fork in one hand, a knife in the other – flank a seated man, who sits in front of a table, with a piece of cake on a plate. A computerised voice announces each action: “moving fork to food” and “retracting knife.” Partially paralysed, the man makes subtle motions with his right and left fists at certain prompts, such as “select cut location”, so that the machine slices off a bite-sized piece. Now: “moving food to mouth” and another subtle gesture to align the fork with his mouth.

In less than 90 seconds, a person with very limited upper body mobility who hasn’t been able to use his fingers in about 30 years, just fed himself dessert using his mind and some smart robotic hands.

A team led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Maryland, and the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR) in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, published a paper in the journal Frontiers in Neurorobotics that described this latest feat using a brain-machine interface (BMI) and a pair of modular prosthetic limbs.

Also sometimes referred to as a brain-computer interface, BMI systems provide a direct communication link between the brain and a computer, which decodes neural signals and ‘translates’ them to perform various external functions, from moving a cursor on a screen to now enjoying a bite of cake. In this particular experiment, muscle movement signals from the brain helped control the robotic prosthetics.

A new approach

The study built on more than 15 years of research in neural science, robotics, and software, led by APL in collaboration with the Department of PMR, as part of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, which was originally sponsored by the US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). The new paper outlines an innovative model for shared control that enables a human to manoeuvre a pair of robotic prostheses with minimal mental input.

“This shared control approach is intended to leverage the intrinsic capabilities of the brain machine interface and the robotic system, creating a ‘best of both worlds’ environment where the user can personalise the behaviour of a smart prosthesis,” said Dr Francesco Tenore, a senior project manager in APL’s Research and Exploratory Development Department. The paper’s senior author, Tenore focuses on neural interface and applied neuroscience research.

“Although our results are preliminary, we are excited about giving users with limited capability a true sense of control over increasingly intelligent assistive machines,” he added.

Helping people with disabilities

One of the most important advances in robotics demonstrated in the paper is combining robot autonomy with limited human input, with the machine doing most of the work while enabling the user to customize robot behavior to their liking, according to Dr David Handelman, the paper’s first author and a senior roboticist in the Intelligent Systems Branch of the Research and Exploratory Development Department at APL.

“In order for robots to perform human-like tasks for people with reduced functionality, they will require human-like dexterity. Human-like dexterity requires complex control of a complex robot skeleton,” he explained. “Our goal is to make it easy for the user to control the few things that matter most for specific tasks.”

Dr Pablo Celnik, project principal investigator in the department of PMR said: “The human-machine interaction demonstrated in this project denotes the potential capabilities that can be developed to help people with disabilities.”

Closing the loop

While the DARPA program officially ended in August 2020, the team at APL and at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine continues to collaborate with colleagues at other institutions to demonstrate and explore the potential of the technology.

The next iteration of the system may integrate previous research that found providing sensory stimulation to amputees enabled them to not only perceive their phantom limb, but use muscle movement signals from the brain to control a prosthetic. The theory is that the addition of sensory feedback, delivered straight to a person’s brain, may help him or her perform some tasks without requiring the constant visual feedback in the current experiment.

“This research is a great example of this philosophy where we knew we had all the tools to demonstrate this complex bimanual activity of daily living that non-disabled people take for granted,” Tenore said. “Many challenges still lie ahead, including improved task execution, in terms of both accuracy and timing, and closed-loop control without the constant need for visual feedback.”

Celnik added: “Future research will explore the boundaries of these interactions, even beyond basic activities of daily living.”

Source: Frontiers

Physicians Prescribe Less Analgesic Medication during Nightshifts

Photo by Mulyadi on Unsplash

Physicians prescribe less analgesic medication during nightshifts than during the day, according to a new study published in PNAS.

In the first part of the study, 67 doctors were given empathy assessment tasks in the morning and asked to respond to simulated patient scenarios. These doctors were either at the end of a 26-hour shift or just beginning their workday. The study found that doctors who recently completed night shift showed less empathy for patient’s pain. For example, these physicians’ exhibited decreased emotional responses to pictures of people in pain and consistently scored their patients low on pain assessment charts.

In the second part of the study, the researchers looked at actual medical decisions made by emergency room doctors in the United States and Israel. Analysed 13 482 discharge letters for patients who came to the hospital in 2013–2020 with a chief complaint of pain, they found that physicians were 20–30% less likely to prescribe an analgesic during nightshifts (compared to daytime shifts) and in amounts less than generally recommended by the World Health Organization. “They’re tired and therefore they’re less empathic to patients’ pain. When we looked at ER doctors’ discharge papers, we found that they prescribed fewer painkillers,” explained Professor Shoham Choshen-Hillel from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s School of Business Administration and Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality, who led the study.

The bias persisted after adjusting for patients’ reported level of pain, patient and physician’s demographics, type of complaint, and emergency department characteristics. “Our takeaway is that nightshift work is an important and previously unrecognised source of bias in pain management, likely stemming from impaired perception of pain. The researchers explain that even medical experts, who strive to provide the best care for their patients, are susceptible to the effects of a nightshift,” noted co-lead author HU Psychology Department’s Dr Anat Perry.

Looking ahead, the researchers suggest implementing more structured pain management guidelines in hospitals. Another important implication relates to physician work structure, and the need to improve physicians’ working schedules. “Our findings may have implications for other workplaces that involve shiftwork and empathic decision-making, including crisis centres, first responders, and the military. In fact, these results should probably matter to all people who are sleep-deprived,” added co-lead author Dr Alex Gileles-Hillel from Hadassah Medical Center and HU.

Source: ScienceDaily

Cold Temperatures Could Reduce Obesity-induced Inflammation

Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

In a new paper published in Nature Metabolism, researchers found that cold temperature exposure resolved obesity-induced inflammation while improving insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in diet-induced obese mice. The process depended on brown adipose tissue producing a molecule called Maresin 2 when stimulated by cold.

Brown adipose tissue is known to be an active endocrine orgain which helps dissipate stored energy and might promote weight loss and metabolic health.  

“Extensive evidence indicates that obesity and metabolic syndrome are linked with chronic inflammation that leads to systemic insulin resistance, so interrupting inflammation in obesity could offer promising therapies for obesity-related disease,” said co-corresponding author Yu-Hua Tseng, PhD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.  “We discovered that cold exposure reduced inflammation and improved metabolism in obesity, mediated at least in part by the activation of brown adipose tissue. These findings suggest a previously unrecognized function of brown adipose tissue in promoting the resolution of inflammation in obesity.”

In two previous studies, Tseng and colleagues discovered that cold exposure could activate brown fat to produce specific lipid mediators that regulate nutrient metabolism. In the current study, the researchers identified a novel role for a lipid mediator produced from brown fat to resolve inflammation.

In the present study, the scientists created a mouse model that becomes obese when fed a typical high-fat, Western diet. When the animals were exposed to a cold environment (around 4°C), the researchers observed that the animals’ insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism improved and their body weight decreased, compared to control animals maintained at a thermoneutral zone – the environmental temperature where the body does not need to produce heat for maintaining its core body temperature. What’s more, the scientists also noticed a profound improvement in inflammation, as measured by reduced levels of a major inflammatory marker. 

“We found that brown fat produces Maresin 2, which resolves inflammation systemically and in the liver,” said co-corresponding author Matthew Spite, PhD, a lead investigator at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Associate Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School. “These findings suggest a previously unrecognized function of brown adipose tissue in promoting the resolution of inflammation in obesity via the production of this important lipid mediator.”

Moreover, these findings also suggest that Maresin 2 could have clinical applications as a therapy for patients with obesity, metabolic disease, or other diseases linked to chronic inflammation; however, the molecule itself breaks down quickly in the body. Tseng and colleagues seek a more stable chemical analog for clinical use.

The team notes a shortcut to improved metabolic health may already exist. Multiple human studies show that exposure to mild cold temperatures (10 to 13°C) have been shown to be sufficient to activate brown adipose tissue and improve metabolism, though the mechanisms are not well understood.

Source: EurekaAlert

Intermittent Fasting May Aid Nerve Repair

A healthy neuron.
A healthy neuron. Credit: NIH

A new mouse study published in Nature showed that intermittent fasting changes gut bacteria, and increases the ability to recover from nerve damage. The fasting led to gut bacteria increasing production of 3-Indolepropionic acid (IPA), a metabolite which is required for regenerating axons.

The bacteria that produces IPA, Clostridium sporogenesis, is found naturally in the guts of humans as well as mice and IPA is found in human bloodstreams too, the researchers said. 

“There is currently no treatment for people with nerve damage beyond surgical reconstruction, which is only effective in a small percentage of cases, prompting us to investigate whether changes in lifestyle could aid recovery,” said study author Professor Simone Di Giovanni at Imperial College London.

“Intermittent fasting has previously been linked by other studies to wound repair and the growth of new neurons – but our study is the first to explain exactly how fasting might help heal nerves.”

The study assessed nerve regeneration of mice where the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve running from the spine down the leg, was crushed. Half of the mice underwent intermittent fasting (one day with food, one day without), while the other half ate freely. These diets continued for a period of 10 days or 30 days before their operation, and the mice’s recovery was monitored 24 to 72 hours after the nerve was severed. The regrown axons were about 50% greater in mice that had been fasting.

Prof Di Giovanni said, “I think the power of this is that opens up a whole new field where we have to wonder: is this the tip of an iceberg? Are there going to be other bacteria or bacteria metabolites that can promote repair?”

The researchers also studied how fasting led to this nerve regeneration. They found that there were significantly higher levels of specific metabolites, including IPA, in the blood of diet-restricted mice.

To confirm whether IPA led to nerve repair, the mice were treated with antibiotics to remove gut bacteria. They were then given gene-edited of Clostridium sporogenesis that could or could not produce IPA.

“When IPA cannot be produced by these bacteria and it was almost absent in the serum, regeneration was impaired. This suggests that the IPA generated by these bacteria has an ability to heal and regenerate damaged nerves,” Prof Di Giovanni said. 

Importantly, when IPA was administered to the mice orally after a sciatic nerve injury, regeneration and increased recovery was observed between two and three weeks after injury.

The next step is investigating spinal cord injuries in mice, along with seeing if more frequent IPA administrations increase its efficacy.

“One of our goals now is to systematically investigate the role of bacteria metabolite therapy.” Prof Di Giovanni said.

More studies will need to investigate whether IPA increases after fasting in humans and the efficacy of IPA and intermittent fasting as a potential treatment in people.

He said: “One of the questions that we haven’t explored fully is that, since IPA lasts in blood for four to six hours in high concentration, would administering it repeatedly throughout the day or adding it to a normal diet help maximise its therapeutic effects?”

Source: Imperial College

How Will Roe v Wade Decision Influence the World?

Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

With the US Supreme Court’s overturning the Roe v Wade decision, abortion rights are now up to individual US states. However, while there are no legal implications for the rest of the world, it will undoubtedly have a huge influence on other countries’ abortion campaigning and lawmaking decisions. Future anti-abortion efforts in the US may also impact the country’s funding of reproductive services in regions such as Africa.

Without access to legal, safe abortion, many pregnant people will turn to unsafe methods. According to the World Health Organization, 97% of all unsafe abortions happen in developing countries. Some 4.7–13.2% of maternal deaths are attributable to unsafe abortion.

Although Roe v Wade does not have a legal effect in Africa, it was frequently invoked in abortion. Tunisia liberalised its abortion law just nine months after the Roe v Wade ruling – allowing women to access the service on demand. Additionally, in 1986, Cape Verde allowed for abortion on request prior to 12 weeks gestation which aligns with Roe v Wade holding of the same.

In South Africa, the right to abortion is not directly enshrined in the Constitution, but the 1996 Choice in Termination of Pregnancy Act greatly widened accessibility to safe, legal abortions, causing a 90% drop in abortion mortality from 1994 to 2001. The previous apartheid-era laws and their enforcement were predictably stained by racism: abortion was limited to encourage white population growth while contraceptives were promoted to control the population growth of black and coloured people. Wealthy whites could fly to England for an abortion there if they could not arrange one. The 1996 Act was met with significant opposition on religious grounds, and it is speculated that had the ANC done this with an open vote, it would not have passed with such a wide margin.

Even today, research shows that abortion remains highly stigmatised among South Africans, with 75.4% of people surveyed indicating that it was “always wrong” in case of family poverty, and 52.5% indicating the same for either foetal abnormality or family poverty. Provincial splits are apparent, with Gauteng and Limpopo having a > 1 odds ratio of being against abortion.

The 2003 Maputo Protocol adopted by the African Union requires countries to authorise medical abortions in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, or where the health of the mother is endangered. This specific provision draws from the 1979 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), whose clause on access to safe abortion was based on on Roe v Wade. However, 12 AU members have not ratified the protocol, and many of those who did have not fully brought their laws into line. South Africa is only one of six African nations that effectively allow elective abortions. Of these, Mozambique and Benin only fully changed their laws in 2020 and 2021.

Abortion opponents led by the Catholic Church and its affiliates enjoy widespread political and social support in many African countries. In 2020, Bhekisisa investigated African pregnancy crisis centres funded by US anti-abortion groups. These centres actively discourage abortion, exerting pressure on girls and women and are rife with misinformation, such as grossly exaggerating the size and development of the foetus in early stages of pregnancy. One NGO offered training to say that abortion would “turn” women’s partners gay if they got an abortion.

Thus, while the legal outcome of Roe v Wade being overturned will have no bearing on South Africa, it will conceivably embolden anti-abortion groups both domestically and abroad and likely to increase the influence they already exert in the country.

ECT Particularly Effective in Treating Severe Mania

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Most patients with mania responded to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), according to a Swedish study published in JAMA Network Open. Patients with more severe illness were also far more likely to respond to treatment, the study’s researchers found.

The study recruited 571 individuals who were in a manic episode treated with ECT, 482 (84.4%) responded. Of these, 28% of these patients were able to achieve remission of mania, the researchers found. ECT treatments were mostly given three times a week.

The patient group was 63% female, with a median age of 46. Most had mania with psychotic symptoms, and roughly a quarter were voluntarily admitted to the hospital, while 60% were involuntarily committed. About 45% had been exposed to prior ECT.

“These findings suggest that ECT may be a highly effective option for treating mania, which is in line with the literature reporting response rates of 56% to 100%,” the authors noted.

The severity of illness was associated with an increased chance of responding to ECT; 83% for markedly ill, 84% for severely ill, and 92% for extremely ill patients. Illness severity was graded according to Clinical Global Impression Improvement scale (CGI-I) score.

Additionally, patients who underwent more ECT treatments in an index series were significantly more likely to have a clinical response, with the greatest odds of response being among patients who received more than 9 treatments.

Clinical factors reducing a patient’s odds of responding to ECT included comorbid anxiety and comorbid obsessive compulsive disorder.

Factors not associated with a clinical response to ECT were age of mania onset, as well as psychopharmacotherapy before index admission, including lithium, lamotrigine, a first or second generation antipsychotic, valproate, benzodiazepine, antidepressant, anxiolytic, or a central stimulant.

“It is worth highlighting that 63% of patients in our study were treated with 1 or more antimanic agents before admission, suggesting that these treatments may not have been sufficient in reducing symptoms of mania,” the group noted.

Source: MedPage Today

Varenicline Effective in Helping Smokers with Diabetes to Quit

Cigarette butts
Source: Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

A new study published in JAMA Network has found that varenicline helps patients with type 2 diabetes to quit smoking.

Not only is cigarette smoking a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, it is highly prevalent among patients with type 2 diabetes. Smoking worsens the effects of hyperglycaemia and other risk factors, accelerating vascular damage in patients with diabetes.

Compared with nonsmokers with diabetes, smokers have greater risks of mortality, coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease. Quitting smoking has been associated with reduced mortality risk in patients with type 2 diabetes, as welling achieving better glycaemic control and lower cardiometabolic risk factors.

Smokers with type 2 diabetes are more reluctant quit than smokers without diabetes in part due to fear of weight gain. Weight gain needs to be controlled as part of any cessation intervention. The smoking cessation drug varenicline has been shown to help people without diabetes to quit, but considering the special behavioural and metabolic conditions of smokers with type 2 diabetes, its use and efficacy warranted investigation,

To this end, Cristina Russo, MD, and colleagues conducted a multicentre, double-blind, placebo-controlled randomised clinical trial with 300 participants. Patients with type 2 diabetes, average age 57.4 years who were smoking at least 10 cigarettes a day, and who intended to quit were randomised to either twice-daily varenicline 1mg or placebo treatment. Both groups received smoking cessation counselling. The trial consisted of a 12-week treatment phase followed by a 40-week follow-up, nontreatment phase. Intention-to-treat data analysis was performed from December 2020 to April 2021.

At weeks 9 to 24, continuous smoking abstinence was significantly higher for the varenicline than placebo group (24.0% vs 6.0%). At weeks 9 to 12 (31.3% vs 7.3%) and weeks 9 to 52 (18.7% vs 5.3%) were significantly higher for the varenicline vs placebo group. Adverse events in the varenicline group compared with the placebo group were nausea, insomnia, abnormal dreams, anxiety, and irritability. Serious adverse events were infrequent in both groups and not treatment-related.

The researchers concluded that using varenicline in a smoking cessation programme for people with type 2 diabetes is effective in achieving long-term abstinence without serious adverse events.

Flu Jab May Protect Against Developing Alzheimer’s

Old man
Source: JD Mason on Unsplash

In a study with nearly 2 million older adults, those who received at least one influenza vaccine were 40% less likely than their non-vaccinated peers to develop Alzheimer’s disease over four years of follow-up, according to a new study from UTHealth Houston.

An early online version of the paper detailing the findings is available in advance of its publication in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in August.

“We found that flu vaccination in older adults reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease for several years. The strength of this protective effect increased with the number of years that a person received an annual flu vaccine – in other words, the rate of developing Alzheimer’s was lowest among those who consistently received the flu vaccine every year,” said first author Avram S. Bukhbinder, MD. “Future research should assess whether flu vaccination is also associated with the rate of symptom progression in patients who already have Alzheimer’s dementia.”

The study comes two years after UTHealth Houston researchers found a possible link between the flu vaccine and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This new study analysed a much larger sample than previous research, including 935 887 flu-vaccinated patients and 935 887 non-vaccinated patients.

During four-year follow-up appointments, about 5.1% of flu-vaccinated patients were found to have developed Alzheimer’s disease. Meanwhile, 8.5% of non-vaccinated patients had developed Alzheimer’s disease during follow-up.

These results underscore the strong protective effect of the flu vaccine against Alzheimer’s disease, according to Bukhbinder and Schulz. However, the underlying mechanisms behind this process require further study.

“Since there is evidence that several vaccines may protect from Alzheimer’s disease, we are thinking that it isn’t a specific effect of the flu vaccine,” said Professor Paul. E. Schulz, MD, senior author of the study. “Instead, we believe that the immune system is complex, and some alterations, such as pneumonia, may activate it in a way that makes Alzheimer’s disease worse. But other things that activate the immune system may do so in a different way – one that protects from Alzheimer’s disease. Clearly, we have more to learn about how the immune system worsens or improves outcomes in this disease.”

Past research has uncovered a decreased risk of dementia associated with prior exposure to various adulthood vaccinations, including those for tetanus, polio, and herpes, in addition to the flu vaccine and others.

Additionally, as more time passes since the introduction of the COVID vaccine and longer follow-up data becomes available, Dr Bukhbinder said it seeing if there is a similar link between COVID vaccination and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Source: The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Little to No Link Between Glaucoma and Cognitive Function

Older woman smiling
Photo by Ravi Patel on Unsplasj

Previous studies looking for an association between the neurodegenerative disorder glaucoma and cognitive function have produced mixed results. Now, findings from a large study recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggest that any association, if it exists, will only be small.

Glaucoma, the leading cause of irreversible blindness, is a progressive optic neuropathy with incompletely understood pathogenesis that results in progressive vision loss, often beginning with peripheral visual field defects. As a neurodegenerative process, glaucoma is associated with trans-synaptic degeneration in the brain, specifically in the lateral geniculate nucleus and visual cortex. Some prior studies have suggested that the pathogenesis of primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) and normal tension glaucoma (NTG), specifically, may be part of a broad neurodegenerative mechanism with ocular and non-ocular manifestations. Evidence also suggests that impaired vision is associated with a significant increase in the risk of accelerated cognitive decline and incident dementia. Therefore, there is interest in measuring an association between glaucoma and dementia.

The study included 7073 US adults aged 51 years and older who were interviewed by phone every two years. Those who developed glaucoma tended to have higher cognitive function scores but steeper rates of cognitive score decline over a maximum follow-up time of 18 years. The observed associations between glaucoma and cognitive function were small and unlikely to be clinically meaningful. 

“In this large longitudinal study, a diagnosis of glaucoma was not associated with steeper rates of cognitive decline; however, this study did not have access to clinical data to determine whether glaucoma-related vision loss is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia,” said senior author Joshua R. Ehrlich MD, MP, of the University of Michigan Medical School. “This is an important question for future studies to consider.” 

Source: Wiley

‘Goldilocks’ Window for Immunotherapy Without Side Effects

Shown here is a pseudo-colored scanning electron micrograph of an oral squamous cancer cell (white) being attacked by two cytotoxic T cells (red), part of a natural immune response. Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Researchers have developed a way to potentially reduce the toxic side-effects of CAR T cell immunotherapy, in findings that could overcome the pioneering treatment’s biggest limitation.

Their new study, reported in eLife, has come up with a way to identify a ‘goldilocks’ window that fine-tunes the cells used in the immunotherapy so that their activity is strong enough to eliminate the cancer but not so strong that they generate toxic side-effects.

Therapy provokes ‘perfect storm’

CAR T cell therapies involve collecting T cells from a cancer patient and supercharging the cells by individually re-engineering them in the laboratory. These enhanced cells are then put back into patients.

CAR T cell immunotherapy can be up to 90% effective in certain blood cancers, even curing some patients. But the treatment has harmful side-effects, with about 50% of patients experiencing dangerous complications.

The T cells are engineered to produce proteins on their surface called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), which enable T cells to recognise and bind to specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells more efficiently.

Associate Professor Matthew Call said this synthetic sensor is what gives T cells the enhanced ability to attack and eliminate threats, like cancer cells.

“While putting these supercharged T cells into a patient with a high tumour burden can swiftly eradicate cancer cells, it also creates the perfect storm for an ongoing toxic response that can be harmful,” Associate Prof Call said.

There is currently no way of reliably predicting how strong CAR T cell therapy will be for a patient.

While previous studies have attempted to fine-tune T cells by targeting the end sections of the sensor, which either bind to the cancer cell or instruct the T cells to kill, the new research is the first to look at completely redesigning the middle part.

Researchers leveraged the computational expertise of the Weizmann Institute of Science to stitch together pieces of natural immune sensors with custom-designed synthetic elements, to generate new circuits that could be used to tune and assess variations of potency.

“Focusing on the connector fragment in the middle allows us to generate different versions of CARs that we know are stronger or weaker, enabling us to customise them to a patient’s potency requirements,” Associate Prof Call said.

“Being able to predictably tune this T cell activity significantly broadens our research, contrary to previous studies, because we are targeting something that exists in every immunotherapy scenario.

“For the first time, we can establish rules that will be applicable to any cancer where CAR T cell immunotherapy is being used.”

Enhanced treatment

Associate Prof Call said the ability to fine-tune T cells would dramatically reduce the number of patients experiencing severe side-effects from the treatment, which can include fever, high blood pressure and respiratory distress.

“CAR T cell therapy has proven effective in eradicating very advanced leukaemias and lymphomas, while also keeping the cancer at bay for many years – even after a patient has stopped taking cancer medication,” Associate Professor Call said.

“The therapy has incredible potential for cancer patients, but is currently used as a last resort due to these potentially severe side-effects.

“Our tools could lead to a fundamental rethink of the way CAR T cell therapy is offered by reducing a patient’s exposure risk to harmful side-effects. This would allow patients with a broad range of cancers to be given CAR T cell therapy far earlier in the treatment process.”

There are currently over 600 clinical trials of CAR T cell immunotherapy, with the treatment already being used for several blood cancers.

Researchers hope their new tool could be used to triage immunotherapy patients according to the potencies required in the early treatment phases, bringing the field closer to hitting that ‘goldilocks’ treatment window for many different cancers.

The next research phase will focus on progressing these findings into a clinical setting to see CAR T cell therapy used as a safer, first-line treatment.

Source: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research