“Stem memory” T-cells may protect against cancer
A vaccine-like treatment for cancer is a step closer according to a new study. Scientists have identified and tracked rare immune system cells called “stem memory” T-cells which could keep cancer in remission for many years. The cells are modified to target a particular cancer cell and destroy it. The research was introduced at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science taking place in Washington DC. Professor Chiara Bonini, from the University of Milan in Italy and her team studied 10 cancer patients who were infused with tagged T-cells that could be tracked. After 14 years, small numbers of the cells were still circulating in the patients’ bloodstreams. She said: “T-cells are a living drug, and in particular they have the potential to persist in our body for our whole lives.” Commenting on the study, British immunologist Professor Daniel Davis, from the University of Manchester, said: “The implication is that infusing genetically modified versions of these particular T-cells … could provide a long-lasting immune response against a person’s cancer. Immunotherapy has great potential to revolutionise cancer treatment and this study shows which type of T-cells might be especially useful to manipulate for long-lasting protection.” See more at doctorportal.

Reducing low birth weight: consider risk factors together
A group of Welsh researchers has found that 14 risk factors accounted for nearly half of all low birth weight (LBW) births, with 60% of LBW babies born to mothers under the age of 25 years. Tobacco smoke was the largest contributor. The study, published in the Journal of Public Health and open access, used “data from published studies on the risks from key modifiable factors … alongside prevalence data from the Welsh population to calculate the population attributable risk for each factor individually and in combination”. The authors estimated that smoking in pregnancy was a factor in one in eight LBW births, increasing to one in five for women under 25 years of age. “Risk factors are interrelated and inequitably distributed within the population. Exposure to one factor increases the likelihood of exposure to a constellation of other factors further increasing risk. Action to address LBW must consider groups where the risk factors are most prevalent and address these risk factors together using multi-component interventions.”

Co-habiting influences person’s immune system more than illness
A Belgian study has found that co-habiting and raising a child together can have a bigger impact on a person’s immunity than getting the flu shot or contracting gastro. The research, published in Nature Immunology, found that people who lived together had immune systems that became 50% more similar compared with two non-related people in the wider community. Healthy people aged 2 to 86 years (n=670) were studied over a period of 3 years to “provide a description of the population-level heterogeneity in the cellular composition of the circulating immune system,” the authors wrote. They found that the immune system was quite elastic. The result that was most interesting to them was the impact of coparenting on immune systems. “One of the most surprising results from our study was the degree to which immune profiles were more similar between parents than unrelated people living in different households. This suggests that a shared environment acts in some way to bring immunoprofiles toward a convergent equilibrium,” they wrote. For more, visit doctorportal.

Scientist warns IVF is “evolutionary experiment”
An evolutionary biologist has warned that babies born via assisted reproduction may end up with greater health problems and shortened life spans. Dr Pascal Gagneax, an evolutionary biologist from the University of California at San Diego, said IVF is an “evolutionary experiment” and could prove to be as big a disaster as junk food. He made his comments at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington DC. He fears the unintended consequences of IVF could become more apparent at the end of life, as the oldest IVF baby is only 39 today. “I think we can’t rule out that it could be shortening life span. It could also be introducing some very interesting costs in terms of metabolic syndrome,” he said. He pointed to a small study which involved taking 100 children born both via IVF and naturally conceived up a Swiss mountain to an altitude of 3500m. The low oxygen levels mimic the effects of ageing. The IVF children performed worse with higher levels of heart and artery malfunction than the naturally conceived children, even their siblings. “We’re engaging in an evolutionary experiment … I would compare it to high fructose corn syrup and fast food in the US. It took 50 years; it was fantastic, you got bigger and healthier, and now the US are the first generation that are shorter and heavier and die younger. But it took 50 years,” he said. For more, visit doctorportal. 

2 thoughts on “News in brief

  1. Amy Chan says:

    To Dr Gagneux,

    How comprehensive is your swiss experiment and how many different age groups and ethnic groups did the experiment use? What evidence do you have to back up your claims anyway? The way you describe the experiment is very vague… 100 “children born both via IVF and naturally conceived” – the ratio could be 99-1 or at best 50-50, but your sample of 100? And you could pick 100 kids of a specific community but not diversified?

    I am an expert in statistics and I challenge your thinking. It is plain wrong! How worse did the ivf children perform and how do you even measure artery and heart malfunction? You do not have enough details and you did not even name your swiss experiment and I cannot find any journals relating to this so called experiment. What are your sampling, statistical hypothesis and all the regression tests? I can’t find any!

    Oh, just aside, IVF is about fertilising an ovum with sperms, and it is not gene selection for creating perfect humans… so, don’t you think IVF people will be disease free like others. All have the same risks. Just so you can dissipate your ignorance…

  2. Simon Strauss says:

    Re “Stem memory” T-cells may protect against cancer” Just over 11 years ago I had 5 day course of G-CSF therapy (10 microg/kg/day) in a trial for the treatment of severe coronary artery disease and heart failure. (17 years duration.) Before treatment I  was able to walk around 20m and this usually provoked angina and SOB. Over the years I have been puzzled by my long term steady improvement following G-CSF and subsequent stem cell production. At the moment I can swim over 1km and I do this several times a week and I walk around 5km each evening. But even more puzzling is that I have become lean (abdominal skin fold 6mm) and have markedly increased muscle mass.  Your article indicates to me that my suspicion that some long term mechanism is still operating after 11 years could be valid.

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