The Two Faces of Fish Oil

The discovery of a tumor-protecting role for a fatty acid found in fish oil has sparked debate about the product’s safety.


Emile Voest, a professor of medical oncology and medical director of The Netherlands Cancer Institute, has spent his career studying the tumor microenvironment—cancer’s cellular backdrop, implicated in everything from a tumor’s structural support to its protection from the immune system and its resistance to cancer-treating drugs.

But it came as some surprise, Voest says, when, in the mid-2000s, he and his colleagues identified two obscure polyunsaturated fatty acids—16:4(n-3) and KHT—that seemed to induce chemoresistance in tumor-bearing mice. “It was not what I was expecting at all,” says Voest. “We had no clue what fatty acids were [or] how they worked.”

The researchers found that human mesenchymal stem cells (multipotent stromal cells already implicated in drug resistance) injected into tumor-bearing mice began secreting these fatty acids when the animals were administered cisplatin—a platinum-based drug used to treat various types of cancer. These platinum-induced fatty acids (PIFAs) had no effect on tumor growth, but neutralized the cytotoxic effects of cisplatin on tumor cells, hinting at a possible mechanism of chemoresistance in human patients receiving platinum-based therapies.


Read at The Scientist

To Fight Growing Threat From Germs, Scientists Try Old-Fashioned Killer

Bacteriophages, little-used for decades in the U.S. and much of Europe, are gaining new attention because of resistance to antibiotics


NANTES, France—A hospital nurse soaked a bandage in a colorless liquid containing viruses drawn from a toxic sewer in Paris, a well in Mali and a filthy river in India. Then she daubed it gently on an elderly woman’s severely burned back.

“It’s healing,” said Ronan Le Floch, the doctor overseeing the burned woman’s care. The painful wound’s greenish tinge, the telltale sign of a potentially deadly bacterial infection, had vanished.

The liquid treatment was a cocktail of about one billion viruses called bacteriophages, which are the natural-born killers of bacteria. Little known among doctors in the West, phages have been part of the antibacteria arsenal in countries of the former Soviet Union for decades.

Doctors in the U.S. and much of Europe stopped using phages to fight bacteria when penicillin and other antibiotics were introduced in the 1940s. Now, though, Western scientists are turning back to this Stalin-era cure to help curb the dramatic growth of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.


Link to full article on WSJ

Universal flu shots may be impossible thanks to duped immune cells

Flu viruses trick immune cells into fighting seasonal battles instead of all out war.


Ditching annual flu shots for a single stick that can protect year after year may be even harder to do than scientists thought—thanks to our own bamboozled immune systems.

Influenza viruses are infamous masters of mutation, changing themselves ever so slightly to dodge detection by immune cells. That viral variation drives the need for us to roll up our sleeves each fall instead of relying on our immune system’s memory of last year’s flu—or so researchers thought. A new study finds that although our immune systems naturally have the potential to detect and fight all flavors of flu virus, they get tricked into fighting only strain-specific battles. The finding, published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, suggests that making a universal vaccine may require wising up our immune cells as well as outsmarting the virus.

The study, from a group of researchers led by Patrick Wilson of the University of Chicago, examined the immune responses of 21 people after exposures to the 2009 H1N1 virus (swine flu). Researchers specifically looked at participants’ B cells, which make antibodies that help fend off the flu by seeking out the virus and marking it for an attack, as well as seeking out the antibodies themselves.


Link to full article

Gene that makes bacteria immune to last-resort antibiotic can spread

A newly identified gene that renders bacteria resistant to polymyxin antibiotics—drugs often used as the last line of defense against infections—has the potential to be shared between different types of bacteria. The finding raises concern that the transferable gene could make its way into infectious bacteria that are already highly resistant to drugs, thereby creating strains of bacteria immune to every drug in doctors’ arsenal.

The gene, dubbed mcr-1, exists on a tiny, circular piece of DNA called a plasmid. These genetic elements, common among bacteria, are mobile; bacteria can make copies of them and share them with whatever bacteria happens to be nearby. Though scientists have previously discovered genes for polymyxin resistance, those genes were embedded in bacterial genomes, thus were not likely to easily spread.


Link to article on ArsTechnica

Targeting Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria with CRISPR and Phages

Researchers develop a CRISPR-based, two-phage system that sensitizes resistant bacteria to antibiotics and selectively kills any remaining drug-resistant bugs.


Using bacteriophages to deliver a specificCRISPR/Cas system into antibiotic-resistant bacteria can sensitize the microbes to the drugs, according to a study published this week (May 18) in PNAS. The approach, developed by Udi Qimron of Tel Aviv University and his colleagues, is a modified version of phage therapy that does not require the delivery of phages to infected tissues and could help offset the pressure on bacterial populations to evolve drug resistance, according to the team.

Unlike classic phage therapy, which uses one or more types of phages to infect and lyse specific bacterial strains, the crux of this new approach is using these specialized viruses to supply CRISPR/Cas to rid bacteria of antibiotic-resistance plasmids in the environment before the microbes are able to infect a host. Each phage is specific to a bacterial species or strain and, using CRISPR, researchers can target a specific bacterial sequence.


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WHO-Worldwide country situation analysis: antimicrobial resistance

WHO releases report on antimicrobial resistance plans.

Antimicrobial resistance has been detected in all parts of the world; it is one of the greatest
challenges to global public health today, and the problem is increasing. Although antimicrobial
resistance is a natural phenomenon, it is being propagated by misuse of antimicrobial
medicines, inadequate or inexistent programmes for infection prevention and control (IPC),
poor-quality medicines, weak laboratory capacity, inadequate surveillance and insufficient
regulation of the use of antimicrobial medicines.
A strong, collaborative approach will be required to combat antimicrobial resistance, involving
countries in all regions and actors in many sectors. Over a 2-year period, from 2013 to
2014, WHO undertook an initial “country situation analysis” in order to determine the extent
to which effective practices and structures to address antimicrobial resistance were already
in place and where gaps remained. The survey was conducted in countries in each of the six
WHO regions.

PDF here


Making Cancer Vaccines Work Armed with the right adjuvant system

Opinion: Making Cancer Vaccines Work

Armed with the right adjuvant system, vaccines are poised to tackle one of the world’s most intractable diseases.

Electron micrograph of HPVWIKIMEDIA, NIH

More than four decades and billions of dollars since President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer, the disease is still the second most common cause of death in the U.S. According to American Cancer Society, nearly 600,000 Americans are expected to die of cancer in 2015, while more than 1.6 million new cancer cases are estimated to be diagnosed. Although we have learned much about the disease and improved outcomes for many patients, we are still relying on surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation to treat cancer, just as we did four decades ago. But, as widespread sequencing of tumors has revealed, no two cancers are identical, limiting the effectiveness of such homogenous

One force partially equipped to address this magnitude of cancer diversity is the immune system, which constantly patrols the body for deadly foreign invaders such as pathogens and abnormal cells. Immunotherapy approaches—and specifically, cancer vaccines—harness and enhance the immune system’s ability to recognize and eliminate tumor cells.


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Centennial Shigella A strain of the dysentery-causing bacterium isolated in 1915 tells the story of a young soldier who died of the disease in the early days of World War I.

Centennial Shigella

A strain of the dysentery-causing bacterium isolated in 1915 tells the story of a young soldier who died of the disease in the early days of World War I.


In early 1915, less than a year into the First World War, Private Ernest Cable, a 28-year-old British soldier serving in the 2nd Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment, stumbled into No. 14 Stationary Hospital in Wimereux, France. He was suffering from severe abdominal cramping and bloody diarrhea. Doctors diagnosed him with dysentery. Not long after, Cable was dead.

Nicholas Thomson, a genomicist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, first came to know of Cable’s lethal infection at a conference in October 2011. At the meeting, he met a woman named Philippa “Pippa” Bracegirdle, who worked in the archives of the UK National Collection of Type Cultures (NCTC), the oldest collection of bacterial cultures in the world. Over a drink, Bracegirdle mentioned that the collection contained an isolate of Shigella, the dysentery-causing kin of E. coli that had killed Cable. Later identified as Shigella flexneri serotype 2a, it was the first bacterial isolate deposited in NCTC’s now 5,000-sample-strong biobank.

With the 100-year anniversary of the start of “the war to end all wars” coming up in just a few years, Thomson was inspired to take a closer look at the isolate. Having studied the genetics of Shigella and other pathogens, he decided to sequence the bacterium. But as Thomson learned more from Bracegirdle about the isolate, he realized he had a rare opportunity to find out more about the patient who died from it a century ago.


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Drugs in dirt: Scientists appeal for help

US scientists are asking the public to join them in their quest to mine the Earth’s soil for compounds that could be turned into vital new drugs.

Spurred on by the recent discovery of a potential new antibiotic in soil, the Rockefeller University team want to check dirt from every country in the world.

They have already begun analysing samples from beaches, forests and deserts across five continents.

But they need help getting samples.

Which is where we all come in.

Citizen science

On their Drugs From Dirt website, they say: “The world is a big place and we can’t get get to all of the various corners of it.

“We would like some assistance in sampling soil from around the world. If this sounds interesting to you – sign up.”

They want to hear from people from all countries and are particularly keen to receive samples from unique, unexplored environments such as caves, islands, and hot springs.

Such places, they say, could house the holy grail – compounds produced by soil bacteria that are entirely new to science.

Researcher Dr Sean Brady told the BBC: “We are not after hundreds of thousands of samples. What we really want is a couple of thousand from some really unique places that could contain some really interesting stuff. So it’s not really your garden soil we are after, although that will have plenty of bacteria in it too.”


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Scientists ‘find alternative to antibiotics which could combat superbugs like MRSA’

Scientists believe they have found an alternative to antibiotics which could be used to combat superbugs such as MRSA.

A small test study suggested the new drug, an enzyme that solely targets the bacteria in MRSA, was effective against the infection with scientists claiming the likelihood of the bug becoming resistant was “very limited”.

Dutch biotech firm Micreos presented the findings at the EuroSciCon meeting, called Antibiotics Alternatives for the New Millenium, in London yesterday.

Micreos CEO Mark Offerhaus hailed it as a “new era in the fight against antibiotic resistant bacteria” and said “millions of people stand to benefit”.



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