News Bites brings you 5 weekly news in bite-sized forms.

Malaysia to develop animal-free meningitis vaccine

Malaysia is set to develop the world’s first animal component-free meningococcal vaccine. Local vaccine manufacturer AJ Biologics Malaysia (AJB Malaysia) has collaborated with Hilleman Laboratories (HL) and AJ Vaccines (AJV) to introduce a new animal-free derivative of the vaccine marketed towards the global halal market and haj travel industry.

The vaccine hopes to target the five most prevalent bacterial groups related to meningitis, consequently improving the immunity status for cross-border travellers.

AJB Malaysia’s chief operating officer, Jerome Cabannes, who has high hopes for the new vaccine and its global appeal says, "We hope to offer this vaccine not just in Malaysia and the Middle East, but around the world.”

Australian researchers aim to simplify cancer research

"It currently takes many months before researchers are able to obtain tissue samples from a physical biobank and carry out investigations with it," Chief investigators Dr Jamie Flynn, Dr Antony Martin and Dr William Palmer explain. Photo credit: Gizmodo

Researchers from the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute are set to change the way cancer research is carried out. Introducing “The Virtual Biobank”, the world’s first online repository for digital copies of human cancer tissue, they hope to expedite cancer research and maximise resources.

Working in collaboration, the Hunter Medical Research converts collected tissue samples into 2D and 3D digital files via the aid of high resolution microscopy, while the University of Newcastle’s IT Department and Library Services programmes the online interface of The Virtual Biobank to make it accessible to researchers anytime and anywhere.

With an initial focus on breast cancer the team gradually shifted to rarer cancers as The Virtual Biobank could store perpetual data of these otherwise limited samples.

Though still in the early stages, The Virtual Biobank shows a great deal of promise not just in research but, in medical education too. The emphasis on interactivity means that integration with virtual reality may one day be possible.

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Does asparagus really cause cancer?

Asparagine found in asparagus has been linked to the development of breast cancer but are the results a cause for concern?
Asparagine found in asparagus has been linked to the development of breast cancer but are the results a cause for concern?

A recent study released in the journal Nature, caused a great deal of stir it suggested that asparagus may promote the spread of breast cancer – more specifically, the compound asparagine and its promotion of metastasis in aggressive forms of breast cancer in mice. But, is there really reason for concern?

For starters, the research was carried out in mice – which does not necessarily translate to similar effects in humans. Moreover, the research did not find any causal relationship between asparagine and breast cancer. Rather, it demonstrated an increased rate of metastasis in specific breast cancers.

While it bears a similar name to asparagus, asparagine can also be found in various foods such as protein-rich foods (dairy, poultry, beef) and plant-based foods (potato, legumes, nuts, soy), and is also naturally synthesised by the human body.

While these do not serve to undermine the findings of the research, the knowledge that asparagine may promote cancer spread is a vital tool for researchers and clinicians looking for a way to halt the spread of cancer. Researchers also have a better understanding of the interactions between amino acids, like asparagine, and cancer development.

Singapore’s Zika antibody, ready for human trials

Professor Ooi Eng Eong, one of the founders of Tychan has broken records by developing the world’s first Zika antibody in nine months. Photo credit: Tychan
Professor Ooi Eng Eong, one of the founders of Tychan has broken records by developing the world’s first Zika antibody in nine months. Photo credit: Tychan

Singapore-based clinical-stage biotechnology company, Tychan, has announced that its first-in-class monoclonal antibody for Zika, Tyzivumab, is ready for human trials. This comes after only nine months since Tyzivumab’s initial development, which witnessed a series of successful animal trials.

According to the company, Tyzivumab works by targeting the surface-exposed envelope protein of the Zika virus stopping it from fusing with host cells, subsequently preventing viral replication. Given the green light by Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority, the first phase of human trials will begin with 24 healthy volunteers.

Tychan’s ability to develop a Zika human antibody for trial at such a quick pace is largely attributed to in-house research and development. By integrating drug development and bio-manufacturing processes under the same roof, Tychan was able to reduce the time needed to bring new medication to the market.

Edible QR codes to revolutionise medicine safety

The landscape of healthcare is progressing towards a more personalised and catered approach. Most recently, The University of Copenhagen has developed edible QR codes to be printed on medicine tablets.

The QR codes, which are scannable by any compatible device – such as a smartphone camera – contain data about an individual’s medication, dosage and purpose. Once swallowed, the QR-coded edible substance naturally dissolves and delivers the medicine effectively, with the same results as a pill.

The scientists hope that this system solves the problem of misidentification for both the drug and patient, while improving safety standards. While several hurdles still exist – such as mass-producing the edible material, the need for a special printer and privacy concerns– the team remains optimistic in the concept. MIMS

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