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1. Three-in-one blood test may increase survival rates for prostate cancer patients

A three-in-one blood test, developed by The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust can predict a prostate cancer patient's response to PARP inhibitors, how well the drugs may impact survival, and how likely patients are to develop drug resistance.

The test takes into account the levels of cancer DNA and analyses the corresponding response to treatment. The study recruited 16 men and among those who responded to the drug, the team identified a median of 49.6% drop in circulating cancer DNA after eight weeks of treatment, compared to those that did not respond to the drug, which saw a median increase in circulating cancer DNA of 2.1%.

The finding indicates that levels of circulating cancer DNA could help doctors identify which patients are most likely to respond to PARP inhibitors. Patient survival was also linked to the levels of cancer DNA in the men. New biomarkers that can help predict a patient's risk of developing resistance to the drug have also been identified.

2. Use of statins may increase risk of Parkinson's disease

A study by the Penn State College of Medicine, found that the use of statins correlated with a higher risk of developing Parkinson's disease, with stronger effects especially when statin use was under 2.5 years.

It has been "hard to know if the statin['s] protective effect was due to the drug or preexisting cholesterol status," said Prof. Xuemei Huang who was part of the study. Taking into account this factor, the team studied medical insurance claim data from 50 million people. 22,000 people with Parkinson's disease were selected, 2,322 of whom were newly diagnosed with the disease. A control group was also identified.

Patients who had been taking statins were identified and the length of use before their first Parkinson's symptoms appeared was also recorded.

"Statin use was associated with higher, not lower, Parkinson's disease risk, and the association was more noticeable for lipophilic statins, an observation inconsistent with the current hypothesis that these statins protect nerve cells," Huang says.

The researchers were careful to point out that this does not mean that statins cause Parkinson's disease, but rather they should not be used based on the idea that they will protect against Parkinson's.

3. Caterpillar-cell vaccine, better protects against flu infections

The Flublok vaccine. Photo credit: WTNH
The Flublok vaccine. Photo credit: WTNH

A DNA-based vaccine developed in caterpillar cells instead of chicken eggs, appears to better protect adults against flu infection, researchers say. The vaccine, Flublok, is one-of-a-kind as it is developed from more modern technology.

A study in 90,000 people showed FluBlok was approximately 30% more effective than a standard flu vaccine in preventing influenza infection, researchers said.

This might be because they were developed from caterpillar cells. The conventional method of developing flu vaccines is to use chicken eggs as chickens are highly susceptible to flu and the virus thrives in the eggs. However, it also mutates more while it grows.

The caterpillar-cell method is also quick and clean to make, taking only roughly three to six weeks, as compared to six months with conventional vaccines.

4. Preeclampsia may be linked to babies' DNA

A large international genetic study of hundreds of thousands of children reveals that preeclampsia, could be linked to babies' DNA.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham report the findings of a five-year investigation, analysing DNA samples from children in Iceland, Norway, Finland and the UK.

The team carried out a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of 4,380 children born to mothers who developed preeclampsia during pregnancy and 310,238 whose mothers did not developed the condition.

Two previously unknown DNA variants were found to be significantly linked to preeclampsia. The variants, near a gene called FLT1 ̶ coding for a cell-surface receptor involved in creating new blood vessels ̶ are found to be quite common and occur in about half the population. However, they only raise the risk and does not cause preeclampsia.

The team is now analysing genomes of another 4,220 babies in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan who were born to women who had preeclamptic pregnancies to see if they have the same DNA variants.

5. Vaccine can lower "bad" cholesterol and heart attacks

Austrian scientists have developed a new vaccination that can prevent heart attacks and provide an effective alternative to statins.

Early research has been promising, showing that the injection can direct the immune system to lower cholesterol ̶ and if given annually to at-risk patients, may keep arteries unclogged and reduce the risk of heart disease.

The vaccine, known as AT04A, triggers the production of antibodies that target an enzyme involved in regulating levels of blood cholesterol ̶ the enzyme stalls the clearance of low-density lipoproteins.

Trials on mice showed that the total blood cholesterol lowered by 53% after being vaccinated. Atherosclerotic damage was reduced by 64% and biological markers of blood vessel inflammation went up by 28% compared with unvaccinated mice.

“If these findings translate successfully into humans, this could mean that, as the induced antibodies persist for months after a vaccination, we could develop a long-lasting therapy that, after the first vaccination, just needs an annual booster,” said Dr Gunther Staffler, chief technology officer at the Austrian biotech company AFFiRis, which developed the vaccine. MIMS

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