Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Joachim Müller-Jung in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung deals with the importance of high quality tissue for the development of personalized cancer therapies. He quotes Catheryn Compton, Director of the NCI’s Office of Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research (OBBR), as saying that billions of dollars have been wasted in the past because researchers developing biomarkers supposed to be predicitive of cancer and responses to therapies relied on tissue samples that were utterly useless:  tissue had been subject to careless handling and storage, and patient histories, data on origin and sampling procedure were missing, so that results were not reproducible. Müller-Jung features Hamburg-based Indivumed as the first and only ISO9001:2008 certified biobank in the world which offers cancer patient tissue and related technical and medical data derived in a standardized procedure accompanied by a detailed protocol.

Jef Akst in The Scientist reports on a new biomarker that can tell at early stages of liver and rare endocrine cancer whether a patient is likely to develop metastases. The biomarker, a protein called CPE-delta N, was able to predict the occurrence of metastases with greater than 90% accuracy, and using the associated RNA as a biomarker, the accuracy was even greater. Preliminary findings suggest it may also be applied to other cancer types.

In the same magazine, Megan Scudellari reports on findings that human cells reprogrammed into multipoint stem cells (so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS) have hotspots in their genome that are not completely re-programmed. The article raises the question whether iPS are really suited to replace embryonic stem cells.

Detecting volatile substances is the topic of several papers. In New Scientist, Jessica Hamzelou reports on attempts by various research groups to accelerate diagnosis in the operation theater by combining electrosurgery with NMR spectroscopy. The smoke emanating from the cut tissue is directed to a NMR spectrometer which analyses on the spot whether the surgeon is cutting healthy or cancer tissue.

Also in New ScientistArlene Weintraub reports on the Israeli start-up BioExplorers which claims that trained mice are better at detecting explosives than currently used devices and methods. As soon as the mice sniff traces of any of 8 explosives, they flee to a side chamber of their cage as if they are smelling a cat. Scientists from Colorado State University have taught tobacco and mouse-ear cress plants a similar trick – exposed to vapors from TNT, the plants change color. The trick is done by reengineering a certain receptor, reports Ferris Jabr. German Spiegel features a publication by Japanese scientists from Kyushu University who trained a dog to sniff out early-stage colon cancer with a success rate of 90%. The researchers now try to find out which chemicals the dog reacts to.

Ben Coxworth in Gizmag reports on blood clots made visible by nanoparticles. Each particle, developed by Dr. Dipanjan Pan at the Washington University School of Medicine  in St. Louis, Missouri, contains a million atoms of bismuth  and molecules binding to fibrin, a key component of blood clots, at the outside. Bismuth is a toxic heavy metal, which can be detected by a spectral CT scanner. In contrast to regular CT scanners, this new type of scanner is capable of displaying detailed objects or metal in color. Coxworth concludes that “not only could the technology be used to locate blood clots, but it could possibly even treat their cause – ruptures in artery walls. If the nanoparticles contained some sort of healing agent, then once they attached to the fibrin in a blood clot, they could set about sealing any weak spots.”