Doctors have found an exciting new non-evasive light therapy that can help the body’s own cells fight cancer! Supporting our own bodies in fighting disease, aka immunotherapy, is one of the most popular and growing areas of cancer research. Let’s face it, people are tired of chemotherapy and would prefer to avoid dangerous surgeries if they can help it. Now, with new therapies such and this new light technology we can boost the body without harming it.
Assistant professor Yubin Zhou, Ph.D. from the Center for Translational Cancer Research located at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences & Technology is actively studying how light can be used to control our body’s immune system and use it to fight cancer.
“Although neuroscientists have been using light to stimulate neurons for years, this is the first time the technique, called optogenetics, has been used in the immune system,” Zhou said.
Typically in neuroscience, the scientists will engineer cells that will produce microbes that are light-sensitive. When exposed to different frequencies of light these microbes will produce proteins that can tell our nerves to send or stop sending nerve impulses.
“Neuroscientists have learned a lot about brain circuits using the technique,” Zhou said, “and now researchers in many other fields are giving it a try.”
Optogenetics and the Immune System
Zhou and his team have found a way to modify the technique in order to help the immune system. The work wasn’t easy: unlike nerve cells, your immune system’s cells don’t use known electrical impulses to communicate. Another challenge is that our immune system cells are deep inside the body and are constantly moving around making it hard to hit with the right amount of light.
They had to use some out of the box thinking and team work to figure out.
“We collaborated with Dr. Gang Han at the University of Massachusetts Medical School who does bionanotechnology and photomedicine development,” Zhou said. “Together, we were able to combine state-of-the-art optogenetic approaches with cutting edge nanotechnology.”
The new nanotechnology known as optogenetic immunomodulation was recently published in an article in eLife.
“This work was driven by talented scientists in the lab: graduate students Lian He and Peng Tan and postdoctoral research fellow Guolin Ma, Ph.D.,” Zhou said, “who fearlessly undertook this daunting project and overcame all the challenging obstacles to make this technique into reality.”
Doctors can use Light to Direct Immune System Cells
With this new technique, the researchers were able to control immune system cells and ‘instruct’ them to kill cancerous tumor cells. Using a near-infrared laser beam that is able to penetrate a few centimeters into your body the scientists can use nanoparticles to turn blue and direct the engineered immune cells to fight specific cancer cells. Just imagine a general and his
“We are able to wirelessly control the action of immune cells buried deep in tissue,” Zhou said.
The researchers found a way to modify the immune cells so that their calcium gate-controlling protein was light sensitive. When they are exposed to blue light which is emitted by the nanoparticle they ‘open the ion gates’. Once the light is turned off the gates then close. Researchers can increase the flow of calcium into the cells by increase the flow of light.
They are still working on fine tuning the calcium-dependent actions of our immune cells so that they can better target tumor cells and invading pathogens that our body would otherwise not notice or be focused on fighting.
When animal tumor tests were conducted they were able to boost the immune system response which aided in the bodies ability to kill the cancer cells.
“The technique reduced tumor size and metastasis, so there are lots of applications,” Zhou said.
One of the biggest advantages of this method is that it only actives a specific type of immune system cell, the T-cell, and only in the area of the body where the light is being shined. When you get chemotherapy the immune system response is bodywide which can be a miserable process. With this non-invasive light tunable technique, they can focus the immune response only on and around the area of concern.
“Other scientists will likely use the technique to help them study immune, heart and other types of cells that use calcium to perform their tasks,” Zhou said. “It’s quite a cool technology. With these tools, we can now not only answer fundamental questions of science that we never could before but also translate it into the clinic for disease intervention.”
Zhou’s lab has been using this technique in order to see how effective specific cancers drugs will even have on people.
“If successful,” Zhou said, “all these efforts would remarkably improve the current cancer immunotherapies by personalizing the treatment to exactly where and when it is needed, while reducing side effects.”
What possible issues do you see with this new light therapy and the genetically modified immune cells? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Image Credit: hands-to-heart.com
Biden to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Citing Health Impact on Youth and Black People
The Biden administration is reportedly planning to propose an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been targeted by anti-smoking advocates and critics who claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black people in the U.S.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration could announce a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes as soon as this week.
Roughly 85 percent of Black smokers use such menthol brands as Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research has also found that menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco products, along with other small cigars popular with young people and African Americans.
Civil rights advocates claim that the decision should be greeted by Black communities and people of color who have been marketed to by what they describe as the predatory tobacco industry.
Black smokers generally smoke far less than white smokers, but suffer a disproportionate amount of deaths due to tobacco-linked diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other causes.
Anti-smoking advocates like Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also greeted the move to cut out products that appeal to children and young adults.
“Menthol cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of youth smoking in the United States,” he said. “Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars used by so many kids will do more in the long run to reduce tobacco-related disease than any action the federal government has ever taken.”
However, groups including the American Civil Liberties Group (ACLU) has opposed the move, citing the likelihood that such an action could lead to criminal penalties arising from the enforcement of a ban hitting communities of color hardest.
In a letter to administration officials, the ACLU and other groups including the Drug Policy Alliance said that while the ban is “no doubt well-intentioned” it would also have “serious racial justice implications.”
“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter explained. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say
With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.
According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.
The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.
The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.
While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.
Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.
“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.
“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.
Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced
However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.
Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact
Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.
And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.
Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.
Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.
Death Toll, by Percent of Population
In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.
Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.
The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.
Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.
History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning
While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.
In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.
What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?
Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics
Republished from ZH with permission.