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Archive - Dec 7, 2014

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World First—Scientists Convert Sunlight to Electricity with Over 40 Percent Efficiency

University of New South Wales (UNSW) solar researchers in Australia have converted over 40% of the sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity, the highest efficiency ever reported. The record efficiency was achieved in outdoor tests in Sydney, before being independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at their outdoor test facility in the United States. The work was funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and supported by the Australia-US Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics (AUSIAPV). "This is the highest efficiency ever reported for sunlight conversion into electricity," UNSW Scientia Professor and Director of the Advanced Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) Professor Martin Green said. "We used commercial solar cells, but in a new way, so these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry," added Dr. Mark Keevers, the UNSW solar scientist who managed the project. The 40% efficiency milestone is the latest in a long line of achievements by UNSW solar researchers spanning four decades. These include the first photovoltaic system to convert sunlight to electricity with over 20% efficiency in 1989, with the new result doubling this performance. "The new results are based on the use of focused sunlight, and are particularly relevant to photovoltaic power towers being developed in Australia," Professor Green said. Power towers are being developed by Australian company, RayGen Resources, which provided design and technical support for the high efficiency prototype. Another partner in the research was Spectrolab, a US-based company that provided some of the cells used in the project.

New Immunotherapy Drug Treatment Could Help Hodgkin Lymphoma Patients Post-Transplant

In a late-stage clinical trial, Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) patients who received brentuximab vedotin (BV) post-transplant lived longer without disease progression than patients who received only supportive care. This is the first time a study has demonstrated that adding a maintenance therapy after transplant can improve outcomes. The study, led by Craig H. Moskowitz, M.D., Clinical Director of the Division of Hematologic Oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, is to be presented on December 8, 2014 at the 56th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology in San Francisco, California. For the past 20 years, high doses of chemotherapy followed by an autologous transplant -- a procedure in which a patient's own blood-forming stem cells are collected and then transplanted back into the patient to produce new, healthy blood cells -- has been the standard of care for patients with HL who have relapsed or did not respond to initial therapy. This treatment approach typically cures about half of patients. For the other half of patients who remain at risk of disease progression after transplant, there is currently no standard therapy. "Immense progress has been made to reduce complications for transplant patients," said Dr. Moskowitz. "For most people, a transplant can cure disease. But despite our best efforts, improvements in outcomes have plateaued and new therapies are needed." BV is an antibody that targets the CD30 protein, which is found on HL cells. A total of 327 patients were randomized to receive either the drug or best supportive care after transplant.

Two Studies Show Immunotherapy Drugs Improve Outcomes in Hodgkin Lymphoma

In recent years, a number of scientific breakthroughs have led to the development of drugs that unleash the power of the immune system to recognize and attack cancer. Studies to be presented on December 8, 2014 at the 56th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) highlight the enormous potential these novel treatments have for patients with a variety of hematologic disorders. For classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL) patients, two phase I studies are already demonstrating dramatic results. A study led by Craig H. Moskowitz, M.D., Clinical Director of the Division of Hematologic Oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), showed that 66 percent of cHL patients had a complete or partial response after receiving the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab. "These results are quite extraordinary given the dire circumstances these patients were facing," said Dr. Moskowitz. "Pembrolizumab has already been approved for patients with advanced melanoma and we're excited that the drug is producing responses in other cancer types." Pembrolizumab is an inhibitor of PD-1, a protein on the surface of T cells that normally regulates the immune system by stopping T cell activation. Some cancers have developed ways of exploiting this shutdown mechanism by interacting with PD-1, enabling the cancer to escape T cell attack. Pembrolizumab blocks PD-1 from stopping T cell activation, allowing the T cells to keep fighting. MSK physicians played a major role in the clinical trials that led to pembrolizumab's approval and are continuing to conduct trials using the therapy in melanoma, lymphoma, and other cancers.

Immunotherapy with Nivolumab Achieves Breakthrough Result in Patients with Hodgkin Lymphoma

A therapy that liberates the immune system to attack cancer cells drove Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) into complete or partial remission in fully 87 percent of patients with resistant forms of the disease who participated in an early-phase clinical trial, investigators at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and partnering institutions report in a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine and simultaneously presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) in San Francisco. The results provide some of the most dramatic evidence to date of the potential of therapies that increase the ability of the immune system to kill cancer cells. While clinical trials of such immunotherapies in other cancers have shown them to be highly effective in a subgroup of patients, the new study stands out because nearly all patients benefited from the treatment. The success of the agent, nivolumab, in this study has prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to designate it a "breakthrough therapy" for treating relapsed HL, and a large, multinational Phase 2 trial is now under way. "What makes these results especially encouraging is that they were achieved in patients who had exhausted other treatment options," said the study's co-senior author, Margaret Shipp (image), M.D., Chief, Division of Hematologic Neoplasia at Dana-Farber. "We're also excited by the duration of responses to the drug: the majority of patients who had a response are still doing well more than a year after their treatment." The study involved 23 patients with relapsed or treatment-resistant HL, a cancer of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Although relatively uncommon - with less than 10,000 new cases each year in the U.S. - it is one of the most frequent cancers in children and young adults.

Micro RNAs in Circulating Exosomes May Provide Prognostic Tool for Multiple Myeloma

The "molecular mail" sent by multiple myeloma cells provides clues as to how well patients with the disease are likely to respond to treatment, according to a study being presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The findings, presented in poster form on December 6, 2014, may ultimately guide doctors in deciding which therapies are best for individual patients with multiple myeloma, the study authors say. The study focused on exosomes (see image), tiny sacs that cells release into the bloodstream as a way of communicating with other cells. The exosomes contain microRNA molecules, fragments of RNA that help control the activity of genes. The type of microRNA molecule in each exosome holds a specific message - an order to be conveyed to another cell. In the study, researchers isolated exosomes from the blood of 10 patients with multiple myeloma and five healthy volunteers, and extracted the microRNA molecules. They found the two groups harbored sharp differences in the levels of many microRNAs. The researchers then tested for 24 specific types of microRNAs in blood samples from 112 multiple myeloma patients who were participating in a French clinical trial of a new drug. By tracking the results against several years of patients' health data, they explored whether high or low levels of any of these microRNAs were associated with a particularly good or bad prognosis. They found that patients with low amounts of two microRNAs - known as let-7e and 106b/25 - survived for less time before their disease began to worsen than did the other patients.