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Archive - Mar 7, 2015

Scent-Trained Dog Detects Thyroid Cancer in Urine Samples; Dog’s Accuracy Only Slightly Less Than That of Fine-Needle Aspiration Biopsy

A trained scent dog accurately identified whether patients' urine samples had thyroid cancer or were benign (noncancerous) 88.2 percent of the time, according to a new study, presented on March 6, 2015 at the Endocrine Society's 97th annual meeting in San Diego. "Current diagnostic procedures for thyroid cancer often yield uncertain results, leading to recurrent medical procedures and a large number of thyroid surgeries performed unnecessarily," said the study's senior investigator, Donald Bodenner, M.D., Ph.D., Chief of Endocrine Oncology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock, Arkansas. "Scent-trained canines could be used by physicians to detect the presence of thyroid cancer at an early stage and to avoid surgery when unwarranted," Dr. Bodenner commented. Although Dr. Bodenner is not yet basing patient treatment decisions on the canine technique, he said the dog's diagnostic accuracy is only slightly less than that of fine-needle aspiration biopsy, the method generally used first to test thyroid nodules for cancer. Canine scent detection has the advantages of being noninvasive and inexpensive, he said. Dr. Bodenner's colleague at UAMS and a study-coauthor, Dr. Arny Ferrando, Ph.D., previously "imprinted," or scent-trained, a rescued male German Shepherd-mix named Frankie to recognize the smell of cancer in thyroid tissue obtained from multiple patients. Dr. Ferrando, who noted that dogs have at least 10 times more smell receptors than humans do, said, "Frankie is the first dog trained to differentiate benign thyroid disease from thyroid cancer by smelling a person's urine."

VACCINE BREAKTHROUGH FOR HSV-1 & HSV-2: Radical Approach Using gD-Minus Herpes Virus Yields Highly Effective Candidate Vaccine; Passive Transfer from Immunized Mice Protects Against Disease

Herpes simplex virus infections are an enormous global health problem and there is currently no viable vaccine. For nearly three decades, immunologists' efforts to develop a herpes vaccine have centered on exploiting a single protein found on the virus's outer surface that is known to elicit robust production of antibodies. Breaking from this approach, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have created a genetic mutant lacking that protein. The result is a powerfully effective vaccine against herpes viruses. "We have a very promising new candidate for herpes," says William Jacobs, Ph.D., an HHMI investigator at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, "but this might also be a good candidate as a vaccine vector for other mucosal diseases, particularly HIV and tuberculosis." The new vaccine was found to be effective against the two most common forms of herpes that cause cold sores (HSV-1) and genital ulcers (HSV-2). Both are known to infect the body's nerve cells, where the virus can lie dormant for years before symptoms reappear. The new vaccine is the first to prevent this type of latent infection. "With herpes sores you continually get them," Dr. Jacobs says. "If our vaccine works in humans, as it does in mice, administering it early in life could completely eliminate herpes latency." Dr. Jacobs and his colleagues reported their findings online on March 10, 2015, in the journal eLife. HSV-2 is a lifelong, incurable infection that causes recurrent and painful genital sores and increases susceptibility to HIV. Also, babies born to mothers with active genital herpes have a more than 80 percent mortality rate.

Experimental Drug Can Reportedly Convert White Fat to Brown-Like Fat; Possible Implications for Obesity & Metabolic Disease

An experimental drug causes loss of weight and fat in mice, a new study has found. The study results Were presented on March 6, 2015 at the Endocrine Society's 97th annual meeting in San Diego. Known as GC-1, the drug reportedly speeds up metabolism, or burning off, of fat cells. "GC-1 dramatically increases the metabolic rate, essentially converting white fat, which stores excess calories and is associated with obesity and metabolic disease, into a fat-like calorie-burning brown fat," said study author Kevin Phillips, Ph.D., a researcher at Houston Methodist Research Institute, Houston. Until several years ago, scientists thought that only animals and human infants have energy-burning, "good" brown fat. "It is now clear," Dr. Phillips said, "that human adults do have brown fat, but appear to lose its calorie-burning activity over time." White adipose tissue, or fat, becomes a "metabolic villain," as Dr. Phillips called it, when the body has too much of it. Some published research shows that people who have more brown fat have a reduced risk of obesity and diabetes. Researchers are now working on ways to "brown" white fat, or convert it into brown fat. GC-1 works, according to Dr. Phillips, by activating the receptors for thyroid hormone, which play a role in regulating metabolism--the body's conversion of food into energy. Thyroid hormone receptors also help with adaptive thermogenesis, in which the body converts excess energy (calories and fat) to heat. Dr. Phillips said he and other researchers at Houston Methodist Research Institute have tested the drug in hundreds of mice, with partial research funding from the National Institutes of Health. Obese mice, both genetically obese and those with diet-induced obesity, received GC-1 treatment daily.

FDA Expands Approval of BMS Opdivo to Include Lung Cancer; Previously Approved for Unresectable or Non-Responsive Metastatic Melanoma

In a press release issued on March 4, 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the approved use of Opdivo (nivolumab) to include treatment of patients with advanced (metastatic) squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with progression on or after platinum-based chemotherapy. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, with an estimated 224,210 new diagnoses and 159,260 deaths in 2014. The most common type of lung cancer, NSCLC, affects seven out of eight lung cancer patients, occurring when cancer forms in the cells of the lung. Opdivo works by inhibiting the cellular pathway known as PD-1 protein on cells that blocks the body’s immune system from attacking cancerous cells. Opdivo is intended for patients who have previously been treated with platinum-based chemotherapy. “The FDA worked proactively with the company [Bristol-Myers Squibb] to facilitate the early submission and review of this important clinical trial when results first became available in late December 2014,” said Richard Pazdur, M.D., Director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “This approval will provide patients and health care providers knowledge of the survival advantage associated with Opdivo and will help guide patient care and future lung cancer trials.” Opdivo’s efficacy to treat squamous NSCLC was established in a randomized trial of 272 participants, of whom 135 received Opdivo and 137 received docetaxel. The trial was designed to measure the amount of time participants lived after starting treatment (overall survival). On average, participants who received Opdivo lived 3.2 months longer than those participants who received docetaxel.