Understanding how cancer evolves is the key to stopping it

We started this blog as a means to talk to non-scientists about biology, and since we’re a group of evolutionary biologist, to talk mostly about evolutionary biology. My first post (oh those long years ago) was about Evolutionary Medicine. So imagine my delight with this recent article in the Atlantic addresses about how understanding evolution helps treat cancer. I don’t think I need to say this is awesome, but just in case… this is awesome.

Read about it here!

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The Ethical Quandaries of Synthetic Embryos

The breakneck speed of scientific research is resulting in a pile of unaddressed ethical questions.

For example: scientists have moved beyond invitro fertilization to assemble stem cells into embryolike structures. While this may be innocent at the moment, it’s a short walk tissues and organs and eventually take on the features of a mature human being.

All of a sudden ethicists are talking about “synthetic human entities with embryolike features”. It’s a slippery slope.

Read Carl Zimmer’s piece over at the Times for more.

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Why Your Dog Can Get Vaccinated Against Lyme Disease And You Can’t

Lyme disease: a bacterial disease vectored by ticks that can cause long-term health issues.

It turns out that a vaccine was developed when lyme disease was first discovered to be a serious problem on Cape Cod. AWESOME! FIGHT THOSE TERRIBLE DISEASES!

But anti-vaccine advocates protested that the vaccine caused arthritis (a symptom which was never seen in clinical trials, and there is no evidence linking arthritis to the vaccine) and in the media backlash it was taken off the market.

So although it exists, and your dog can get vaccinated and live a lyme disease free life, we the people cannot. Read all about it here.

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Superbugs: A list of priority antibiotic resistance bacteria

The World Health Organization announced its first list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” on Monday, detailing 12 families of bacteria that agency experts say pose the greatest threat to human health and kill millions of people every year.

The list isn’t meant to scare people, but to call attention to microbes for which research into antibiotics is needed.

Read about it at the Washington Post.

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This Thanksgiving, Be Thankful for Science

In a deeply divided country, some people are dreading going home for the holidays. The anticipation of political conversation, about who voted for who, and about the racist, misogynist bigot who is planning to soon lead the United States.

So instead of talking through some of these issues (although I encourage civil discord!), the New York Times has given us a list of science and health stories from 2016 that you can discuss instead!

You could talk about how science views fat and what we know about weight loss! Or instead of talking about fleeing the country, perhaps consider a move to Mars instead! Or you can talk about dogs, and what science knows about their relationships! 

Or you can talk about climate change, funding rates, the importance of teaching evolution and minorities in STEM! Not recommended by the NYTimes but always recommended by NiB.

Also, consider subscribing to the New York Times.

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When bad science goes mainstream: the treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

An 8 million dollar study came out in the Lancet ~5 years ago claiming that if you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, otherwise known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, the best treatment is exercise and psychotherapy.

However, after years of demanding they release their data (which they did under a court order), it has now been revealed that the study was just plain bad science.

Read about the controversy, the study, and the retraction (hopefully) over at STAT.

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Another Bacteria that Causes Lyme Disease

Sure, finding new and interesting species and describing them is exciting.

But finding new bacteria that cause a well understood disease? Equally if not more exciting (my little parasitic loving heart is all aflutter!).

While it has long been thought that lyme disease is caused by one bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi), researchers at Mayo Clinic found something floating around in blood samples of people suspected of having Lyme disease that is totally different.

It has been named Borrelia mayoniiand it is remarkably similar to it’s lyme disease causing brethren. But it also has some important differences.

Read all about it over at NPR

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The CRISPR revolution: Where are the profits?

Usually when an industry gets a booming industry it is largely due to profitability, which garners interest from investors.

But in biotech there is a section of the industry that is gaining investors and various firms chasing a similar goal. However, how that is happening is a mystery. The companies are burning through millions, hasn’t started clinical work on a drug candidate and it will be years, “if ever” before it has something commercializable.

What industry am I referring to? CRISPR-Cas9 technology. We’ve talked on the blog before about the possibilities CRISPR has to offer human health, but over at The Economist here’s a post about whether or not it can be all we dream it to be.

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Have you heard of the Zika virus?

The Zika virus has been a rare tropical disease since it’s discovery in 1947. It’s a mosquito born virus that has been spreading at an alarming rate. It was previously confined to a few dozen cases ever (all in Africa) to millions of cases across South America.

The initial symptoms are quite mild. But there is evidence that it may in fact cause microcephaly, or babies born with small heads/brains. Which isn’t mild at all.

Consider Brazil. Over the past year ~ 1.5 million people have been infected. The virus is thought to have arrived with World Cup travelers in 2014, and spread rapidly. But what’s alarming, rather than simple flu like symptoms the rate of microcephaly in Brazil has increased 10 fold. (From several hundred to several thousand).

And what’s more, it has just been found in Puerto Rico, suggesting it could soon appear in the US.

Read about it over at Vox.

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Jose Wesley, a Brazilian baby shown here on Dec. 23, 2015, was born with microcephaly. His mother was diagnosed with the Zika virus that researchers think may cause the birth defect. (AP Photo)

 

 

 

Gut Microbes are Important for Cancer Treatment

We have written so much about the rapidly expanding study of human microbiomes, I don’t think I need to point them all out (but if you want to check them out, try here, here, here, here and here).

Well, it turns out understanding the human microbiome is important for one more thing. Fighting cancer.

Two independent research teams have demonstrated that gut microbes can dramatically alter the immune system’s ability to deal with cancer (in mice). This includes 1) an individual’s natural immunity to cancer and 2) how well they respond to immunotherapy cancer drugs.

Read about it over at the Atlantic!

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