Medical News Today: How immune cells can be controlled to kill cancer

By engineering cancer-killing T cells that can be manipulated noninvasively by remote control, researchers have added a potentially powerful feature to an already promising type of immunotherapy known as CAR T cell therapy.
t cells attacking cancer cells
A less invasive, more powerful treatment for cancer could be on the horizon.

A report on the study, led by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), is now published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Immunotherapy, a relatively new approach to fighting cancer, manipulates and strengthens the patient’s own immune system to eliminate tumors.

One type of immunotherapy that is emerging rapidly is chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR T cell) therapy.

In CAR T cell therapy, immune cells called T cells are taken from a person and genetically modified in the laboratory so that they can recognize and kill cancer cells more effectively. The engineered cells are then multiplied and put back into the person.

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Designed to kill cancer cells

The genetically modified part of the T cell is the chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). It contains various synthetic elements, including one that can recognize unique features of tumor cells known as tumor-associated antigens, and another that activates the T cell to kill the target.

As new generations of CAR T cell therapy have been developed, the CAR has become increasingly sophisticated and acquired more features, including some that boost the anti-tumor power and persistence of the modified T cells.

Two CAR T cell therapies have recently been approved in the United States: one for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children, and another for the treatment of advanced lymphoma in adults.

However, there are now concerns surrounding whether this type of immunotherapy can be used effectively to treat cancers with solid tumors, such as those of the breast and colon.

One concern is whether or not the engineered T cells can be made powerful enough to overcome the resistance that the microenvironment inside a solid tumor has to immune responses.

Renier J. Brentjens, a medical oncologist and an early pioneer of CAR T cell therapy, says that what is needed is a “super T cell.”

He and his team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, NY, are working on a solution to the microenvironment resistance problem that they call an “armored CAR T cell.”

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Mechanogenetic features added to T cells

Another concern that poses a challenge to therapy developers is that the “non-specific targeting of CAR T cells against nonmalignant tissues can be life-threatening,” says Peter Yingxiao Wang, a bioengineering professor at UCSD and one of the senior investigators on the new study.

In their journal report, Prof. Wang and the rest of the study team describe how they added new features to CAR T cell therapy in which the T cells carry modules that can be manipulated to produce gene and cell changes through remotely controlled and noninvasive ultrasound.

They believe that the new features potentially make CAR T cell therapy more powerful at fighting cancer and less likely to produce adverse side effects.

They say that there is a “critical need” for tools that can work in this way, particularly when translating new experimental treatments into animals and humans.

The new approach is an example of mechanogenetics, which is a new field that manipulates mechanical properties at the level of cells to alter gene expression and cell functions.

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‘Unprecedented precision and efficiency’

The team engineered the CAR on the T cells to carry mechano-sensors loaded with microbubbles that vibrate when exposed to ultrasound waves.

The microbubbles activate a protein encoded by a gene called Piezo Type Mechanosensitive Ion Channel Component 1 (PIEZO1). The PIEZO1 protein is a “mechanically activated ion channel that links mechanical forces to biological signals.”

Once activated, the PIEZO1 channel allows calcium ions to enter the T cell. This action triggers a cascade of molecular reactions that switch on genes that help the T cell to recognize and kill cancer cells.

“This work,” Prof. Wang says, “could ultimately lead to an unprecedented precision and efficiency in CAR T cell immunotherapy against solid tumors, while minimizing off-tumor toxicities.”

CAR T cell therapy is becoming a paradigm-shifting therapeutic approach for cancer treatment.”

Prof. Peter Yingxiao Wang

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Medical News Today: Thoracotomy: Procedures and recovery

A thoracotomy is a type of surgery that is carried out on a person’s chest. It is often used during the treatment of lung cancer.

This article looks at the various uses of a thoracotomy, how the procedure works, and what the outlook is after surgery.

What is a thoracotomy?

Surgeons preparing to perform thoracotomy in operating theater.
A thoracotomy may be required for a number of reasons, including treating lung cancer.

A thoracotomy is an incision made in the chest. Surgeons and doctors in emergency situations may use it to access the organs within the chest.

The organs in the chest or thorax are called the thoracic organs. These include:

  • heart
  • lungs
  • food pipe or esophagus
  • diaphragm

A thoracotomy also allows access to part of the aorta, which is the body’s largest artery.

Thoracotomies are often used to treat or diagnose a problem with one of these organs or structures. The most common reason to have a thoracotomy is to treat lung cancer.

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There are various uses for a thoracotomy. These include:

Lung cancer treatment

Lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2018 there will be approximately 234,030 new cases of lung cancer in the United States.

Opening the chest allows the doctor to operate on the lungs, as part of lung cancer treatment.

Removal of a rib

Removal of a rib, or part of a rib or resection, may be necessary if the bone has fractured in a way that means it might puncture an organ.

It may also be necessary to remove all or part of a rib if the bone has become cancerous.

A thoracotomy to open the chest gives the doctor access to a person’s ribs, making these surgeries possible.


In an emergency situation, such as when someone has a chest injury, a thoracotomy may be needed to resuscitate them.

An emergency thoracotomy opens up the chest, allowing the doctor to:

  • control bleeding from the heart or thoracic blood vessels
  • carry out cardiac compressions to pump blood
  • relieve pressure on the heart from any accumulated fluid

These procedures give the doctor the chance to save a person’s life.


Surgeons looking at screen to plan operation.
Different incisions will be used depending on the reason for the surgery.

Before undergoing a thoracotomy, a person will be put under general anesthetic. They may also be given an epidural, which delivers pain medication into the spine. These measures ensure the person is asleep and unable to feel anything during the surgery.

To carry out a thoracotomy, the doctor will make an incision in the chest. There are different places on the chest that the incision can be made, depending on the reason for the thoracotomy.

These include:

  • Axillary thoracotomy: This is where an incision is made into the thorax from the side, under a person’s arm.
  • Median sternotomy: This is where an incision is made into the thorax from the front, through the person’s breastbone.
  • Intercostal approach: This is where the incision is made between the ribs to reduce that amount of damage to muscles, nerves, and bones.
  • “L shaped” thoracotomy: This is an unusual type of thoracotomy performed in an emergency situation before a person reaches the hospital. According to a 2010 study, the procedure can be carried out with minimal equipment.

During the operation, a tube is passed down the windpipe to enable the lung being operated on to be deflated. When this is happening, a mechanical device keeps the other lung inflated.

After this, lung cancer treatment, rib removal, or resuscitation can be carried out.

If a person is being treated for lung cancer, there are different procedures available, depending on the severity and location of the cancer.

Lung cancer procedures

When a person is being treated for lung cancer, the doctor may carry out one of the following procedures:

  • Lobectomy: This is where the lobe of lung tissue affected by cancer is removed.
  • Segmentectomy: Also known as a wedge resection, this is where a small wedge-shaped piece of lung is removed.
  • Resection: This is where a tumor or growth on the lung is removed through an incision.
  • Pneumonectomy: If cancer has spread throughout the organ, a thoracotomy allows the doctor to remove the whole lung.
  • Biopsy: This is when a sample of tissue is taken to help diagnose a disease. Opening the chest allows the doctor to access any of the thoracic organs to take the sample.

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There are several risks and potential side effects associated with a thoracotomy, including:

Side effects of anesthetic

Patient in hospital bed post surgery, with doctor speaking to them.
It is important to discuss side effects and risks with a medical professional before undergoing a thoracotomy.

A thoracotomy requires a person to be put under general anesthetic so that they are not awake during the procedure and do not feel any pain.

Using general anesthetic may have the following side effects:

Risk of hemorrhage

During the operation, there is a risk of hemorrhage or excess bleeding. This is because the lungs have many blood vessels that may be damaged during the procedure.

Risk of blood clot

There is also a risk of developing a blood clot during a thoracotomy. This may start in the leg, which is called deep vein thrombosis.

Although rare, this clot may travel to the lung, causing a pulmonary embolism, which is a sudden blockage of a major artery in the lung.

Risk of a collapsed lung

When the tube is removed from the chest after the operation, there is a risk of something called pneumothorax or a collapsed lung. This is where air gets trapped between the lung and the chest wall, causing sharp pain.

To reduce the risk of this, the doctor will remove the tube just after the person has inhaled or exhaled.

Risk of infection

After the surgery, some liquid may drain from the incision. It is vital to keep the wound clean and dry to reduce the risk of infection.

Risk of pneumonia

There is also a risk of pneumonia after surgery. Deep breathing and coughing exercises help to reduce the risk of developing this lung condition.

Pain relief is essential after surgery, as it makes deep breathing and coughing easier. Breathing and coughing without pain can help speed up recovery.

Risk of paralysis

In rare cases, people have experienced paraplegia after a thoracotomy. This 2002 study explores three cases where this has occurred.

Thoracotomy vs. thoracostomy

A thoracotomy and a thoracostomy sound similar, but they are two different procedures.

A thoracotomy is an incision in the chest and is normally carried out so the doctor can operate on the heart, lungs, or other structures in the chest. This is a way to treat lung cancer.

In contrast, a thoracostomy is a procedure that is used to drain the space between the lungs and chest wall of excess fluid, blood, or air.

A thoracostomy may be necessary if a person has:

  • a lung infection, such as pneumonia
  • a chest injury that is causing bleeding
  • an infection in the pleural space between the lungs and chest wall
  • fluid buildup caused by cancer or chest surgery

A thoracostomy is done using a tube that is placed in the space between the lungs and the chest wall.

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Outlook and recovery

The outlook for a person who has had a thoracotomy depends on the reason they had the procedure. For example, if the thoracotomy is for lung cancer, a person’s outlook depends on the stage of the disease.

The thoracotomy wound should heal within 2 months, and the pain will gradually decrease over this time.

In some cases, nerves become damaged during surgery. This may cause ongoing pain and is called post-thoracotomy pain syndrome.

If a person experiences pain or side effects after surgery, they should speak to their doctor as soon as possible.

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Medical News Today: What is hairy cell leukemia and how is it treated?

Hairy cell leukemia is a type of hematologic cancer. This type of cancer starts in the tissues that form blood, such as the bone marrow, or in the cells of the immune system.

Hairy cell leukemia accounts for approximately 2 percent of all leukemias, is more common in men than in women, and is also more frequent in older people. Around 1,000 new cases are reported every year in the United States.

It is a rare form of leukemia, in which the bone marrow produces an excessive amount of a type of white blood cell called B cells. These abnormal B cells do not develop into healthy cells but instead become harmful cells known as leukemia cells.

Leukemia cells can build up in the blood or the bone marrow, taking up space from healthy cells. This may weaken the body’s immune system and make it more prone to infections, anemia, and bleeding.

The name “hairy” comes from the way the leukemia cells look under a microscope — they resemble hair.


Older men may have an increased risk of developing hairy cell leukemia.
Older men may have an increased risk of developing hairy cell leukemia.

Hairy cell leukemia progresses slowly, if at all. A person may have few or no symptoms in the early stages of the disease.

When symptoms appear, they may include one or several of the following:

  • frequent infections
  • fever
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue or weakness
  • bone pain, particularly below the ribs
  • easy bruises
  • easy bleeding
  • enlarged liver or spleen
  • excessive sweating, particularly at night
  • lumps in the neck, underarm, stomach, or groin with no pain
  • weight loss for no known reason

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The causes of hairy cell leukemia are not fully understood.

Doctors think that a mutation known as V600E in a specific gene is responsible for most cases of hairy cell leukemia. This gene is the BRAF gene.

Men and older people may have an increased risk of developing this disease.


A slide showing hairy cell leukemia.<!--mce:protected %0A--><br>Image credit: National Cancer Institute, ID: 2159, 1985</br>
A slide showing hairy cell leukemia.
Image credit: National Cancer Institute, ID: 2159, 1985

A doctor may make a diagnosis of hairy cell leukemia based on physical exams, medical questions, and tests that look at the person’s blood and bone marrow cells.

Physical exam

A general body examination to check the person’s overall physical health for unusual signs or symptoms.

The exam may include searching for lumps or swelling that could be enlarged lymph nodes or signal an enlarged spleen or liver.

Medical history

Collecting information about the person’s health habits, past illnesses, and treatments.

Complete blood count (CBC)

A sample of blood is collected and examined to measure a variety of things:

  • amounts of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets
  • the amount of hemoglobin attached to red blood cells
  • the hematocrit, which is the proportion of the sample that is made up of red blood cells

Blood chemistry tests

Analysis of a blood sample to measure the levels of certain substances that are released by organs and tissues into the bloodstream. An unusually high or low amount of these substances can be a sign of a disease.

Peripheral blood smear

Checking a person’s blood sample under the microscope to look for changes in the shape of blood cells and the appearance of a “hairy” look. Doctors also check for the amount and type of white blood cells as well as the number of platelets.

Bone marrow aspiration or biopsy

Collection of a small sample of the person’s bone marrow, blood, or bone by inserting a hollow needle into the bone in the hip or breast area. This sample is then examined under the microscope to look for “hairy” leukemia cells, and to track healthy blood cells.

Cytogenetic analysis

Analysis of tissue cells under the microscope to look for genetic abnormalities.


Analysis of markers on the surface of blood or bone marrow cells. Doctors will compare these with healthy cells of the immune system to determine what type of cells they are.

Flow cytometry

Tests a blood sample to estimate the number of cells, and the percentage of living cells it contains. The sample can also reveal other characteristics of cells, including the size, shape, and presence of tumor markers on the cell surface.

For this test, cells are stained with a fluorescent dye and suspended in a liquid. By passing a light beam through the cells, a doctor can identify their characteristics by the way the cells scatter light.

Computed tomography (CT) scan

A test that consists of making several X-ray images, from different angles, of specific body areas. A dye may sometimes be swallowed or infused into the person’s veins so that a doctor can see the organs and tissues more clearly.

A CT scan of the chest, abdomen, or pelvis may be performed to look for swollen lymph nodes or a swollen spleen.

Gene mutation test

A laboratory test that examines a blood or bone marrow sample to look for mutations in the BRAF gene. This gene is mutated in around 80–90 percent of people with hairy cell leukemia.

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Hairy cell leukemia progresses slowly, and so some people survive for many years without receiving treatment.

When treatment is necessary, treatment options can depend on several factors, such as:

  • how far the leukemia has developed
  • the proportion of leukemia cells to healthy blood cells in the blood and bone marrow
  • the presence of a swollen spleen
  • the presence of signs or symptoms of leukemia, such as infections
  • the return of the leukemia after the previous treatment
  • the person’s age, level of fitness, and general health status

Different types of treatment are available to people with hairy cell leukemia. These include standard treatments used in clinical practice and treatments that are studied in clinical trials.

Here are five different types of standard treatments currently being used:

1. Watchful waiting

Careful monitoring of the person’s condition to watch for new signs or symptoms before deciding that it is necessary to start treatment.

2. Surgery

A surgical procedure, known as splenectomy, to remove the spleen.

With the emergence of new effective treatment options, this procedure is now rarely used. It may be used to treat pregnant women to delay the use of other treatments, such as chemotherapy.

3. Chemotherapy

A type of therapy that stops the progression of cancer by killing cancer cells or stopping them from dividing.

Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, chemotherapy can be given orally or injected.

The chemotherapy drugs cladribine and pentostatin are the standard first-line treatments for hairy cell leukemia. Bendamustine is another chemotherapy drug that can be used in people who get worse after the initial treatment.

4. Biologic therapy

Also known as immunotherapy, biologic therapy is a type of treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Alpha-interferon is one type of biologic agent used to treat hairy cell leukemia.

5. Targeted therapy

A form of treatment that recognizes and attacks cancer cells without harming healthy cells.

Targeted therapy includes the use of monoclonal antibodies, which are molecules made in the laboratory that identify and attach to substances on cancer cells or substances that help cancer cells grow. Doing so prevents cancer from growing or spreading.

In hairy cell leukemia, rituximab is a commonly used monoclonal antibody. Others, such as obinutuzumab and ofatumumab, are being studied.

Other targeted therapies that doctors use for people with mutations in the BRAF gene are ibrutinib and vemurafenib.

Natural treatment options that could help

Acupuncture may be a natural treatment for hairy cell leukemia
Acupuncture may help to relieve nausea brought on by chemotherapy.

Natural treatment options cannot cure hairy cell leukemia. However, some may help people deal with their disease or with the side effects of treatment.

Natural treatments that may help include:

  • Acupuncture: a procedure where fine needles are inserted in specific body points to relieve nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
  • Massage: therapeutic manipulation and application of pressure to body tissues and muscles to reduce anxiety and fatigue.
  • Mind-body therapies: guided meditation and relaxation techniques to help relax and relieve pain.
  • Aromatherapy: the use of fragrant oils to give a sense of well-being and relieve stress. These substances can be directly massaged into the skin, added to bath water, or heated to release their scent.

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Treatment of hairy cell leukemia has a high rate of success, and most people have a similar life expectancy to healthy people of the same age. However, people below 40 years old may have a lower life expectancy compared with people of the same age.

Hairy cell leukemia is considered a chronic cancer, as it never completely goes away. However, most people with the disease usually experience an extended period with few or no symptoms after the initial treatment.

Once a person is in remission, they will still require follow-up visits with their doctor to monitor blood counts and their health condition. If a person gets worse or sees their disease come back, they can be retreated and enter another remission.

A person’s chances of recovering from hairy cell leukemia depend on whether the disease responds to treatment, and on whether it does not progress or progresses so slowly that it does not require treatment.

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Medical News Today: The perils of sneezing incorrectly

A newly published study describes what can happen if you block your nostrils and close your mouth during a sneeze — and it isn’t pretty. The following advice should be heeded.
Man sneezing powerfully
Do you know how to sneeze safely?

Although no one likes a cold, you have to admit that a powerful sneeze can feel pretty good. In fact, I’ve heard that a sneeze is equivalent to one third of an orgasm.

I’m fairly sure that that statistic isn’t backed up by peer-reviewed research, but you get my point.

But, as a wise man once said, “All that glitters is not gold.” Sneezing may give you a pleasurable shiver, but, as we shall learn, it can also cause significant damage to your innards if you do it wrong.

Ruptured throat? No thanks

Spontaneous rupture of the back of the throat is a rare occurrence. When it does happen, it is most often caused by a surgical procedure gone wrong or blunt neck trauma.

So, when a young, healthy 34-year-old who hadn’t been in an accident rocked up at an emergency room with a ruptured throat, the doctors were a tad perplexed.

The man explained that he had attempted to quash a sneeze by blocking his nostrils and mouth. He experienced an immediate popping sensation in his neck, which quickly swelled up. As time passed, it became painful to swallow, and his voice vanished almost entirely.

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When the doctors examined him, they detected cracking and popping sounds, or crepitus, from his neck down to his ribcage. Crepitus is a sign that air bubbles have gained entrance to the deep tissues and muscles of the chest.

A scan confirmed that, as expected, the man had air bubbles in places where there shouldn’t be any air.

It turns out that one of the man’s sinuses, perhaps the piriform sinus, had perforated thanks to the sudden increase in pharyngeal pressure.

Just to give you the low-down on related medical terminology, when a gas enters tissues beneath the skin, it is referred to as subcutaneous emphysema. Meanwhile, pneumomediastinum occurs when air is found in the mediastinum, which is the central compartment of the thoracic cavity.

This unfortunate man experienced both of the above.

As the risk of complication was high, he was taken to hospital, fed by tube, and given intravenous antibiotics until his swelling and discomfort went away. In total, he spent 7 days in hospital before he was well enough to leave.

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Planning your next sneeze

This intriguing, distressing story is reported in the latest edition of BMJ Case Reports. The article is titled “Snap, crackle, and pop: When sneezing leads to crackling in the neck.”

Before you become consumed with panic, it’s worth noting that this tale of woe was published in an illustrious journal because it is particularly uncommon. Having said that, is it really worth the risk? The advice from the authors is clear:

Halting sneezing via blocking [the] nostrils and mouth is a dangerous maneuvre, and should be avoided.”

The study authors also warn that plugging your facial holes as you sneeze might perforate your tympanic membrane, or eardrum, or even cause the rupture of a cerebral aneurysm, which is a “ballooning blood vessel in the brain.”

So, what should you do? You don’t want to fire germs willy-nilly from all your facial orifices each time you sneeze, especially not during flu season — you’re more considerate than that, I know.

The best advice — if you don’t have a handkerchief or tissue to hand — is to sneeze into the crook of your elbow; this will prevent wide distribution of your unwanted microbial flora. It also keeps the germs off your hands, making you less likely to spread them when you open doors, shake hands, play patty cake, or give a colleague a high five.

Bless you.

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Medical News Today: Can a Western diet permanently alter the immune system?

The immune system’s response to the Western diet is similar to how it reacts to infection by dangerous bacteria, according to new research led by the University of Bonn in Germany and published in the journal Cell.
some western diet foods
What does eating a lot of fast food do to your immune system?

Another disturbing result of the study is that, in the longer-term, a Western diet can make the immune system become hyper-responsive to inflammation triggers.

According to the findings, even changing to a healthful diet does not seem to undo the damage.

The long-term changes may contribute to type 2 diabetes, arteriosclerosis, and several other conditions wherein inflammation is thought to play a part, and which have been linked to consumption of a Western diet.

For the study, the researchers fed atherosclerosis-prone mice on a Western diet comprising high-calorie, high-fat, low-fiber, and fast food.

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The Western diet altered gene expression

After just 1 month, the mice showed changes throughout their bodies that are similar to the strong inflammation reactions that occur in bacterial infections.

“The unhealthy diet,” says lead study author Anette Christ, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bonn, “led to an unexpected increase in the number of certain immune cells in the blood of the mice, especially granulocytes and monocytes.”

This led the team to explore what might be happening further upstream, in the bone marrow, where the precursors, or progenitors, of these particular types of immune cell are located.

The researchers compared major immune cell bone marrow progenitors from mice that had been fed on a Western diet with those of control mice that had been fed on a more healthful, normal cereal diet.

They found that the Western diet had switched on many genes in the progenitor cells, including some that increase proliferation and enhance responses from the innate immune system.

The innate immune system is a part of the immune system that reacts with a rapid, broad response to infection, which is later followed by a more specific reaction from the adaptive immune system.

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Healthful diet did not reverse gene activation

The acute inflammation response died down in the Western diet mice after they were placed on their normal cereal diet for 4 weeks.

But switching to the more healthful diet failed to reverse the fundamental alterations in the innate immune system, and many of the genes that had been activated by the Western diet stayed active.

“It has only recently been discovered,” notes senior study author Prof. Eicke Latz, the director of the Institute for Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn, “that the innate immune system has a form of memory.”

There is a process called “innate immune training,” he explains, which is normally triggered by bacterial infection, but in the case of the mice in the study, it was triggered by a Western diet.

Innate immune training ensures that after infection, the body remains “in a kind of alarm state,” so its defenses can “respond more quickly to a new attack,” Prof. Latz adds.

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Protein sees the Western diet as a pathogen

The team also discovered that a protein called NLR family pyrin domain containing 3 (NLRP3) is the immune system sensor that recognizes the Western diet as a pathogen and therefore triggers the inflammatory response.

In addition, it seems that as well as triggering inflammatory responses through NLRP3, the Western diet also causes long-term epigenetic changes in the packaging of genetic material, so that parts of DNA that are normally difficult to access are easier to read.

“The immune system consequently reacts even to small stimuli with stronger inflammatory responses,” explains Prof. Latz.

In a final set of tests, the team confirmed the role of NLRP3 by showing that mice bred to lack the protein did not develop systemic inflammation from a Western diet, and neither did they show some of the other longer-term changes involving the protein.

The researchers conclude that NLRP3 brokers the trained immunity that follows from a Western diet and “could thereby mediate the potentially deleterious effects of trained immunity in inflammatory diseases.”

Prof. Latz says that the findings highlight the dramatic impact that the wrong kind of food can have, and that they have important implications for society.

“Children have a choice of what they eat every day. We should enable them to make conscious decisions regarding their dietary habits,” he adds.

The foundations of a healthy diet need to become a much more prominent part of education than they are at present.”

Prof. Eicke Latz

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Medical News Today: Types of zoonotic diseases

Zoonosis is the name given to diseases or infections that can be transmitted between humans and animals.

Many people interact with animals during their daily lives, and millions of households in the United States have pets. Other people come into contact with animals through their work, such as farming, or in the wild.

In this article, we look at the common types of zoonotic diseases and how they can be prevented.

What is zoonosis?

Chicken in chicken coop, which may spread zoonosis.
Many different types of animals may spread zoonotic diseases, including chickens.

Zoonosis refers to diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. They are sometimes called zoonotic diseases.

Animals can carry harmful germs, such as bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. These are then shared with humans and cause illness. Zoonotic diseases range from mild to severe, and some can even be fatal.

Zoonotic diseases are widespread both in the U.S. and worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 61 percent of all human diseases are zoonotic in origin, while 75 percent of new diseases discovered in the last decade are zoonotic.

Before the introduction of new hygiene regulations around 100 years ago, zoonotic diseases such as bovine tuberculosis, bubonic plague, and glanders caused millions of deaths. They are still a major problem in developing countries.

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Common zoonotic illnesses include:


Rabies is a disease that affects the nervous system of mammals. It is usually caused by a virus and is transmitted if an infected animal bites a person or other animal.

Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. However, rabies vaccines exist and are commonly available.

Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Lyme disease is transmitted through tick bites. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, but it can be treated using antibiotics.

Dengue, malaria, and chikungunya

These are mosquito-borne diseases and are more common in certain areas, such as the Caribbean.

Symptoms include fever, vomiting, and headaches. It is vital to treat these conditions as soon as possible, as they can be fatal.

Salmonella infection

Salmonella is often caused by handling reptiles or amphibians that carry Salmonella, or by handling baby chicks or ducks.

The illness usually lasts for between 4 and 7 days, and symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. People can usually recover without medical treatment, although conservative measures are recommended.

E. coli infection

This infection is often caused by touching infected animals or handling contaminated food. Cows also have E. coli germs on their udders.

Often associated with food poisoning, salmonella can cause vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. It is essential that infected people rest and drink plenty of fluids.


Also known as ornithosis or parrot fever, psittacosis is a bacterial disease that most often affects birds. Humans can get it from feathers, secretions, and droppings.

Symptoms include fever, headache, and dry cough. In serious cases, it may cause pneumonia and require a hospital visit.

Other types

There are hundreds of zoonotic diseases, but many are rare. Other well-known types include:


Zoonotic diseases can be transferred from animals to humans in several different ways, including:

Direct contact

Person holding a turtle, one reptile which may spread salmonella.
Direct contact is one potential cause of the spread of zoonotic diseases.

Direct contact involves coming into contact with the bodily fluids of an infected animal, such as saliva, blood, urine, mucus, or feces.

This can happen because of merely touching or petting infected animals, or being bitten or scratched by one.

Water resources that are contaminated by manure can also contain a great variety of zoonotic bacteria and therefore increase the risk of that bacteria transferring to humans.

Indirect contact

Indirect contact involves coming into contact with an area where infected animals live or roam, or by touching an object that has been contaminated by an infected animal.

Common areas where this occurs include:

  • aquarium tanks
  • chicken coops
  • pet baskets, cages, or kennels
  • pet food and water dishes
  • plants and soil where infected animals have been

Farmers, abattoir workers, zoo or pet shop workers, and veterinarians have an increased risk of being exposed to zoonotic diseases. They can also become carriers and pass those diseases on to other people.


A vector is a living organism that transfers an infection from an animal to a human, or another animal.

They are often arthropods. Common vectors include:

  • mosquitoes
  • ticks
  • fleas
  • lice

The vector will bite the infected animal and then bite a human, passing on the zoonotic disease.


Zoonosis can come from contaminated animal food products, improper food handling, or inadequate cooking.

Around 1 in 6 American people will get sick at some point in their lives by eating or drinking contaminated food or drink.

Common causes of zoonosis through food-borne include:

  • unpasteurized milk
  • undercooked meat or eggs
  • raw fruit and vegetables contaminated with feces from an infected animal

Other causes

Global climate change, the overuse of antimicrobials in medicine, and more intensified farm settings are also thought to influence the increasing rate of zoonotic diseases.

People with a weakened immune system are also at greater risk. Common causes of immune-suppression include:

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Person washing their hands in sink under running tap water.
Practicing good hygiene by washing hands after handling animals and before preparing food may help to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases.

People come into contact with animals all the time, but there are several steps a person can take to help prevent infection. These include:

  • Keeping hands clean: Washing hands with clean soap and running water after being around animals, even if not touching them, can stop germs spreading.
  • Choosing a pet wisely: Thoroughly researching types of pets and taking steps to be safe around them can help prevent disease.
  • Preventing bites from mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas: Using bug sprays, wearing long trousers and sleeves, and staying away from wooded areas can help prevent bites.
  • Handling food safely: A person can prevent infections, such as salmonella, by ensuring food is cooked properly, that food preparation areas are clean, and by washing dishes and pots after use.
  • Researching diseases before travel: Being aware of the different types of zoonotic diseases when traveling and taking precautionary steps with vaccines are essential.

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Medical News Today: What are the best foods for weight loss?

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Medical News Today: What is fibrosarcoma and what are the symptoms?

Fibrosarcoma is a rare type of cancer that affects cells known as fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are responsible for creating the fibrous tissue found throughout the body. Tendons, which connect muscles to bones, are made up of fibrous tissue.

When fibrosarcoma strikes, the body’s fibroblasts lose control and multiply excessively. This either creates fibrous tissue where it is not supposed to be or in excess quantities. Like other cancers, fibrosarcoma can spread throughout the body.

Fibrosarcoma is part of a wider family of cancers known as sarcomas. Other examples include osteosarcoma, which specifically affects bone, and rhabdomyosarcoma, which specifically affects muscle.

Rarely, fibrosarcoma can occur in bone, but it usually affects the nearby fibrous tissue, not the bone itself.

In this article, we take a look at the symptoms of fibrosarcoma, how doctors may diagnose it, and what the outlook is for people with this disease.


Fibroblast cells in 3D rendering to demonstrate fibrosarcoma.
Fibrosarcoma is a cancer that affects the fibroblast cells.

Fibrosarcoma is not easy to identify by symptoms alone, not least of all because it shares symptoms with other forms of sarcoma.

According to Macmillan Cancer Support, the symptoms of soft tissue sarcomas, such as fibrosarcoma, take a long time to appear. When they do appear, symptoms can include:

  • painless or painful swelling in various parts of the body, and especially the limbs
  • a cough or breathlessness
  • dark stool
  • vomiting blood
  • irregular bleeding from the vagina
  • pain in the abdomen

Fibrosarcoma affecting bones can be even trickier to identify by symptoms alone. According to Macmillan Cancer Support, symptoms of primary bone cancer include:

  • persistent pain in the area of the tumor, which might feel like a sprain or “growing pains”
  • swelling around the bone, which often does not show up until the tumor is quite large
  • difficulty moving a joint or limb
  • numbness in areas of the body, due to the tumor pressing on nerves
  • fragile, easily broken bones, as the bone has been weakened by cancer

Fibrosarcoma can occur throughout the body but is more likely to appear in specific locations, such as the soft tissues, than in others.

Fibrosarcoma of the bone is rare and around 70 percent all bone fibrosarcomas develop in the long bones — such as the thighbone, shinbone, and jawbone. The thighbone is the bone that is most commonly affected by fibrosarcoma.

Causes and risk factors

The American Cancer Society list the following risk factors for developing soft tissue sarcomas that may include fibrosarcoma:

  • weakened or damaged lymph system
  • radiation exposure
  • certain chemical exposures, possibly including vinyl chloride, arsenic, and dioxin
  • some cancer syndromes caused by inherited genetic abnormalities

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Woman going to receive PET scan.
A PET scan may be required to diagnose fibrosarcoma.

The American Cancer Society list a variety of tests that are routinely carried out to diagnose soft tissue sarcomas and to determine which variant of cancer is at work.

These tests include:

  • standard X-rays
  • CT (computed tomography) scans, which produce detailed images of the body from different angles
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans, which use radio waves and magnets to map the tissues of the body
  • ultrasound scans, which is often done before a biopsy
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scans, involving the injection and tracking of radioactive sugar
  • biopsies, where a tissue sample is removed for testing

With the help of these tests, doctors can identify fibrosarcoma by examining the locations in which it most commonly appears. Specific key features also signal fibrosarcoma, such as tumors that appear without calcium buildups on X-rays.

Identifying fibrosarcoma is not always a straightforward process, however. A 2014 study warns against confusing it with osteosarcoma, which has similar features.

As a result, doctors may carry out a variety of tests, including a biopsy, to ensure a correct diagnosis.

Staging and grading

Staging is a term used to describe how far cancer has spread in the body, and how much cancerous tissue is present.

One of the most common staging systems is the number system, which ranges from 1–4 with a few secondary classes.

The number stages for soft tissues sarcomas, such as fibrosarcoma are:

  • 1A: Tumor measures 5 centimeters (cm) or less, low or unknown grade, close to surface of the body or deep, and has not spread.
  • 1B: Tumor larger than 5 cm, low or unknown grade, close to surface or deep, and has not spread.
  • 2A: Tumor 5 cm or less, medium or high grade, close to surface or deep, and has not spread.
  • 2B: Tumor larger than 5 cm, moderate grade, close to surface or deep, and has not spread.
  • 3: Tumor larger than 5 cm, high grade, close to surface or deep, and has not spread. Alternatively, the tumor is of any size, any grade, close to surface or deep, has spread to at least one lymph node but not further.
  • 4: Tumor has spread to another part of the body, such as the lungs or other soft tissues. The tumor can be of any size, any grade, close to surface or deep, and may or may not have spread to lymph nodes. This type is also known as secondary or metastatic cancer.

The grade of tumor is how abnormal its cells and tissues appear under a microscope. The higher the grade, the more abnormal it appears and the more quickly it is likely to grow and spread.


Person receiving radiology to treat fibrosarcoma cancer.
Radiation therapy may be used to treat fibrosarcoma, usually before or after surgery to remove a tumor.

Treatment for fibrosarcoma depends on the stage of the cancer.

The American National Cancer Institute list the following possible treatments for soft tissue sarcomas such as fibrosarcoma in adults:

Stage 1

  • surgical removal of tumor
  • radiation therapy, which could be before or after surgery

Stage 2

  • surgery to remove tumor
  • radiation therapy before or after surgery
  • radiation or chemotherapy before and possibly after surgery if needed
  • high-dose radiation therapy for tumors that cannot be surgically removed

Stage 3

  • surgery, including removal lymph nodes and potential radiation therapy after
  • a clinical trial of surgery with chemotherapy after
  • a clinical trial of regional hyperthermia therapy, which increases body temperature in specific areas

Stage 4

  • chemotherapy
  • surgical removal of cancer which has spread to lungs

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A prognosis is a prediction of the development of a disease, recovery, and survival rate following treatment.

With any form of cancer, the prognosis is significantly affected by the stage at which the cancer was first identified and treated.

A prognosis typically refers to 5-year survival rate. For high-grade fibrosarcomas, 5-year survival rates are around 30 percent. For low-grade fibrosarcomas, these survival rates increase to 50–80 percent.


There do not appear to be any clear steps for specifically preventing fibrosarcoma.

The best approaches to take are avoiding exposure to the relevant risk factors as much as possible, and tending to one’s overall health.

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Medical News Today: Aphrodisiacs: Where is the evidence?

The quest for sexual satisfaction is as old as civilization itself. Can 21st-century medicine unravel the secret? Despite good-quality clinical studies, the holy grail of aphrodisiacs remains to be found.
Do aphrodisiacs have a place in our sex lives?

For many couples, a happy sex life is key for long-term happiness. But sexual dysfunction and loss of interest in sex are common issues, affecting sexual happiness and relationship satisfaction.

In 2015, a panel of experts reviewed scientific studies investigating sexual dysfunction in men and women.

Writing in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, they conclude that “[…] that the most frequent sexual dysfunctions for women are desire and arousal dysfunctions. In addition, there is a large proportion of women who experience multiple sexual dysfunctions.”

“For men,” they add, “premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction are the most common sexual dysfunctions.”

Are aphrodisiacs the answer to getting our sex lives back on track?

What are aphrodisiacs?

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “[A]ny product that bears labeling claims that it will arouse or increase sexual desire, or that it will improve sexual performance, is an aphrodisiac drug product.”

Bold claims have been made about many potential aphrodisiacs, which range from commonly used spices and exotic plant extracts to animal organs and ground insects.

Many of these are steeped in history and long-held cultural beliefs, but little scientific evidence actually exists to show that they have the desired effects.

Some products, such as yohimbine — which is extracted from the bark of the West African Yohimbe tree — have been linked with severe health risks, such as heart attacks and seizures, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Luckily, we are slowly emerging from the dark ages of aphrodisiac research, with the number of good-quality studies — aiming to get to the bottom of which compounds are safe and how they work — steadily increasing.

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Ginkgo and ginseng

In a review of the scientific evidence underpinning natural aphrodisiacs, Dr. Elizabeth West, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California at Irvine, and Dr. Michael Krychman, from the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine in Newport Beach, explain that “while the data are still limited, ginkgo, ginseng, maca, and Tribulus have promising data behind them.”

Ginkgo has been shown to increase blood flow to the peripheral organs, including the genitals. While one study showed an improvement in sexual function in both men and women, these findings were not supported in another study, according to Drs. West and Krychman.

Ginkgo is well-tolerated by most people, but it can cause risk of excessive bleeding, they caution.

Several double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies support the notion that ginseng is effective for erectile dysfunction, and — to a lesser studied degree — can improve sexual arousal in menopausal women.

As with ginkgo, there may be side effects, which include minor gastrointestinal symptoms. Those with hormone-sensitive cancers should avoid using ginseng.

Maca and Tribulus terrestris

According to Drs. West and Krychman, “Research in rodents has shown that maca [an Andean root vegetable] effectively enhanced libido and improved erectile function after supplementation.”

Although three clinical studies showed improvement in sexual function in women and men, another trial did not.

Tribulus terrestris, which is a plant traditionally used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, contains a compound that is converted to dehydroepiandrosterone, a natural steroid hormone.

“A rodent study showed increased sperm production after Tribulus supplementation,” say Drs. West and Krychman. Sexual satisfaction in the women taking Tribulus terrestrial was improved in several studies — including a 2017 trial — while semen quality and erectile dysfunction in men also saw a boost.

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Not ‘recognized as safe and effective’

Despite the increase in good-quality clinical studies, the FDA caution that “[t]here is a lack of adequate data to establish general recognition of the safety and effectiveness of any […] ingredients […] for OTC [over-the-counter] use as an aphrodisiac.”

They issue a further warning:

Based on evidence currently available, any OTC drug product containing ingredients for use as an aphrodisiac cannot be generally recognized as safe and effective.”

So, before you rush off to stock up on any purported aphrodisiac, it might be worth bearing this warning in mind. Talking to your healthcare provider, rather than taking matters into your own hands, could be a safer option altogether.

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Medical News Today: Attending religious services may increase lifespan

A recent study published in the journal PLOS One has revealed that regularly attending religious ceremonies, such as a mass or a funeral, may lead to greater health and increased longevity in middle-aged people and seniors.
person praying
Regardless of your religion, attending religious ceremonies may do wonders for your health.

The researchers — based at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, GA — were curious about the consequences that religious lifestyles might have on the healthspan and lifespan of middle-aged and older adults.

The paper‘s first author is Ellen L. Idler, Ph.D., a joint-appointed professor in epidemiology from the Emory Rollins School of Public Health and Samuel Candler Dobbs professor of sociology.

She explains the motivation behind the research, saying, “We wanted to link the research on religion — especially religious attendance — into the social determinants of health framework,” says Prof. Idler.

To this end, Prof. Idler and colleagues examined the data available from the Health and Retirement Study — a longitudinal study of the “health and economic circumstances” of over-50s in the United States — of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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Death risk cut by 40 percent

Prof. Idler and her collegues focused on the data gathered between 2004 and 2014 on more than 18,000 participants. The scientists applied Cox proportional hazards models to calculate the link between religious attendance and all-cause mortality during the decade studied.

The researchers included variables such as religious attendance, the importance of religion, and religious affiliation. Gender, race or ethnicity, education, and income were also considered as potential determinants of health.

They sum up the findings, saying, “After adjustment for confounders, attendance at religious services had a dose-response relationship with mortality, such that respondents who attended frequently [i.e., at least once a week] had a 40 [percent] lower hazard of mortality […] compared with those who never attended.”

Additionally, even people who attended religious ceremonies less often also had a lower chance of dying prematurely, compared with those who did not take part in religious services at all.

The researchers note that this positive effect on health was comparable with that of having a higher income.

However, those who considered religion “very” important had a 4 percent higher risk of mortality. All the associations found were independent of religious affiliation.

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Why religious attendance is important

Commenting on the findings, Prof. Idler explains, “With this paper, we were able to take a theory and a conceptual framework to real data and came back with some dramatic findings.”

While this was an observational study that cannot explain causality, the authors speculate on the potential reasons for the results.

It could be the case, they write, that people who go to religious ceremonies also tend to have healthier behaviors, such as not smoking or consuming alcohol.

Benefiting from the support of a community or helping others may also be the underlying causes for the health benefits of religious ceremonies.

As for the slight increase in mortality risk found for those who consider religion very important, the authors explain, “An increased feeling of the importance of religion in old age may coincide with illness, physical decline, and a resulting need for comfort or consolation.”

They conclude:

Our study highlights the benefits of including measures of religious participation as an additional social determinant of mortality, particularly in older populations.”

“This is a form of social engagement and identity that is of importance to many older persons in this sample and in the U.S. population,” they add, “and can provide a more complete picture of the social forces determining their health.”

Finally, the authors also recognize some limitations to their study. Health status, behavior, and religious attendance were all self-reported, which makes the data prone to some bias.

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