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Top 10 Cancer Research News Stories of 2018

Top 10 Cancer Research News Stories of 2018 content piece image
Osteosarcoma cell. Dylan Burnette and Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz

2018 has been an exciting year for the cancer research field. This list details the top 10 most-read news stories we published from the field this year.

‘Fat-clogged’ Immune Cells Fail to Fight Tumors

Researchers have gained a new understanding of the link between obesity and cancer. In the presence of excess fat, the immune surveillance system fails due to an obesity-fueled lipid accumulation in natural killer (NK) cells, preventing their cellular metabolism and trafficking. This lipid-induced metabolic paralysis led to loss of anti-tumor activity both in vitro and in vivo models.

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FDA Approves Drug That Targets Key Genetic Driver of Cancer

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a novel drug, Vitrakvi (larotrectinib), for the treatment of both adult and pediatric cancers that have a specific genetic feature. The drug targets a TRK fusion which can occur in various solid tumors and numerous types of cancer. The drug is designed to ‘turn off’ tumor growth signaling.

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Inhibiting Protein Could Enhance Immunotherapy Effectiveness

Scientists from the Bloomberg—Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy reported, in August of this year, that immunotherapy efficacy can be enhanced by inhibiting Yes-associated protein (YAP). A genetically-engineered mouse model was used to explore the role of YAP in numerous T-cell populations. The results showed that YAP was involved in the suppression of anti-tumor immunity by regulatory T cells. By ‘turning off’ YAP tumor cell killing was possible.

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Obesity Set to Overtake Smoking as Biggest Preventable Cause of Cancer

A 2018 Cancer Research UK report revealed that obesity is set to overtake smoking as the biggest preventable cause of cancer amongst females in 25 years’ time. Projections outlined in the document predict that by 2035 10% of cancers occurring in women could be due to smoking and 9% as a result of excess body weight – if this trend continues excess body weight could cause more cancer cases compared to smoking.

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Resurrected Zombie Gene Protects Elephants Against Cancer

A study published in Cell Reports earlier this year described how elephants have developed a way to resist cancer, by resurrecting a ‘zombie’ gene called leukemia inhibitory factor 6 (LIF6), which can respond to damaged DNA and destroy cells that are destined to become cancer cells. The researchers plan to conduct additional studies to further define the molecular mechanisms by which LIF6 induces cell death. The team hope their findings will aid efforts to therapeutically target cancer.

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James P. Allison & Tasuku Honjo Win 2018 Nobel Prize for Medicine

In October 2018, it was announced that James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo had won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Medicine. They received the award for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation. The pair successfully demonstrated how different approaches for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used therapeutically to combat cancer.

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Survival Rates Double for Patients with Melanoma Brain Metastases Receiving Immunotherapy

A study published in July 2018, in the journal Cancer Immunology Research, indicated that using checkpoint blockade immunotherapies significantly improved survival of patients diagnosed as having melanoma brain metastases. The study results showed that those receiving checkpoint blockade immunotherapy had an average survival of 12.4 months whereas those that did not receive the therapy had an average survival time of 5.2 months.

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Epigenetic Analysis of Aggressive Brain Tumors

A research team conducted research to determine the role of epigenetics in the progression of an aggressive brain cancer known as glioblastoma. They analyzed DNA methylation in >200 patients which revealed specific epigenetic changes that are linked to glioblastoma progression and predict survival. A combination of techniques including data analysis, brain imaging and digital pathology were used to help the team determine the relationship between epigenetics and glioblastoma progression.

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Cancer Cells Greedy for Glucose

A study conducted by the University of Colorado Cancer Center had demonstrated that leukemia cells create a diabetic-like condition that reduces the ability of normal cells to consume glucose, meaning there is more glucose available to fuel their own growth.

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Nanorobots Seek and Destroy Tumors

Researchers have created nanorobots that can be programmed to shrink tumors by obstructing their blood supply. Each robot is composed of a flat, rectangular DNA origami sheet which is linked to thrombin (a blood coagulation enzyme). By including a DNA aptamer on the surface of the bot, that targets a protein called nucleolin which is present in high qualities on the cancer cell surface and not on normal cells, the researchers were able to direct the nanobot exclusively to tumor cells.   

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