Pediatric Cancer Drug Displays 93% Success Rate

Breakthroughs in cancer research such as gene-altering treatments and the discovery of nanomachines have made waves in the past few years, persistently leading humanity through not-so-tiny victory after not-so-tiny victory in a battle between human and disease that has spanned decades. Just this month, a drug specifically targeting a fused gene found in several cancer types resulted in a 93% response rate among children.

“In some cancers, a part of the TRK [tropomyosin receptor kinase] gene has become attached to another gene, which is called a fusion. When this occurs, it leads to the TRK gene being turned on when it’s not supposed to be and that causes the cells to grow uncontrollably. What’s unique about the drug is it is very selective; it only blocks TRK receptors,” said lead author Dr. Ted Laetsch, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

Most drugs that are already known and used to cure cancer usually target a particular location or organ in the body. According to the researchers at UT Southwestern’s Simmons Cancer Center, Larotrectinib is the first cancer drug designated for people with TRK fusions, or the fusion of two genes in the cancer cell, regardless of whether their cancer is in the lung, colon, or other areas.

“…none of the patients with TRK fusions had to quit the study because of a drug-induced side effect. Equally important, the response was long-lasting for most patients.”

The TRK fusions tend to occur mostly in certain types of pediatric cancer. This implies that, despite also being 75% effective in adult cancers, Larotrectinib is a bigger breakthrough in pediatric cancer research. This is a hopeful and life-giving discovery for children, or the people most capable of giving us hope in our own lives.

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The Art of Happiness: 4 Things You Need to Know

Everyone has dreams and aspirations. Some people strive towards certain long-term goals, integrating their sense of self, their career, their relationships, and other aspects of their lives mindfully — and in such a way that they organize particular steps on how to find success and work on that plan. Others are more content to live each day to the fullest, making the most of the different aspects of their lives even without a precise set of objectives, and finding small successes in short-term goals that they achieve. Either way, everyone is trying to figure things out. In my understanding, what we’re really trying to figure out is the art of happiness.

I’m sure all of us have wondered, some more often than others, if we’re currently happy with our lives. And if we realize we’re happy, we then ask, how do we continue being so? And if we realize we’re not, how do we start working on it? I don’t have a degree in psychology or anything, and I’m sure I’m only one of too many people to reflect out loud about the art of happiness, but let me speak from experience and take a crack at it anyway.

1. Start here and now.

First and foremost, it’s important to stop delaying or postponing the search of what makes you happy. It helps to start simple. You don’t have to engage so deeply in a philosophical discourse and quote from famous ancient Greek scholars. You don’t have to get a life motto tattooed on your arm and consistently try to stick by it everyday. You don’t have to repaint your entire house so that it will look cheerful and inspire you to feel the same. If any of those helps, good. But what matters is this: start today.

The desire to have a profound definition of happiness will put so much pressure on you. Instead, focus on the many unexpected little ways to start reflecting on your life and the art of happiness. Simply reading a book, dressing up nicely for yourself, baking cookies or walking around the community might be able to help. The point is for you to put yourself in the mindset of actively wanting to be happy, instead of merely letting your ordinary day-to-day routine pass you by.

2. Work towards a healthy lifestyle.

Now that you’re in the mindset of being happy in small and simple ways, it’s also time to introduce small and simple changes to your lifestyle. After reflecting on the ordinary things you do everyday, it helps to identify how you want to make them better.

Think about the lifestyle trends that will most benefit you. For instance, you may find fulfillment by participating in sustainability efforts, whether through fashion or recycling. Another definitely beneficial step is to pursue the healthy lifestyle you’ve always known you needed, whether that means putting effort into a plant-based diet or a regular exercise routine or both. After all, a healthy body and a healthy mind should work together. Relax once in a while. Take breaks from social media. I’m sure being more mindful of your lifestyle practices will eventually have a payoff.

3. Make positive memories.

No man is an island. As creatures with a social nature, it’s a significant part of our lives to cultivate our interpersonal relationships. But it’s not enough just to ask your family or friends how they are every once in a while. To properly keep up with our intimate connections, we have to ensure we spend quality time together.

Do a fun activity with your peers, something that you miss because you haven’t done in so long. Go bowling. Redo your garden with your family. Have a picnic with your nieces and nephews. I’m sure there are a lot of positive memories from the previous years that you go back to whenever you’re feeling down, so what’s stopping you from creating more of those? Bond with your loved ones, help each other make fantastic memories, and I don’t know, take some selfies to immortalize those great moments? Again, it doesn’t matter how you do it; what matters is that you do.

4. Express gratitude and exercise kindness.

Here’s where I go scientific about the art of happiness. Some studies have tried to recognize certain predictors to our well-being, and they consistently include these: gratitude and kindness. Feeling grateful is an awesome mindset to maintain, though it doesn’t come naturally. We spend so much time wanting more that we forget to be thankful for what’s already there for us. We forget that sometimes, good enough is good enough.

It takes practice to inculcate gratitude in oneself, so make it part of your life. Write a thank you note each day — to a parent, a friend, a co-worker, or even a stranger. (Science says you don’t even have to send the letter of gratitude, so long as you write it down and get to think about it.) If you’re a spiritual person, say thanks through your prayers before going to sleep.

Perhaps most effectively, feel grateful and pay it forward. Interestingly enough, gratitude works best when the positive feelings associated with it translate into kindness. Don’t be afraid to help out. Not only will it make you feel good about yourself, performing acts of kindness can even give you actual health benefits. Heck, it might be the best lifestyle trend (please refer to Tip #2) that you can introduce to yourself.

These are only a few steps that you can initiate towards discovering the art of happiness. The specific answers, of course, will depend on your own history and your future goals. But then, if you’re only going to follow four words from my list of tips, choose these: start here and now. You might be surprised at the happiness — and more potential of it — that is already present around you, if you just look close enough.

* This post is inspired by BeepBeep Nation, an app that provides a platform for people to request for the help they need and others to offer their help. By facilitating face-to-face human interaction and creating a culture of kindness, it aims to make the world better. The EMINENT token, also known as the fuel for the BeepBeep Nation app, is now available for sale!

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Helping Out: the Latest Lifestyle Trend

Every so often, I write about a current or emerging lifestyle trend that isn’t only able to influence our own personal choices but also to shape the culture we engage with. In fact, this is one of my favorite topics to write about. It’s certainly my life goal to stay trendy and support sustainability at the same time, and I love spreading the word about it. Here are some of the lifestyle trends that I’ve previously written about and remain beloved to me:

1. Sustainable fashion

Making your wardrobe eco-friendly isn’t really as difficult as it sounds. The key, as I often point out in other aspects of daily life, is to organize. From your old ones, pick your favorite and essential clothing items then decide on what you don’t need. Go on to sell or donate them. Whatever you do, don’t throw stuff away!

As for shopping for new items, be aware of your sources. Do your research in advance. Shopping local is usually a good way to support the community. Avoiding items that might have come from animal cruelty is a good principle. At the end, I guess it’s a matter of principle and knowing which fashion companies mirror yours.

2. Food choices — organic, local, and balanced

Sustainability, though it is also seen in other aspects of daily life like fashion, most often comes up in conversations about food choices. So it’s safe to say updating your lifestyle means supporting sustainable food production. Millennials, they say, are effecting some big changes in the food industry: they opt out of GMOs, go organic, and support local. And I believe those are very good choices. Now more than ever, people are encouraged to produce their own food by growing their own gardens and such.

However, in addition to sustainable, what should food choices be if not healthy? Research says that a Mediterranean or a plant-based meal plan can give us the most health benefits. So don’t go for those heavily advertised crash diets. Choose the most balanced — thus sustainable — one for your body as well.

3. All-around mindset

Here’s the thing. Doing healthy things and following lifestyle trends without reflecting on why you do them could suffice, but they cannot ensure  long-lasting effects on your well-being. What’s really important is how you think about your life and how you let that process manifest into actual decisions. Some things that really helped me be more conscious of my choices are lagom and mindfulness. Lagom has helped me achieve balance in my daily life — from arranging my apartment furniture to reducing my work-related stress. Mindfulness has helped me embrace my mental illness, commit to a self-care regimen, and even seek help when I need it.

Now you may ask, why am I listing all of these things? It’s because I want to reflect further on what makes a certain lifestyle trend so important to me. And I’ve been thinking, in the end, it’s all about kindness, isn’t it? Sustainable fashion is all about being kind to the earth. Sustainable food choices is about being kind not only to the environment, but to your own body as well. Certain mindsets like lagom and mindfulness are about being kind to yourself and the people that you love and that love you.

I realize, maybe the next thing that I want to commit to is being kind beyond my self and my inner circle. So here’s another lifestyle trend that I believe should go viral:

4. Kindness, kindness, kindness.

Maybe it’s not even simply the latest lifestyle trend, maybe kindness is a more timeless choice that we need to make chic now. After all, it even has some amazing health benefits. So go outside and volunteer. Help out a stranger in need — whether he is in a medical emergency or simply needs a ride home — because you don’t know what impact it will make on his life. And for the matter, you don’t know what impact it will make on the world. Maybe one little favor can push someone to pay it forward and eventually end up creating an entire culture of helping other people out.

Sustainable fashion or food choices make us feel good, but what can make us feel better than being compassionate to others? And in the way that choosing organic for your salad today can be great for the environment, helping someone out may end up making the world better. Now that’s chic.

Final tip: you can actually use technology to start on this kindness lifestyle. Use the BeepBeep Nation app in reaching out to those who need your help, and learn more about the EMINENT token to get started. And hey, honestly, helping out has never been this trendy.

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Stay-at-Home Female Doctors Serve the Poor Online

Women have been slowly but surely breaking the barriers that have been set for them in the past centuries. A beauty queen with Down’s syndrome made history, single mothers run startup companies, more women are fighting back against sexual harassment and even lead hundreds of people to resuscitate a dead river.

Here’s to another amazing woman. A female Pakistani doctor recognized the odds stacked against physicians in her context, and acted to provide more flexible options for women in the medical industry. Dr. Iffat Aga founded a platform to connect home-based female doctors to poor communities.

Sehat Kahani is a revolutionary tele-health platform that connects at-home, out-of-work doctors who can provide quality health care to underprivileged patients in low and middle-income markets.

The organization currently constitutes a network of 14 facilities across Pakistan which have served more than 550,000 patients. When a patient visits the clinic, a nurse logs their basic medical history, and then doctors are called in to continue the consultation through a video conferencing system.

The percentage of women in local medical schools are higher than those of men, but less than half of these women eventually end up as practitioners because they believe they need to nurture their families first. Because of the responsibility weighing down on them, female doctors stop pursuing their careers.  Dr. Iffat knew this problem needed a solution, so she partnered up with women who similarly understood — and perhaps personally experienced — the crisis, and together they built Sehat Kehani.

With a vision to create an all-female health provider network, Sehat Kahani simultaneously promotes women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship, and the basic need for affordable, quality healthcare in rural and urban communities – all without the doctors ever having to leave their homes.

It is truly an inspirational balancing act to target both the issues of gender inequality and poverty at the same time. Women are not only fighting for their own rights; they are doing so in order to join larger fights.

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Why We Need to Celebrate the Smallpox Vaccine

In light of brilliant breakthroughs like gene alteration for genetic disorders, nanomachines to cure cancer cells, minimally invasive treatment procedures for epilepsy — no, the smallpox vaccine doesn’t seem like a big deal. It obviously isn’t a new medical discovery. In fact, last May 8 commemorates the fact that the world has been free of the illness for 38 years. But the reason we need to celebrate it is precisely because of the many successes that followed the 1980s smallpox eradication. And the need to counter the threats to these successes.

William Foege, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has written a book in 2011 called House on Fire where he explains just how he made it possible. He and other health workers wiped out smallpox — “by dreaming, being savvy in politics and unafraid to break the rules, and devising the brilliant ring vaccination strategy.”

Foege and his colleagues found that instead of using the vaccine on entire populations, it was more effective to distribute it among the demographic most at risk, which were the contacts of the infected. After being proven true in the smallpox case, this strategy on immunization was replicated on the prevention of other diseases or viruses such as measles, polio, malaria, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and others. Some have been nearly wiped out as well, while the incidence rates of some have significantly dropped.

However, a few decades later, people now face a dilemma. What about the now-debunked finding that vaccine causes autism? The anti-vaccine movement discredits the milestones of smallpox eradication and immunization. Does the use of vaccine actually pose more risk than benefit to humans? Well, it might be time to look back at history for answers regarding the progress of human health. William Foege, the man who developed the global strategy for vaccination, is still fighting for truth.

“I think vaccines are really the foundation of public health . . . By the early 1980s, [many of] our vaccine diseases had gone down to close to zero . . . So things were going quite well until Andrew Wakefield did his Lancet article [suggesting there’s a link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism] . . . He specifically said the MMR vaccine was the problem. He was disbarred in England because of the falsifications of his [data].”

Turns out, the research linking vaccines to autism is completely bogus that Wakefield even lost his medical license. But that hasn’t stopped parents all over the world from being paranoid. Foege understands that parents are only “trying to do the right thing,” but in doing so, they forget the risk of disease and focus on a completely false risk of the vaccine. This seems to make the anti-vaccine movement more of a health education issue, as people are just clearly misinformed.

38 years after smallpox eradication and other successes, vaccination has become a social problem more than a scientific one. In some countries, the public health debate even results in violence. But globally, more often than not, it results in the slower prevention and elimination of certain diseases. But Foege is still hopeful.

“I think we’re at the beginning of an eradication era — because of vaccines — and as we learn more and more about logistics, cold chains, how to develop vaccines that don’t require refrigeration, don’t require using needles and syringes, I think the future is very bright for disease eradication . . . You have to believe a disease can be eradicated . . . you have to put up with all the frustrations . . . you stick with your vision of what the last mile is.”

True enough, a disease can be eradicated. Smallpox is a testament to that. So celebrate the fact that you were born after it’s gone. Celebrate the fact that it led to much slimmer chances of measles in your lifetime. Now more than ever, we need to celebrate this feat, so that decades of medical history — thus, strong leads to medical progress — will not go down the laboratory drain.

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Late Menopause May Benefit Women’s Memory

The past few years have seen an increase in various research studies about women’s health that have truly been a long time coming. One example is New Delhi’s move to proliferate biodegradable sanitary pads which not only addresses women’s reproductive needs but also the needs of our environment.

Recently, a new study led by Diana Kuh from University College London in the United Kingdom looked at how the late onset of menopause may benefit the memory of women later in their lives. By using data from 1,315 women, they found out that women whose menopause occurred naturally and later in life scored higher on the memory assessment tests that they conducted.

Kuh comments on the findings, saying, “The difference in verbal memory scores for a 10-year difference in the start of menopause was small — recalling only one additional word, but it’s possible that this benefit could translate to a reduced risk of dementia years later.”

However, she adds, “More research and follow-up are needed to determine whether that is the case.”

The study’s scope also included other aspects about the women’s health like whether they were taking hormone replacement therapy, whether they had a hysterectomy, their cognitive ability since childhood, as well as social factors like their education and line of work.

Kuh and her colleagues conclude: “Our findings suggest lifelong hormonal processes, not just short-term fluctuations during the menopause transition, may be associated with verbal memory, consistent with evidence from a variety of neurobiological studies.”

Of course, I agree with Dr. Kuh’s statement. Further research is definitely necessary. I also think, as seen in the recently-won fight for equal pay like in Nordic countries such as Iceland, that perhaps more and more institutions and organizations would see the importance of studying and addressing women’s concerns, as more and more women around the world push further for their rights.

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Mediterranean Diet Prevents Heart and Brain Aging

Many people have different concepts of the best diet habits and what the best diet consists of. Here at our blog, I have written before about my personal stakes in maintaining a healthy diet and a co-worker has also said her piece on vegetarianism. Now, I consider myself far from a diet skeptic as I truly believe in having an eating regimen, but some fads just seem quite absurd, like surviving only on lemonade or grapefruit or baby food for weeks. A growing body of research agrees with me.

Scientists continue to affirm that this certain type of meal plan seems to be best: high consumption of vegetables, protein, and healthy fats; then low consumption of processed foods and refined carbs like white bread. This comes in various versions and labels as some people are completely vegetarian, while others choose to include eggs and dairy, or meat and fish, or all of the above, in their meals. But the base principle remains the same.

This Mediterranean diet or “plant-based” diet (or another label that you prefer) seems to be the healthiest.

In the latest issue of the Journal of Gerontology, scientists outline six recent studies of one version of the diet – the Mediterranean meal plan – and suggest that the eating regimen is closely linked to healthy aging, better mobility, a lower risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, and improved cognitive function.

One study says that a “plant-based” diet may help slow cognitive decline among people who’ve had a stroke, and provide protection of the brain against neurodegeneration (seen in diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s). As for the more physical benefits, this Mediterranean diet provides protein for the muscles, fiber for the digestive system, and vitamins for tissues and bones.

This balance is also key to keeping you full after a meal and energized throughout the day so you don’t feel the need to overeat, Nichola Whitehead, a registered dietician in the UK, previously told Business Insider. “You need to have a balanced meal — things like whole grains, fibre, and vegetables — in order to sustain your blood sugar. Empty calories [like white bread or white rice] give a temporary fix,” she said.

Her use of the word temporary echoes with me as I think about other dieting plans. A “crash diet” doesn’t sound as good when you focus on the word crash, doesn’t it? For me, dieting is best when planned well and executed mindfully. Science can attest to that.

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Contact Lenses that Adjust to the Sun

The medical industry does not lack developments specific to addressing eye conditions. Some particularly interesting examples are the world’s first synthetic retinas and a teen-made AI system that diagnoses eye diseases. Today, I bring good news to my fellow four-eyed people: you can now wear FDA-approved contact lenses that adjust to the sunlight.

“This contact lens is the first of its kind to incorporate the same technology that is used in eyeglasses that automatically darken in the sun,” Malvina Eydelman said in a statement. Eydelman is the director of the Division of Ophthalmic, and Ear, Nose and Throat Devices at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

The light-reactive lenses, which Johnson & Johnson calls Acuvue Oasys Contact Lenses with Transitions Light Intelligent Technology, are for everyday use and lasts up to 14 days. While it might not yet be available for purchase, it could hit the stores soon enough, as it has already been approved by Food and Drug Administration last week.

The contact lenses contain a photochromic coating that adapts to UV light exposure. Johnson & Johnson says the lenses will automatically return to a regular tint when exposed to normal or dark lighting conditions.

The company also reassures future buyers that wearing darkening lenses does not mean having to look like a demon or an alien; a gray tint just appears, which is nearly imperceptible in brown eyes and just the slightest bit noticeable in lighter eyes. So no worries there, pal.

Now I can barely wait for summer to try this one out.

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Squid Ink Treatment: A New Dental Breakthrough?

When it comes to dental hygiene, being forgetful is not uncommon. Anyway, tooth sensitivity is now easily remedied with green tea extract. If you’re especially lazy, you can invest in an automatic toothbrush, which gets the job done in just 10 seconds. If your pearly whites aren’t faring too well, squid ink treatment is now apparently a thing.

Patients would start by rinsing their mouths with… food-grade squid ink, water and cornstarch. Capillary action would cause that liquid to be drawn up into any gum pockets they might have, and stay there even after the rinse has been spat out.

A light source such as a laser pulse or an LED would then be applied to the gums. This would cause light-absorbing melanin nanoparticles in the squid ink to heat up and expand, generating an acoustic signal.

The squid ink treatment would replace traditional gum disease detection procedures. This means au revoir to that horrifying stick-and-poke tool dentists shove in between your teeth. Formally, it’s known as a periodontal probe, which sounds just as scary as it actually is.

Researchers have successfully tested the technology on pig patients. Clinical trials are predicted to be soon — or at least until a newer, less salty mixture is in the works.

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Wearable Hydration System Is Great For Runners

When it comes to tracking one’s health, there is a gadget for every fitness buff in the field. There is a technology for monitoring nearly anything, whether as part of one’s clothing or used directly on the skin. What we sometimes forget are the humbler devices that contribute directly to our fitness routines. This slick wearable hydration system called Wetsleeve may not be high-tech, but it’s a great tool for runners.

The deceptively simple concept — a forearm-length wrap that comes in three sizes and encloses a fluid-holding compartment —has several innovative design features.

The reservoir, which holds 12 fluid ounces, fits within the zippered upper portion of the sleeve and is detachable for refills. The silicone mouthpiece of the reservoir sits just above the wrist, making drinking easy.

Even better, the water stays cold for at least 30 minutes — the perfect amount of time for a jog. Additionally, Wetsleeve has compartments to store small items such as house keys. Creator Dave Herring also believes Wetsleeve will have a positive environmental impact, because the device is refillable.

“Every day, I see so many empty plastic water bottles — especially on the beach. Anything we can do to reduce that is a good thing.”

Cheers to that, Dave!

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