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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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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Less Invasive Epilepsy Treatment at Sourasky

Finding minimally invasive treatment procedures for significant illnesses have been the preoccupation of some of today’s medical breakthroughs, as exemplified by the research and development of light-activated methods in cancer treatment using nanomachines.

In Sourasky, minimally invasive procedures using advance laser and MRI technologies have been conducted in the treatment of epilepsy patients who are not responsive to medication. Offered in the neurosurgery department by Prof. Yitzhak Fried, Dr. Ido Strauss, and director of epilepsy service Dr. Firas Fahoum, it is the first time the procedure is being performed outside the US.

“If in the past we had to consider surgery in cases where the patient did not respond to medication, we can now make do with a minimally invasive procedure that is almost as successful as open surgery,” explained Strauss.

What made this possible is Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy (LITT) technology. A small optic fiber is inserted into a small hole in the skull, and is then connected to a device called the Visualase system. While this is happening, an MRI scanner monitors brain temperatures and the size of the ablated tissue. Compared with open surgery, this procedure is more keen on preserving the areas of the brain proximate to the ablated issue and responsible for other bodily functions.

“Today, we know that the source of the disorder that causes epileptic seizures is found in neural networks in the brain and that the attacks can be prevented by proper medical treatment,” explained Fahoum. “In most cases, patients are given medication to try to control the seizures. But if this doesn’t help, it is necessary to consider neurosurgical intervention, in cases where the area where the seizures begin is located and surgically removed. But seizures come as a surprise and may cause cumulative damage to the cognitive and mental functioning of the patients along with physical injuries when they fall to the ground.”

The use of LITT, Visualase, and MRI technologies provides a less invasive procedure to the other surgical options such as nerve pacemakers and neuromodulation, as well as the removal of the seizure’s focal point. Moreover, the therapeutic option also provides easier recovery and may even be offered to children with epilepsy.

Hopefully, it is time we have more and more medical breakthroughs of less and less invasive treatment procedures.

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Bill Gates Pledges $100 Million To Alzheimer’s Research

If anyone can advance universal healthcare by means of a check, it’s Bill Gates. Following up a $4.6 billion donation to undisclosed charities, the Microsoft CEO pledged $100 million to the fight against Alzheimer’s.

“I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it,” [Gates] wrote. “It feels a lot like you’re experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew.”

Gates’ contribution will support both mainstream and experimental research. With roughly 5 million Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. alone, the donation can at least stunt the growing number.

“This is a frontier where we can dramatically improve human life,” Mr. Gates wrote. “It’s a miracle that people are living so much longer, but longer life expectancies alone are not enough. People should be able to enjoy their later years — and we need a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s to fulfill that.”

While $100 million may be a drop in the ocean of the Alzheimer’s Association’s $259 billion annual spend, Gates has proven to us time and again that every effort counts.

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