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Dr. Ajit Johnson
Cancer geneticist, Harvard University
June 9, 2018 · 447 Reads

Top stories in science this week

NASA found organic material in Mars rocks suggesting the planet could’ve supported ancient life

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsurface.

Reference: Science

 

A simple blood test could soon accurately predict due dates and premature births

Blood tests could one day replace ultrasounds as a cheaper and more efficient way to determine the age of a developing foetus. By searching for evidence of genetic activity in the mother’s blood, it could be possible to not only pin down a delivery date, but determine whether the baby is at risk of being born before it’s ready.

Reference: Science

Many patients with breast cancer don’t actually need chemo, study finds

The majority of women with the most common type of early-stage breast cancer can safely skip chemotherapy after surgery, according to a highly anticipated new report. The findings came from the largest breast cancer treatment trial ever conducted and showed that most patients who have an intermediate risk of a cancer recurrence – a group that numbers 65,000 women a year in the United States – can avoid chemotherapy and its often debilitating side effects.

Reference: New England Journal of Medicine

Scientists developed a water harvester that extracts fresh water from desert air

Last October, a University of California, Berkeley, team headed down to the Arizona desert, plopped their newest prototype water harvester into the backyard of a tract home and started sucking water out of the air without any power other than sunlight. The successful field test of their larger, next-generation harvester proved what the team had predicted earlier in 2017: that the water harvester can extract drinkable water every day/night cycle at very low humidity and at low cost, making it ideal for people living in arid, water-starved areas of the world.

Reference: Science Advances

Immunotherapy lead to a complete cure in three breast cancer patients unresponsive to other treatments

A novel approach to immunotherapy developed by researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has led to the complete regression of breast cancer in a patient who was unresponsive to all other treatments. The new immunotherapy approach is a modified form of adoptive cell transfer (ACT). ACT has been effective in treating melanoma, which has high levels of somatic, or acquired, mutations. However, it has been less effective with some common epithelial cancers, or cancers that start in the lining of organs, that have lower levels of mutations, such as stomach, esophageal, ovarian, and breast cancers.

Reference: Nature Medicine

New planetary system hosting three Earth-sized planets discovered

Two new planetary systems, one of them hosting three planets with the same size of the Earth has been discovered. The information about these new exoplanets has been obtained from the data collected by the K2 mission of NASA’s Kepler satellite, which started in November 2013.

Reference: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

A new study suggests that insufficient sleep could cost countries billions

Insufficient sleep is associated with lapses in attention and the inability to stay focused; reduced motivation; compromised problem solving; confusion, irritability and memory lapses; impaired communication; slowed or faulty information processing and judgment; diminished reaction times; and indifference and loss of empathy. Furthermore, short sleep increases the risk of heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and depression. Inadequate sleep is a public health problem affecting more than one in three adults worldwide. A new study suggests that insufficient sleep could also have grave economic consequences.

Reference: Sleep

Experiments in fruit flies show that secret to longevity may lie in the microbiome and the gut

Scientists fed fruit flies with a combination of probiotics and an herbal supplement called Triphala that was able to prolong the flies’ longevity by 60 percent and protect them against chronic diseases associated with aging.

Reference: Scientific Reports

Most popular vitamin and mineral supplements provide no health benefit, study finds

The most commonly consumed vitamin and mineral supplements provide no consistent health benefit or harm, suggests a new study led by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto. The systematic review of existing data and single randomized control trials published in English from January 2012 to October 2017 found that multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin C — the most common supplements — showed no advantage or added risk in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke or premature death. Generally, vitamin and mineral supplements are taken to add to nutrients that are found in food.

Reference: Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Scientists have created a ‘genetic atlas’ of proteins in human blood

An international team of researchers has created the first detailed genetic map of human proteins, the key building blocks of biology. These discoveries promise to enhance our understanding of a wide range of diseases and aid development of new drugs. The study, characterised the genetic underpinnings of the human plasma ‘proteome’, identifying nearly 2,000 genetic associations with almost 1,500 proteins. Previously, there was only a small fraction of this knowledge, mainly because researchers could measure only a few blood proteins simultaneously in a robust manner.

Reference: Nature

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