Snippet of Science
A blog about medical innovations and news.
Snippet #8 | The state of biomarker testing in Europe
The promise of precision medicine - a targeted treatment approach based on an individual's genetic profile - is that it could lead to better health outcomes for patients and substantial healthcare savings through more effective therapies with reduced toxicities. The number of precision medicine drugs has grown over the past two decades, from 5 in 2008 to 132 in 2016, for a wide range of cancers (e.g. chronic myeloid leukemia, melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, colorectal cancer, etc.)
Snippet #7 | Feeling the pressure?
February is American Heart Month, a federal event dating back to 1964 to raise awareness about cardiovascular health. This year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is putting the spotlight on hypertension (high blood pressure) and its role in heart health. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.13 billion people around the world have high blood pressure, and that fewer than 1 in 5 of them have it under control. This is an alarming figure, since hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. And this number could be even higher, as proper blood pressure monitoring is often a challenge. To obtain more accurate and valuable data, novel technologies have recently been developed that enable people to easily and continuously monitor blood pressure (e.g. Aktiia’s novel medical-grade blood pressure monitoring bracelet), which can provide better estimates and improve treatment decisions.
Snippet #6 | Toward a molecular taxonomy of cancer
In the 2008 book "The Innovator's Prescription," authors Clay Christensen, Jerome Grossman and Jason Hwang argued that a key factor for medical advances is the identification of root causes of complex diseases, such as cancer. To date, cancer has routinely been classified according to the organ in which it originates (e.g. breast, lung, prostate), and this classification serves to guide treatment decisions. More recently, scientists have been working on understanding the root causes of cancer, exploring it from a molecular, rather than organ of origin, angle. This is pushing the field of oncology toward a more molecular taxonomy of cancer.
Snippet #5 | The emergence of liquid biopsies
When doctors suspect that a patient has cancer, they generally perform a tumor biopsy, which involves removing a tissue sample from the tumor. Tissue biopsy is currently the gold standard in cancer diagnosis and treatment, providing important information about tumor composition. However, this tool also has some drawbacks. The procedure is typically invasive, costly, and, depending on tumor location and patient condition, difficult to collect. It can also be challenging to maintain the genetic integrity of the sample for testing, as preservation agents may alter the sample's DNA. Moreover, since tissue biopsy samples are taken from certain areas of a tumor, they may not capture the heterogeneous genetic makeup of a tumor, preventing potentially effective precision medicine treatments.
Snippet #4 | DNA could hold the key for data storage
Genomic data, which contains information on individuals' sequenced genetic codes (DNA), plays a key role in advancing precision medicine - the approach of developing therapies that take into account one's underlying genetic makeup. But finding storage space for the vast amounts of genomic data produced is increasingly challenging. It takes roughly 100 GB of space to store one individual's DNA, and scientists are estimating that 1 billion people will sequence their genomes by 2025. Genomic data could soon generate up to 40 exabytes of data annually (one exabyte equals 1 billion GB). Genomic data are currently stored in physical storage facilities, or through cloud services, which are housed on physical servers throughout the world.
Snippet #3 | Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine brings hope
Earlier this week, as COVID-19 cases continue to soar around the world, Pfizer and BioNTech, a German cancer precision medicine biotech company, announced that their vaccine is 90% effective at preventing the disease. Scientists have expressed cautious optimism that this news could signal the light at the end of the tunnel for the ongoing pandemic, which has ravaged economies around the globe and has so far led to 1.31M deaths worldwide.
Snippet #2 | PanCAN to accelerate pancreatic cancer research
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of cancer. With few discernible symptoms in its early stages, it is often caught late, when curative surgery is no longer an option. Standard chemotherapies that are effective against other cancers often do not work well against pancreatic tumors, and newer targeted therapies that fight specific genetic mutations also have limited success. This is because unlike some other cancers that are predominantly caused by one genetic mutation, pancreatic cancer tumors tend to have many cancer-causing mutations. This makes it difficult to enroll enough patients in traditional clinical trials, and it also means that pharmaceutical companies have few incentives to develop therapies for small subsets of patients. (For more information, see https://www.mskcc.org/news/why-pancreatic-cancer-so-hard-treat)
Snippet #1 | How citizen science helps advance Alzheimer's research
Citizen science has emerged as a practice through which the public can make real contributions to scientific knowledge. Stall Catchers is an exciting citizen science initiative to help accelerate research on Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists at Cornell University found initial evidence of links between clogged blood vessels that reduce blood flow in the brain (or stalls), and Alzheimer’s disease.