Biological therapy, biology, cancer, News, science news, Uncategorized

NICE approves combination immunotherapy drug for advanced skin cancer

Sometimes the science of the future seems very far away, and sometimes it seems to happen almost faster than you would think. Immunotherapy is taking off at a record pace in the search for better cancer treatments.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice), the body in the United Kingdom that licences medicines for use, has just approved a combination of two immunotherapy drugs in record time. These two drugs are ipilumab and nivolumab, which I blogged about as a treatment showing promising clinical trial results only a short while ago.

Nivolumab blocks a molecule secreted by cancer cells that prevents the T-cells of the immune system from recognising and destroying them. Ipilumab, which was approved by Nice in 2012, stimulates the T-cells to multiply. This drug combination has been approved for the treatment of metastatic (i.e. spread from its original site) melanoma, a particularly intractable cancer to treat. The life expectancy for this type of cancer is only around two years: the combination treatment has extended this to as much as ten years (and counting, in some cases). Moreover, ipilumab alone is effective in about 20% of cases: the combination raises that to 60%. So these are massively improved odds. I expect to see more successes soon, and, as more experience is gained with these exciting new techniques, hopefully the side-effects will become more manageable as well.

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biology, evolution, Explainer

Ladies, your hips change shape with your age

I read a rather interesting paper recently looking at the development of the human female pelvis, from late fetal stages until late adulthood. (You can find the full text for free here). The paper describes itself as challenging the “obstetrical dilemma hypothesis”: this is the idea that there are conflicting demands on the human female pelvis: to efficiently walk on two legs, a narrow pelvis is better, but to have large-brained babies, and to give birth safely to them, a wide pelvis is better. What I also find interesting, however, is that it takes the subconscious assumption that a large, bony structure, such as the human pelvis, is relatively fixed in proportion once you reach adulthood: turns out that, for women at least, it’s not.

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History of science, Miscellaneous, Uncategorized

I want a leech-based storm predictor

I’m aware I’ve been a little slack with the postings lately; life is getting busy as I prepare to start a new job (and move house to start said job…). I’ve got a post in the works, but in the meantime I’ll just leave you with this: the Tempest Prognosticator, which I just learned about from BBC4’s excellent documentary on the history of weather forecasting, Storm Troupers. It’s a way of predicting oncoming storms using the agitation of leeches. Yes, really.

Tempest prognosticator
At the Whitby museum (taken by L Wang).

Just not sure where I’d fit it in the living room…