biology, Science, science news

A glowy frog (and an apology)

Yes. I know. I disappeared. What happened? Term happened, is what. I’ve been flat out since the end of January and it’s only now easing off. I am aiming to spruce up the site and get going on posts over the spring/summer. I am hoping that next year will be less frantic as I will not have to write most of my lectures from scratch, or be taking a qualification at the same time…then again, maybe the apocalypse will have arrived by then (I’m feeling a tad pessimistic at the state of the world/my country this morning).

I’ll post something more substantial in the next few days. In the meantime, something to brighten your day (pun intended) – a fluorescent frog:

Fluorescent frog

Researchers have found the first fluorescent frog, the delightfully named South American polka dot tree frog. Fluorescence isn’t as common in terrestrial animals as aquatic ones, and it’s never been found in an amphibian, so this is very surprising. Moreover, the molecules responsible for the effect are quite unlike those seen in other fluorescent animals – they are in fact more similar to those seen in plants.

Fluorescence is distinct from bioluminescence, in which organisms generate their own light via chemical reactions (meaning it can happen in the dark). Fluorescence means that they absorb light at one wavelength and emit it at another, longer one. Will alien life have fluorescence? Possibly, although I think bioluminescence is more likely.

Biological therapy, biology, genetic modification, medicine, News, Science, science news

A successful first for gene therapy

Who would like to hear some really good news? Thought so. One of the promises of the molecular biology and genomics revolutions was that gene therapy – replacing defective, disease-causing genes with functioning ones, or otherwise treating these diseases by genetic means – would become a reality. Even, optimistically, something commonplace. Like so many things, however, it has proved more complicated than hoped, and those longed-for treatments elusive. There has never been a therapy of any kind that alters the disease progress of a neurodegenerative disease – until now. Continue reading

biology, genetic modification, Science, science news

Artificial carbon fixation

Probably most of us are aware that plants take sunlight and use it to “fix” carbon from carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere into sugar compounds by the process of photosynthesis. In fact, natural photosynthesis removes about 100 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year. The natural release and absorption of CO2 is balanced – but humans are releasing over 30 billion tonnes per year on top of that, which is increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere and causing global warming; this exceeds the ability of plants to remove it. But what if we could find a way to make carbon fixation more efficient? Now, a team of researchers have done just that. Continue reading

biology, medicine, News, science news

New antibiotics could be right under – or in – our noses

There is increasing concern over the rise in antibiotic resistance, with many infections now becoming resistant not just to commonly used, long-established antibiotics like penicillin, but to last-resort newer antibiotics like vancomycin. The search for new antibiotics is becoming increasingly urgent – and it seems that some are lurking in surprising places. Continue reading

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.

Biological therapy, cancer, immunotherapy, science news, Uncategorized

Immunotherapy in the news again

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, with a teething baby eating my sleep and job applications eating my time, so a longer written piece is off the cards for now. It seems my piece on new cancer treatments, specifically immunotherapy, however, was a timely one, as it’s hitting the news again, with big successes reported in the use of modified T-cell therapy to treat blood cancers, reported in the Guardian here. These include some startling trial results:

In the most promising study, about 35 patients with ALL were treated with Cars-modified T-cells; 94% went into remission, though symptoms could reappear. More than 40 patients with lymphoma have also been treated, with remission rates of more than 50%. In a group with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, there was evidence of diminished cancer symptoms in more than 80% of cases.

These are really impressive figures. Is it just hype? These results were reported at a major scientific meeting, and the ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukaemia) trial results are described as being under review and pending publication. So it’s not just a press release from a laboratory that has been wildly spun out of all proportion by an over-enthusiastic press. I for one will definitely be wanting to read the original research paper when (if) it is published. We can expect to see a flood of trial results and papers published within the next couple of years, if it lives up to even half of its original promise.