Skin cancer ‘able to fight off body’s immune system’.



A deadly form of skin cancer is able to fend off the body’s immune system, UK researchers have found.

Analysis of tumour and blood samples shows that melanoma knocks out the body’s best immune defence.

A potential test could work out which patients are likely to respond to treatment, the Journal of Clinical Investigation reports.

Cancer Research UK said the body’s response was a “complex puzzle”.

Previous work from the team at King’s College London showed that while patients with melanoma produced antibodies that could attack tumour cells, the immune system often seemed powerless to stop the cancer progressing.

But in the latest research they discovered that the subtype of antibody attracted by the melanoma cells was the most ineffective at mounting the right sort of response.

In samples from 80 melanoma patients they say that the conditions created by the tumour attract IgG4 antibodies, which mount the weakest response and in turn interfere with any “strong” IgG1 antibodies that might be present.

By mimicking the conditions created by melanomas, they showed that in the presence of tumour cells, the immune system sent out IgG4 antibodies, but when faced with healthy cells it functioned as expected with IgG1 circulating.

They also confirmed that IgG4 was ineffective in launching an immune attack against cancer cells.

Potential test

In additional tests in 33 patients, they found that those with higher levels of the weak antibody IgG4 had a less favourable prognosis compared with those with levels nearer to normal.

Study author Dr Sophie Karagiannis said: “This work bears important implications for future therapies since not only are IgG4 antibodies ineffective in activating immune cells to kill tumours but they also work by blocking antibodies from killing tumour cells.”

She said not only was IgG4 stopping the patient’s more powerful antibodies from eradicating cancer, but it could also explain why some treatments based on boosting the immune response may be less effective in some patients.

Co-author Prof Frank Nestle said more work was needed on developing IgG4 as a potential test to improve patient care by helping to identify patients most likely to respond to treatments.

“This study can also inform the rational design of novel strategies to counteract IgG4 actions,” he added.

Dr Kat Arney, science communications manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “There’s a lot we don’t yet understand about how our immune system recognises and responds to cancer, so we’re pleased to have supported this new research that’s helping to solve such a complex puzzle.

“This work is still at an early stage, but it’s a step towards developing more effective treatments for skin cancer and potentially other types of cancer in the future.”

Source: BBC

O2’s Tu Go aims to challenge Skype and other Voip apps.


O2 has launched an app which lets users make and receive phone calls and texts via a tablet, computer or smartphone.

Tu Go is available for Android, Apple’s iOS devices and Windows 7 PCs but limited to “pay monthly” subscribers – so excludes corporate accounts.

Tu Go deducts charges from the user’s existing call minutes allowance, unlike Skype and other chat apps which involve the purchase of credit.

Analysts suggest this billing innovation could prove disruptive.

O2’s owner Telefonica has experimented with Voip (voice over internet protocol) before with its Tu Me app which was launched in 2012 with limited success.

However, the earlier program required both parties in the conversation to be using the software, while Tu Go only needs the the caller to have launched the app.

Web mail

Tu Go has been available through Apple’s iOS store since October last year, but had previously restricted its functions to about 1,000 testers.

It works over wi-fi or 3G/4G data connections. The cost is the same as if the user had made a normal call through their O2 mobile.

The aim is to free people from being tied to a single handset, said product manager Caroline Dundas.

“Customers can now take their mobile number wherever they like, even away from their mobiles,” she said.

Users can be logged into the service on up to five devices at once – meaning all will ring if they receive a call – including handsets using Sim cards associated with different networks and internet enabled gadgets such as iPods.

Ms Dundas likened the service to the way email developed.

“In the early days you could only access email from the machine it was installed on but then web mail came along and that allowed you to access messages from any device,” she said.

“This is opening up comms in the same way.”

Declining profits

The effort represents the telecom industry’s latest attempt to tackle competition from Skype and other third-party Voip services.

These typically do not charge for app-to-app calls, but do require the user to buy credit if they want to call or send a text to a standard mobile or landline number.

BT already offers its own service – SmartTalk – offering its residential customers the ability to make calls on their smartphone for the same price as if they were using their landline.

Orange and T-Mobile are also finishing work on their own facility which they plan to roll out later this year,

But the scale of the threat was highlighted earlier this week when the chairman of China Mobile – the world’s largest telecom carrier – said his firm was now more concerned about the challenge posed by Microsoft’s Skype and Tencent’s WeChat services than it was about competition from China’s rival mobile networks.

“The networks are losing revenue from declining voice traffic,” Chris Green, tech analyst at Davies Murphy Group, told the BBC.

“Some of it is down to services such as Skype but we are also just making fewer phone calls.

“So, they are all thinking of wacky new ways to get us making more calls – there is a lot more profit in voice than in data.”

There are already dozens of Voip apps on the market including lesser-known names such as Tango, Fring, Bria and Zerofone as well as manufacturer’s own services including BlackBerry BBM and Apple’s Facetime.

But the Ovum telecoms consultancy believes Tu Go will stand out from the crowd.

“The application is more than just another “me too” Voip app by an operator,” said analyst Jeremy Green.

“It is intrinsically linked to your existing telephone number and bill, so any charges are just deducted from your bundled call deal rather than you having to buy extra credit.

“It merges the best of internet telephony and old fashioned calls and and is a lesson for O2’s peers in the industry.”


Toddler cured of HIV.


A 2-year-old Mississippi girl is the first child to be “functionally cured” of HIV, researchers announced Sunday.

Researchers said they believe early intervention — in this case within 30 hours of birth — with three anti-viral drugs was key to the outcome.

A “functional cure” is when the presence of the virus is so small, lifelong treatment is not necessary and standard clinical tests cannot detect the virus in the blood.

The finding was announced at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.

The unidentified girl was born HIV-positive to a mother who received no prenatal care and was not diagnosed as HIV-positive herself until just before delivery.

“We didn’t have the opportunity to treat the mom during the pregnancy as we would like to be able do to prevent transmission to the baby,” said Dr. Hannah Gay.

Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told CNN the timing of intervention in this case, before the baby was diagnosed HIV-positive, may deserve “more emphasis than the particular drugs or number of drugs used.”

“We are hoping that future studies will show that very early institution of effective therapy will result in this same outcome consistently,” she said on the eve of the conference.

High-risk exposure

Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, an immunologist at the University of Massachusetts who worked closely with Gay, called the developments fascinating, including the fact that the toddler was found to have no virus in her blood even after her mother stopped giving her treatment for eight to 10 months.

“This is the very first case in which we’ve conclusively been able to document that the baby was infected and then after a period of treatment has been able to go off treatment without viral rebound,” Luzuriaga told CNN.

Because it was determined the Mississippi mother was HIV-positive, once the baby was delivered, Gay immediately began giving the infant antiretroviral drugs in an attempt to control HIV infection.

“We started therapy as early as possible, which in this case was about 30 hours of age,” the physician said. “And because it was a high-risk exposure, I decided to use three drugs rather than one.”

Within a couple of days, Gay confirmed that the child was HIV positive. She says the baby had probably been infected in the womb.

The child remained on antiretroviral drugs for approximately 15 months. Her mother then stopped administering the drug for some reason and care was resumed after health officials intervened, Gay said.

Researchers have long known that treating HIV-positive mothers early on is important, because they pass antibodies on to their babies.

“One hundred percent of (HIV-positive) moms will pass those antibodies, but in the absence of treatment, only 30% of moms will transmit the actual virus,” Luzuriaga told CNN.

HIV-positive mothers given appropriate treatment pass the virus on in less than 2% of cases, Luzuriaga said.

“So all babies are born antibody positive, but only a fraction of babies born to HIV positive women will actually get the virus, and that fraction depends on whether the mom and baby are getting antiviral prophylaxis (preventative treatment) or not,” said Luzuriaga.

Newborns are considered high-risk if their mothers’ HIV infections are not under control or if they are found to be HIV-positive when they’re close to delivering.

Moving quickly to suppress the virus

Usually, these infants would get anti-viral drugs at preventative doses for six weeks to prevent infection, then start therapy if HIV is diagnosed.

Investigators say the Mississippi case may change that practice because it highlights the potential for cure with very early standard antiretroviral therapy (ART).

ART is a combination of at least three drugs used to suppress the virus and stop the progression of the disease.

But they do not kill the virus. Tests showed the virus in the Mississippi baby’s blood continued to decrease and reached undetectable levels within 29 days of the initial treatment.

Dr. Deborah Persaud, a virologist with Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, was lead author on the report.

The early treatment likely led to the infant’s cure, she said.

“Prompt antiviral therapy in newborns that begins within days of exposure may help infants clear the virus and achieve long-term remission without lifelong treatment by preventing such viral hideouts from forming in the first place,” Persaud says.

Persaud and Luzuriaga are part of a group of researchers working to explore and document possible pediatric HIV cure cases. The group was funded by a grant from amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research; and the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Rowena Johnston, amfAR vice president and director of research, said it is “imperative that we learn more about a newborn’s immune system, how it differs from an adults and what factors made it possible for the child to be cured.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, is enthusiastic about the findings.

“The best way to either eliminate the virus or allow the immune system to suppress residual virus is to treat someone as early as possible after infection so as not to allow a substantial reservoir of the virus to take hold,” Fauci told CNN.

“At the same time, you prevent the immune system from being severely damaged by the continual replication of (the) virus for an extended period of time,” he said. “The situation with a child born of an infected mother where most of the infections are transmitted to the newborn at or around the time of delivery provides an excellent opportunity to cure an infected baby, and this approach deserves further study.”

“Berlin patient”

Researchers say the only other documented case of an HIV cure is that of Timothy Brown, the “Berlin patient.” In 2007, Brown, an HIV-positive American living in Germany, was battling both leukemia and HIV when he underwent a bone marrow transplant that cured not only his cancer but his HIV as well.

In an interview last year, Brown told Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, he was still HIV-free.

“I’ve been tested everywhere possible,” said Brown who now lives in San Francisco. “My blood’s been tested by many, many agencies, I’ve had two colonoscopies to test to see if they could find HIV in my colon, and they haven’t been able to find any.”

But Brown’s case is rare.

And, the procedure, which is extremely dangerous, won’t work in most patients because the bone marrow he received had a special genetic mutation that made the stem cells in it naturally resistant to the virus.

Researchers tell CNN only 1% of Caucasians — mostly Northern Europeans — and no African-Americans or Asians have this particular mutation.

Last June, five years after he was “cured,” reports surfaced that “traces” of the virus had been found in Brown’s blood.

Even then, some HIV experts said that doesn’t matter, that he’s been cured. In fact, many AIDS experts believe Brown has experienced what’s called a “sterilizing” cure, meaning the virus has been eliminated from the body entirely.

Routine clinical testing on the Mississippi toddler continues, Gay says.

So far, there is no evidence of the virus.

“On the ultra-sensitive testing, we are occasionally getting signals so we cannot say with certainty that this child is absolutely clear of HIV, but we will continue to follow up with the baby,” Luzuriaga said. “We have formed a hypothesis and that is already driving the design of new studies and clinical trials that will help us to answer the question of whether by coming in very early we will be able to treat children for a while and then remove them from therapy.”

Source: CNN

US HIV baby ‘cured’ by early drug treatment.

A baby girl in the US born with HIV appears to have been cured after very early treatment with standard drug therapy, doctors say.

The Mississippi child is now two-and-a-half years old and has been off medication for about a year with no signs of infection.

More testing needs to be done to see if the treatment – given within hours of birth – would work for others.

If the girl stays healthy, it would be the world’s second reported ‘cure’.

Dr Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, presented the findings at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.

“This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants,” she said.

Cocktail of drugs

In 2007, Timothy Ray Brown became the first person in the world believed to have recovered from HIV.

His infection was eradicated through an elaborate treatment for leukaemia that involved the destruction of his immune system and a stem cell transplant from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists HIV infection.

In contrast, the case of the Mississippi baby involved a cocktail of widely available drugs, known as antiretroviral therapy, already used to treat HIV infection in infants.

It suggests the swift treatment wiped out HIV before it could form hideouts in the body.

These so-called reservoirs of dormant cells usually rapidly reinfect anyone who stops medication, said Dr Persaud.

The baby was born in a rural hospital where the mother had only just tested positive for HIV infection.

Because the mother had not been given any prenatal HIV treatment, doctors knew the baby was at high risk of being infected.

Researchers said the baby was then transferred to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Once there, paediatric HIV specialist Dr Hannah Gay put the infant on a cocktail of three standard HIV-fighting drugs at just 30 hours old, even before laboratory tests came back confirming the infection.

“I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk and deserved our best shot,” Dr Gay said.

The treatment was continued for 18 months, at which point the child disappeared from the medical system. Five months later the mother and child turned up again but had stopped the treatment in this interim.

The doctors carried out tests to see if the virus had returned and were astonished to find that it had not.

Dr Rowena Johnston, of the Foundation for Aids Research, said it appeared that the early intervention that started immediately after birth worked.

“I actually do believe this is very exciting.

“This certainly is the first documented case that we can truly believe from all the testing that has been done.

“Many doctors in six different laboratories all applied different, very sophisticated tests trying to find HIV in this infant and no body was able to find any.

“And so we really can quite confidently conclude at this point that the child does very much appear to be cured.”

A spokeswoman for the HIV/Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust said: “This is interesting, but the patient will need careful ongoing follow-up for us to understand the long-term implications for her and any potential for other babies born with HIV.”

Source: BBC

Fat gene ‘linked with skin cancer’.



A gene previously shown to be linked to obesity may also increase the risk of a deadly form of skin cancer, say researchers writing in Nature Genetics.

Analysis of data from 73,000 people, led by the University of Leeds, found a specific section of the “fat gene” was associated with malignant melanoma.

It is the first time the gene has been linked with a specific disease independently of weight.

The results suggest a wider role for the gene than originally thought.

Malignant melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK with about 12,800 new cases and about 2,200 deaths each year.

An international team analysed genetic data from the tumours of 13,000 malignant melanoma patients and 60,000 unaffected individuals.

They found that those with particular variations in a stretch of DNA within the “fat gene” or FTO gene, called intron 8, could be at greater risk of developing melanoma.


New targets


Previous research linking the FTO gene with obesity found that variants in a section called intron 1 are linked with being overweight and overeating.


Several other diseases have been linked to the gene but also to having a high body mass index.


This is the first time that researchers have found a link between the FTO gene and a disease which is not linked to obesity and BMI.


It opens up a new direction in work looking at how the gene functions as until now the focus has been on its effects on weight gain and factors such as regulating appetite.


Study author, Dr Mark Iles, a senior research fellow at the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, said: “This is the first time to our knowledge that this major obesity gene, already linked to multiple illnesses, has been linked to melanoma.


“This raises the question whether future research will reveal that the gene has a role in even more diseases?”


He added: “When scientists have tried to understand how the FTO gene behaves, so far they’ve only examined its role in metabolism and appetite.


“But it’s now clear we don’t know enough about what this intriguing gene does.”


Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager, said: “These are fascinating early findings that, if confirmed in further research, could potentially provide new targets for the development of drugs to treat melanoma.


“Advances in understanding more about the molecules driving skin cancer have already enabled us to develop important new skin cancer drugs that will make a real difference for patients.”


She added the best way to prevent melanoma was to avoid damage caused by too much sun exposure and sunbeds.


“Getting a painful sunburn just once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma.”


Source: BBC


Skin patches ‘tackle prostate cancer’.


Skin patches which deliver oestrogen into the blood may be a cheaper and safer treatment for prostate cancer than current therapies, a study says.

The main treatment is injections of a chemical to cut levels of testosterone – the driving force of many prostate cancers – but it causes side effects.

The Imperial College London study in the Lancet Oncology compared patches and injections in 254 patients.

It found patches were safe and should avoid menopause-like side effects.

‘Effective treatments’

Using oestrogen to treat prostate cancer is an old treatment.

Both oestrogen and testosterone are very similar chemically, so ramping up the levels of oestrogen in the body can reduce the amount of testosterone produced – and slow prostate cancer growth.

However, taking oral oestrogen pills caused significant health problems by overdosing the liver. The organ then produced chemicals which caused blood clots, heart attacks and strokes.

The preferred treatment is injections of a drug, LHRHa, which reduces the production of both oestrogen and testosterone. However, this has side effects similar to the menopause in women – resulting in poor bone health and diabetes.

Prof Paul Abel, from Imperial College London, said: “We’re not claiming this is equivalent to current therapies yet, but it does look like we are getting castration levels of testosterone.”

However, the researchers need to follow patients for longer.

“The next step is to test if the oestrogen patches are as effective at stopping the growth of prostate cancer as the current hormone treatments, we’re now testing this in over 600 patients.”

Kate Law, from the charity Cancer Research UK which part funded the study, said: “More men than ever are surviving prostate cancer thanks to advances in research, but we still urgently need to find more effective treatments and reduce side effects.

“This trial is an important step towards better and kinder treatments that could bring big benefits to men with prostate cancer in the future.”

Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “It is unclear as yet if hormone patches could be an effective alternative to hormone injections, but we await with anticipation the results of the further trials planned which could in time offer men hope for the future.”

Source: BBC