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The Case of the Deadly Bagpipes

Take a moment and assess your hobbies. Unless your idea of a good time is bungee jumping or scaling Mt. Everest, your favorite pastimes are likely pretty safe … right? Think again. Experts are calling upon doctors to consider the risks posed by patients’ hobbies after a British man died of a lung infection likely caused by his daily sessions on the bagpipe. They reported their findings in the journal Thorax.

The 61-year-old man had had a persistent cough and trouble breathing for seven years by the time he was referred to a lung disease clinic in the UK in April 2014. Previous doctors had diagnosed the man with hypersensitivity pneumonitis, or HP, an inflammation of the respiratory tract caused by exposure to some sort of pathogen. The man didn’t smoke, own birds (a common trigger), nor did his house show any signs of mold or water damage, yet his symptoms were getting progressively worse. He found a brief respite during a 3-month trip to Australia, during which he reported feeling well enough to take long walks on the beach. But almost immediately after the man returned, his symptoms did, too.

Five months after his initial visit to the clinic, the man’s condition had deteriorated. He was admitted to the hospital, where scans of his chest confirmed a diagnosis of HP. He was given a cocktail of antibiotics and antifungal medications, but the treatment came too late. The man continued to deteriorate and died in early October.

After his arrival in the hospital, doctors began to investigate other possible triggers for his illness. When asked about his hobbies, the patient said he played the bagpipes every single day—with the exception of his sojourn in Australia, when he left the instrument at home.

Researchers took samples from three sites in the bagpipes: within the bag itself (by squeezing the air into a chamber), in its neck, and in its reed protector. Here’s what they found:

The unfortunate bagpiper had been sucking in fungus and mold with every inhalation. The physicians can’t say definitively that the bagpipe pathogens caused the man’s death, but they think it’s pretty likely, especially since other doctors have noted cases of HP in trombone and saxophone players.

“This case highlights the importance of a careful clinical history including hobbies,” the authors write. “Clinicians need to be aware of this potential trigger for developing HP, and wind instrument players need to be aware of the importance of regularly cleaning their instruments to minimize this risk.”

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Medicine
New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
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Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

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New Peanut Allergy Patch Could Be Coming to Pharmacies This Year
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About 6 million people in the U.S. and Europe have severe peanut allergies, including more than 2 million children. Now, French biotechnology company DBV Technologies SA has secured an FDA review for its peanut allergy patch, Bloomberg reports.

If approved, the company aims to start selling the Viaskin patch to children afflicted with peanut allergies in the second half of 2018. The FDA's decision comes in spite of the patch's disappointing study results last year, which found the product to be less effective than DBV hoped (though it did receive high marks for safety). The FDA has also granted Viaskin breakthrough-therapy and fast-track designations, which means a faster review process.

DBV's potentially life-saving product is a small disc that is placed on the arm or between the shoulder blades. It works like a vaccine, exposing the wearer's immune system to micro-doses of peanut protein to increase tolerance. It's intended to reduce the chances of having a severe allergic reaction to accidental exposure.

The patch might have competition: Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., which specializes in food allergy treatments, and the drug company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are working together to develop a cure for peanut allergies.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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