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New Study Explains Why Some Flu Vaccines Work Better Than Others

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Scientists say some flu-shot formulations activate our dendritic cells, encouraging our immune systems to fight harder against the virus. The researchers published their findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Guarding against the flu is a tricky thing. Every flu season, public health officials have to predict which strains will predominate. But sometimes, even when they’ve got that right, the vaccine just doesn’t work as well as it should. During 2009, for example, one of the available vaccines (MIV-09) was 35 percent less effective than another (TIV-09)—despite the fact that both were made by the same company. This wasn’t an issue of quality control. Something else was going on.

One group of immunologists had a theory.

Dendritic cell. Image Credit: Sriram Subramaniam, National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Donny Bliss, National Library of Medicine (NLM) via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dendritic cells (so called for their branching protrusions, or dendrites) are the messengers of the immune system. They’re found on your skin and in your stomach, lungs, intestines, and nose, patrolling the borders between the inside and outside of your body. As security guards, they’re pretty sharp, responding differently to different types of intruders.

Could it be that dendritic cells were helping one vaccine work or hindering another?

To find out, the researchers cultured human cells in the lab, then exposed them to the two vaccines while watching to see how the dendritic cells would respond. The trivalent vaccine aims to protect against three types of influenza strains; the monovalent vaccine, one.

Carla Schaffer / S. Athale / Science Translational Medicine (2017).

Sure enough, the TIV-09 that had fared so much better in 2009 inspired more cooperation from dendritic cells. Dendritic cells treated with MIV-09 were less likely to respond, even when they’d already been activated.

Further studies will be needed to confirm these tests in actual human bodies, but these findings are a good start.

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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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