BGU develops new way of testing for cancer

Health Scan: "Fingering" Obesity - why babies should learn to feed themselves; protective Parkinson gene.

By
March 18, 2012 02:01
4 minute read.
cancer cell

cancer cell . (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

A simple blood test is being developed by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba that may provide early detection of many types of cancer.

Prof. Joseph Kapelushnik of BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences and colleagues developed a device that uses infrared light to illuminate cancer cells in less than a teaspoon of blood. The experimental test detects minuscule changes in the blood of a person who has a cancerous growth somewhere, even before the disease has spread. The mechanism behind the test is that various molecules released into the bloodstream cause the blood of someone with cancer to absorb infrared light a bit differently than that of healthy people.

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In the latest clinical trial with 200 patients and a control group, the test identified specific cancers in 90 percent of the patients and found other types of cancer, as well. The researchers are focused on detection of common cancers, such as lung and ovarian cancer.

Early detection is vital in increasing the chances for cancer patients’ recovery and preventing the need for long, difficult and costly treatments in more advanced stages.

“This is still research in the early stages of clinical trials,” says Kapelushnik, who is also head of the Soroka’s pediatric hemato-oncology, pouring cold water on people who think it will be available “tomorrow.”

“But the purpose is to develop an efficient, cheap and simple method to detect as many types of cancers as possible. We want to be able to detect cancer while a patient is still feeling good, before it has a chance to metastasize, meaning fewer treatments, less suffering and many more lives saved.”

More clinical trials will be conducted in the next 18 months.

"Fingering" Obesity

Babies allowed to feed themselves with finger foods from the start of weaning are likely to eat more healthily and have normal weight as they get older than infants who are spoon-fed purees, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The findings led the authors to suggest that the habits of the “baby-led” group who ate on their own could help ward off obesity in later childhood.

They based their findings on 155 children between the ages of 20 months and 6.5 years, whose parents completed a detailed questionnaire about their children’s weaning style and food preferences. Ninety-two of the children had been allowed to feed themselves with finger foods, while 63 had been spoon-fed pureed foods throughout weaning.

Children in the baby-led group liked carbohydrates more than those who had been spoon-fed. In fact, carbohydrates were the favorite foods of children in the baby-led weaning group; children in the spoon-fed group liked sweet foods the best. This was despite the fact that along with sweet foods, children in the spoon-fed group had also been offered carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, proteins and whole meals, such as lasagne, more often than their peers in the baby-led weaning group.

More children in the spoon-fed group were overweight/obese than those in the baby led group, who tended to have normal weight for their height, age and gender. These differences were not explained by differences in birth-weight, parental weight, or socioeconomic factors, all of which are likely to influence a child’s body mass index.

The authors suggest that carbohydrates presented whole, like toast, may enhance a child’s awareness of textures, which are lost when food is pureed. And they point to previous research which shows that presentation is a key factor in food preferences.

The preference for carbohydrates among those weaned on solids could simply be that they are easier to chew than other solids, such as meat, say the authors, who point out that few children in the baby-led group choked on their food.

“Our study suggests that baby-led weaning has a positive impact on the liking for foods that form the building blocks of healthy nutrition, such as carbohydrates,” conclude the authors. “This has implications for combating the well documented rise of obesity in contemporary societies.”

Protective Parkinson gene

One out of every four Jews of Ashkenazi origin bears a mutated gene that – for a change – significantly reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Prof. Avi Or of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center has found that the lucky carriers of the gene – called Park16 and found on chromosome 1 – are at much lower risk from the incurable neurological disease than people who are not carriers.

In an article published in the Archives of Neurology, the director of the hospital’s genetic institute wrote that 2% of the Israeli population eventually develop Parkinson’s.

Harmful mutations that increase the risk of getting the disease appear in a third of Parkinson’s patients and 8% of the healthy Ashkenazi population.

Or and doctoral student Ziv Gan- Or surveyed 1,360 healthy volunteers, in coordination with neurology department head Prof. Nir Giladi.

The study showed that in this region of chromosome 1, there are a number of mutations that cut the risk of getting Parkinson’s 1.5 times – the same result found by researchers in Japan, Europe and China.

But the Sourasky team found that one in every 70 Ashkenazim has a combination of mutations that reduces the risk of the disease by a factor of 10. Or suggested that other progressive neurological diseases might be similar, and that the mutations could also give the bearers protection against them. This knowledge could eventually lead to the development of new treatments and even help prevent Parkinson’s and other diseases.


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