Launching a ‘social networking war’ against cancer
Health Scan: using cyber-warfare against deadly diseases; uncovering what's behind "3D-Film nausea."
Brain tumor Photo: courtesy Mayo Foundation
More than ever before, experts believe, modern wars will be fought in
cyberspace, targeting the enemy’s communications technology to cause untold
damage. Now a Tel Aviv University researcher is suggesting that the same tactics
should be employed in the battle against one of the body’s deadliest enemies –
In an article published in Trends in Microbiology,
Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob of TAU’s School of Physics and Astronomy, Prof.
Herbert Levine of Rice University in Houston (both long-time bacteria
researchers) and Johns Hopkins University cancer researcher Prof. Donald Coffey
examined the shared traits of cancer cells and bacteria.
cancer cells rely on communication and “social networking” to become powerful
entities within the body. Inspired by the social and survival tactics of
bacteria, the team presented a new picture of cancer as a meta-community of
smart, communicating cells possessing special traits for cooperative
For many years, scientists ignored the complex social
interactions of bacteria, which are now the number-three killer in the Western
world’s hospitals through nosocomial infections. The researchers believe that
medical professionals are similarly “underestimating the enemy” when it comes to
cancer cells that exhibit many similar behaviors.
The parallels that can
be drawn between the two types of cells are astounding. While healthy cells are
highly disciplined, responding to chemical and physical cues telling them how to
behave, bacteria and cancer cells override this control by using different
chemical and genetic pathways.
They proliferate quickly to make rapid
genetic changes, avoiding the body’s immune system and developing drug
Using intricate communication, cancer cells can distribute
tasks, share resources, differentiate and make decisions.
cells to colonize organs and tissues throughout the body by metastasis, “spy
cells” explore the body and return the cancer’s origin. Only then do metastatic
cells leave the primary tumor and navigate to new posts.
bacteria, cancer cells change their own environment.
They induce genetic
changes and enslave surrounding normal cells, forcing them to do the disease’s
bidding — providing physical support, protecting them from the immune system and
more. Cancer cells can also become dormant when they sense danger, such as
chemotherapy chemicals, then reactivate at will.
Ben-Jacob suggests that
studying the social behavior of cancer cells can inspire new research directions
and pave the way for the development of novel therapeutic approaches such as a
new class of drugs to target cell-tocell communication or send misleading
With the ability to become immune to chemotherapy and lay
dormant until it determines the time is right to reawaken, cancer often
relapses, undetected until it’s too late to treat, says Levine. Breaking the
communication code for awakening dormant cells could help researchers learn how
to reactivate them on purpose – and be ready to kill them as soon as they
The team also suggests further research into cancer
“cannibalism,” when cancer cells may consume their peers when they run out of
resources. The idea is to send signals which trigger cancer cells to kill each
other, which can be done with bacteria.
Other researchers have
demonstrated that injected bacteria can “outsmart cancer.” Bacteria can be used
to induce gap junctions between the cancer cells and immune cells, “teaching”
the immune system to recognize and kill the tumor cells. The TAU professor
concludes that we may be entering a new era of biological cy7berwarfare, in
which scientists can enlist bacterial intelligence to defeat
An increasing number of movies are being made in
3D, which seem much more lifelike and exciting for viewers.
But there is
a downside for some people. Watching 3D movies can can also lead to visual
symptoms and even motion sickness, according to a study titled “Stereoscopic
Viewing and Reported Perceived Immersion and Symptoms” published in the journal
Optometry and Vision Science.
Symptoms related to 3D viewing are affected
by where you sit while watching, and even how old you are.
viewers incurred higher immersion but also greater visual and motion sickness
symptoms in 3D viewing,” according to lead authors Dr. Shun-nan Yang of Pacific
University College of Optometry in Oregon. “Both [problems] will be reduced if a
farther distance and a wider viewing angle are adopted.”
As 3D movies
become more common, including on home screens, there are reports of visual and
other symptoms among 3D viewers. Vision and orientation symptoms related to 3D
viewing may be related to a “mismatch” between focusing and converging the
The researchers performed experiments in which adults, from young
adult to middle-aged, were invited to watch a movie (Cloudy with a Chance of
Meatballs) in 2D or 3D while sitting at different angles and distances. Visual
and other symptoms were assessed, as were the role of factors including age,
seating position, and level of “immersion” in the movie. Twenty-one percent of
participants reported symptoms while watching the movie in 3D, compared to 12%
percent with 2D viewing.
For younger study participants, blurred vision,
double vision, dizziness, disorientation and nausea were all more frequent and
severe when watching the movie in 3D, which also led to a greater sense of
immersion – “a greater sense of object motion and motion of the viewer in space”
– compared to 2D viewing.
Subjects sitting in more central or closer
positions reported greater immersion as well as increased symptoms of motion
sickness, that is, nausea. Sitting at an angle to the screen was associated with
less immersion as well as reduced motion symptoms. There were some differences
by age, including a lower rate of blurred vision in viewers over 46, who had
more visual and motion sickness symptoms in 2D viewing, while younger viewers
(age 24 to 34) had more symptoms in 3D viewing.