Launching a ‘social networking war’ against cancer

Health Scan: using cyber-warfare against deadly diseases; uncovering what's behind "3D-Film nausea."

By
September 2, 2012 03:42
4 minute read.
Brain tumor

Brain tumor 311. (photo credit: courtesy Mayo Foundation)

 
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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 – cancer.

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.

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Like 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 behavior.

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 resistance.

Using intricate communication, cancer cells can distribute tasks, share resources, differentiate and make decisions.



Before sending 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.

Also like 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 messages.

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 “awaken.”

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 cancer.

3D-Film nausea

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.

“Younger 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 eyes.

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.

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