The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories are cancer vaccines, brain matching  and a possible key to our anxiety.

By Grace Chan

Cancer Vaccines?

Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have successfully eliminated tumours by injecting two immune-activating agents directly into solid tumours in mice.

Immune cells, such as T cells, play crucial roles in detecting and killing cancer cells. Very often, however, cancer cells manage to find ways to evade being eliminated by suppressing T cells’ activities. In this study, researchers have demonstrated that such suppressed T cells could be reactivated. They first transplanted tumours into two separate sites in mice. This was followed by injection of a miniscule amount of two components into one of the two tumour sites. The first agent (CpG oligonucleotide) promoted expression of a specific T cell receptor, OX40, responsible for T cell activation. This allowed the second agent, a OX40-specific antibody, to bind and activate OX40. This, in turn, triggered an immune response that targeted only the cancer cells. It was shown that those activated T cells were capable of targeting and eliminating all the cancer cells in the mice, with an effectiveness of 96% across all the tested.

A clinical trial with lymphoma patients was subsequently launched in January this year. If this proves successful, it could provide a cheaper and more efficient alternative to current available immunotherapy techniques.

Read more here. http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/10/426/eaan4488

 

T cells.tif
T cells attacking a cancer cells (Source: http://www.diamond.ac.uk/Home/News/LatestFeatures/02_09_15.html)

Do friends think alike?

We tend to be friends with people that are similar to ourselves. A new study by Dartmouth College has suggested that you can predict who your friends are by scanning your brain.

The researchers looked at real-life friendship connections within a cohort of graduate students. Those students were asked to watch a series of videos while having their neural activities recorded in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners. By comparing their neural responses, the scientists found that responses were the most similar amongst friends, and with similarities decreasing with increasing social distances between two individuals. This suggested that friends perceive and interpret the world in very similar ways.

This is one of the first studies to attempt to understand the relationships between neural activities and interactions between individuals. The next step is to understand whether we gravitate to people who have similar neural responses, and whether the way we perceive the world changes as friendships develop.

Read more here.  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-02722-7

Minions.tif

Anxiety cells

We all feel anxious sometimes, but where is this feeling coming from? Researchers have recently identified ‘anxiety cells’, which are located in the hippocampus in the brain and are responsible for responding to stressful situations.

By recording activities of hundreds of brain cells in mice placed in exposed, anxiety-provoking environments (such as elevated platforms) specific cells in the hippocampus were activated. It was observed that those cells became more activated as the mice became more nervous. To further test whether these cells are direct indicators of anxiety, the researchers manipulated the states of those cells using a technique called optogenetics, where a light beam was used to turn the cells on or off. When the cells were turned off, the mice started wondering onto elevated platforms, going to areas they previously avoided. However, when the cells were turned on, the mice acted anxious even when placed in “safe” surroundings.

These anxiety cells may also be found in humans as well. If so, their discovery will allow further research into how their dysfunction may lead to the development of anxiety disorder and may provide possible treatments for reducing anxiety.

Read more here. http://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(18)30019-9

anxiety cells.tif
Anxiety cells light up when the mice are stressed. (Source: http://newsroom.cumc.columbia.edu/blog/2018/01/31/anxiety-cells-identified-in-the-brains-hippocampus/)