The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories are exciting new antibiotics, training the immune system to target cancer cells, and friendly photons.

By Gintare Bucaite

Digging for cure

Scientists at Rockefeller University went digging in the dirt and found a novel antibiotic molecule capable of fighting even the multi-drug resistant superbugs like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

After analysing almost 2000 soil samples, researchers have identified a new family of calcium-dependent antibiotics, which they have called malacidins. Researchers have attributed their success to a novel approach taken to analyse the soil samples. Traditionally, scientists would attempt to culture the bugs from the soil samples and then isolate antibiotic compounds, however this method is now largely abandoned as most bugs are nearly impossible to culture in the lab. To identify new clinically useful antibiotics, a culture-independent natural product discovery platform was used to unearth the malacidin family of antibiotics.

Malacidins were active against Gram-positive bacteria in animal wound models and offer new hope in the arms race between antibiotic resistant bugs and medicine.

 Article was published in Nature Microbiology last week.

antibiotic cartonn

Training the immune system to target cancer cells

Researchers at Stanford suggest that using patient’s own cells could serve as a potent cancer vaccine.

Scientists saw the similarities between the cancer cells and embryonic tissues and have produced induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that were successfully used to trigger an immune response against cancer cells. iPSCs are cells created by reprogramming the nucleus of adult somatic cells, such as skin or nerve cells, to express similar genes as embryonic stem cells would express. Scientists have shown that iPSCs express tumour-associated proteins and an iPSC vaccine can be used to activate the immune system to target the proteins that iPSCs share with tumour cells. Multiple murine cancer models were tested and encouragingly, the treatment worked very well for all cancers. When mice were vaccinated with iPSCs and then injected with cancer cells, the cancer was completely rejected or severely reduced. While there are a few immunotherapy strategies already out there in the market, the iPSC vaccine appears to be superior as cancers were targeted without therapy-associated adverse effects and can be personalised.

Although this vaccine was only tested in mouse models so far, researchers hope that in the future it could be used in human patients as a prophylactic treatment to reduce the risk of cancers as we age or as adjuvant immunotherapy shortly after the conventional cancer treatment. Full article here.

immune cells cancer

Am I seeing triple?

Let there be light, said physicists at MIT, and there was light. Light is made up of tiny and speedy particles called photons. Photons tend to keep each to their own, yet scientists at MIT have convinced photons to snuggle up and link together, in a way similar how individual atoms form bonds in molecules.

Scientists have observed this new form of light by shining a laser through a cloud of ultracold rubidium atoms. While photons were entering the cloud at the speed of light (almost 300,000 kilometres per second), after exiting the cloud they slowed down around 100,000 times to what would be a crawl for a photon. Perhaps most surprisingly, photons were seen not only as individual particles but as pairs and triplets of photons as well.

Researchers hypothesise that these photon pairings occur when a single photon moves through the cloud of rubidium and briefly binds to an atom to form a hybrid photon-atom particle called polariton. Should these polaritons meet in the cloud, they would interact and as they fly out of the cloud, the atoms stay behind and the photons continue travelling, still bound together.

This new discovery could be used in technological advances, especially in the quantum computing field, as bound photons can carry information. What makes photons very attractive as information carriers is their speed, as already used to speed the communications along the fiber optic lines. If photons could carry quantum information, it would be transmitted almost instantaneously. Full article here.