The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories include digital animal testing, kamikaze cancer cells and a proposed research integrity watchdog.
By Brooke Lumicisi
Digital animal testing
Everyone wants to know that the products and medicines they are using are safe and non-toxic and to do this we unfortunately have to accept that some animal testing is required. However, a team from Johns Hopkins University have developed an algorithm that could drastically reduce the necessity for animal testing.
The researchers compiled 10 million chemical structures, original chemical safety data and toxicity testing from various publicly available databases. They ‘showed’ the database structurally similar chemical substances and asked the algorithm to predict the toxicity outcome. The tool was 87 percent accurate at predicting animal testing results. Additionally, while compiling the data the researchers found significant multiplicity in animal testing. Two chemicals were reportedly tested more than 90 times, and 69 chemicals were tested more than 45 times often independently by different companies.
There is still a way to go in moving toward digital testing platforms. This particular algorithm hasn’t been optimised for predicting more complex long term toxicities, including the potential for cancer causing effects. But, it is an important step towards further reducing the need for those cute and fuzzies in developing drugs and products.
Kamikaze cancer cells
Introducing cancer cells to treat cancer may seem like a crazy proposition, but in an amazing development for personalised treatment of cancer a group from Harvard medical school have developed a method to do just that.
Published in the journal Science this week, the researchers used CRISPR gene technology, which is rapidly changing the face of cell science, to induce human glioblastoma cells to produce a molecule known as TRAIL (Tumour necrosis factor related apoptosis inducing ligand). TRAIL has previously been shown to have anti-tumour properties, causing death of cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. The cells in this study were protected from the killing effect of TRAIL by also being manipulated so that they didn’t express the cell surface receptors that they would use to detect TRAIL and send the killing messages into the cells.
Although, cancer cells are known for their ability to move and spread throughout the body, they also have the ability to return to the site of the original tumour and re-populate this area. This is known as tumour self-seeding. In this study they injected these TRAIL producing cells into mice with tumours, at a small distance from the tumour site, and showed that the cells moved toward the tumour and resulted in a reduction in tumour size.
In order to protect the ‘patient’ from the possibility that the introduced TRAIL-inducing cells would produce their own tumours, the team also introduced a ‘kill switch’ into the cells. The team could treat the animals with a usually harmless medication that would cause these cells to push themselves into death mode.
This research combines several well characterised methods of cellular manipulation that could be used on the patients own tumour cells, to create a powerful treatment alternative.
Research integrity watchdog proposed
A parliamentary report was release this week proposing the induction of a new committee to investigate the management of misconduct in UK Universities, similar to models seen in Australia and Canada. Currently, funding by the UK research councils is dependent on Universities complying with the 2012 Concordat to support research integrity however, the report published this week reports that around a quarter of UK universities aren’t even producing annual reports on research integrity.
The committee proposed in the report would work with the governments main funding arm UK research and innovation (UKRI) unit, and would reportedly be given the power to demand that universities return funding if they are found to have failed to investigate misconduct allegations properly.
The report advises further training of researchers and supervisors, and promote the publication of ‘negative’ data. The proposed committee would increase transparency misconduct investigations in UK universities by producing publicly available annual reports on all investigations of misconduct carried out.
The guardian states that the report calls for the UK’s research integrity concordat to be strengthened so that annual reporting becomes the norm, whistleblowers are better protected, and that investigations are transparent and robust. For the most serious cases, independent experts should be appointed to investigation panels to ensure universities are not tempted to cover up wrongdoing.