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Monday, July 10, 2017

Five Years Before Brain Cancer Diagnosis, Changes Detectable in Blood

Brain Cancer tumors there before diagnosis
Newswise, July 11, 2017– Changes in immune activity appear to signal a growing brain tumor five years before symptoms arise, new research has found.

Interactions among proteins that relay information from one immune cell to another are weakened in the blood of brain cancer patients within five years before the cancer is diagnosed, said lead researcher Judith Schwartzbaum of The Ohio State University.

That information could one day lead to earlier diagnosis of brain cancer, said Schwartzbaum, an associate professor of epidemiology and member of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, focused on gliomas, which make up about 80 percent of brain cancer diagnoses. Average survival time for the most common type of glioma is 14 months.

Symptoms vary and include headaches, memory loss, personality changes, blurred vision and difficulty speaking. On average, the cancer is diagnosed three months after the onset of symptoms and when tumors are typically advanced.

“It’s important to identify the early stages of tumor development if we hope to intervene more effectively,” Schwartzbaum said. “If you understand those early steps, maybe you can design treatments to block further tumor growth.”

While widespread blood testing of people without symptoms of this rare tumor would be impractical, this research could pave the way for techniques to identify brain cancer earlier and allow for more-effective treatment, Schwartzbaum said.

Schwartzbaum evaluated blood samples from 974 people, half of whom went on to receive a brain-cancer diagnosis in the years after their blood was drawn. The samples came from Norway’s Janus Serum Bank.

Because of previous research – including her own on the relationship between allergies and brain cancer – Schwartzbaum was interested in the role of cytokines, proteins that communicate with one another and with immune cells to spark immune responses. Schwartzbaum’s previous work found that allergies appeared to offer protection against brain cancer.

In this study, Schwartzbaum evaluated 277 cytokines in the blood samples and found less cytokine interaction in the blood of people who developed cancer.

“There was a clear weakening of those interactions in the group who developed brain cancer and it’s possible this plays a role in tumor growth and development,” Schwartzbaum said.

Cytokine activity in cancer is especially important to understand because it can play a good-guy role in terms of fighting tumor development, but it also can play a villain and support a tumor by suppressing the immune system, she said.

In addition to discovering the weakening of cytokine interactions in the blood of future cancer patients, the researchers found a handful of cytokines that appear to play an especially important role in glioma development.

The results of this study must be confirmed and further evaluated before it could translate to changes in the earlier diagnosis of brain cancer, but the discovery offers important insights, Schwartzbaum said.

“It’s possible this could also happen with other tumors – that this is a general sign of tumor development,” she said.

The research was supported by the National Cancer Institute.

Study Provides Guidelines on How to Prioritize Vaccination During Flu Season

Best way to prioritize flu vaccine for elderly
Newswise, July 10, 2017 — After high-risk individuals, immunizing children and the elderly will have the greatest overall benefit when there are limited vaccine resources.

This could save both lives and money, according to a study published in PLOS Computational Biology by Nargesalsadat Dorratoltaj of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, in collaboration with colleagues at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech.

When vaccine supplies are limited, public health officials are often required to prioritize which populations have the greatest need for immediate immunization. Official recommendations for how this assessment process should be carried out are often lacking or confusing.

To get a more realistic measure of how targeted vaccination efforts benefit society at large, the Virginia Tech research team developed a “synthetic population” that works, moves, and mixes with others much like a real community.
The extra level of detail in this simulation allowed researchers to capture an epidemic’s indirect or social effects, such as how one person’s vaccination may lower their family and co-workers’ risk of infection.

Previous studies have either focused on the individual benefits of vaccination or a single metric for measuring the financial and medical effectiveness of targeted vaccination. 

The new model revealed that the overall financial impact of vaccination is much greater than scientists had previously assumed.

“Depending upon the severity of influenza, the 'return on investment' can increase from three to seven times if we factor in how the immunity of vaccinated individuals indirectly benefits their contacts in the community by blocking the chain of transmission,” said study co-author Achla Marathe, a professor at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech.

The researchers provide a framework that can be used to study different vaccine priority orders and different outcome metrics, such as the total number of infections, total dollars gained, and the risk of death among children or adults.

“Attack rates among the children are higher than among the adults and seniors during influenza outbreaks, due to their larger social contact network and homophilous interactions in school,” said senior author of the study, Kaja Abbas.

“Based on return on investment and higher attack rates among children, we recommend prioritizing children and seniors after high-risk subpopulations for influenza vaccination during times of limited vaccine supplies.”

Looking forward, the research team will apply this modeling framework to other urban and rural regions to inform policymakers how financial and medical benefits can be optimized through targeted vaccination strategies.

This story was adapted from a release that was originally written for and distributed by PLOS Computational Biology.