With increased breast cancer awareness and the growing number of diagnostic tools available- including MRI, mammograms, and genetic testing- more and more women are diagnosed with precancerous breast tissue. And unnecessary surgery and treatments are becoming more common, because doctors can’t accurately tell which of these women will actually go on to develop cancer.
But instead of using a “better safe than sorry” approach, researchers want to be able to determine which genes drive breast cancer- and stop them! Because the genes in cells work together in complex and sometimes unexplained ways, simply looking at genes that are activated as cancer develops doesn’t always work.
Using a combination of science, mathematics and engineering, researchers pinpointed a gene that had the strongest statistical link to breast cancer (HoxA1) by reverse-engineering gene networks. And by using a novel therapy to block this gene, they were able to reverse cancer cells in culture as well as prevent cancer development in mice! Pretty amazing- check it out!
The ability to diagnose Alzheimer’s before the onset of symptoms would be extremely valuable. By the time people show clinical signs of the disease, significant damage to the brain has already been done. Because of this, pro-active therapies in patients with pre-clinical signs of the disease could be much more effective than therapies aimed at patients in later stages of Alzheimer’s.
Researchers found that genetically engineered mice with Alzheimer’s showed thinning in a specific layer of retinal cells that were normal in control mice. They suspect that this retinal thinning occurs long before clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s begins. If the loss of retinal neurons correlates to the loss of brain cells, it’s possible that early signs of the disease could be detected at routine eye checks!
And this works both ways- while retinal changes could help doctors detect patients in early stages of Alzheimer’s, it’s also possible that treatments developed for Alzheimer’s could be useful in the treatment of glaucoma.
Further research will continue to determine if these changes are also seen in human patients. Early detection is an important factor in preventing memory loss- and thanks to the mice, researchers may have a whole new approach!
If you carried a biomarker that might mean that you were at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease, would you want to know?
Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are looking at patients who have a family history of Alzheimer’s, and they are looking at certain proteins in an attempt to find out what kind of signatures Alzheimer’s Disease might create in the body. They hope to follow patients over many years to determine whether or not these biomarkers are actually accurate indicators of the disease.
But that brings up a question- if a patient has biomarkers that researchers currently think might contribute to the development of the disease, should the patients be told about this? Opinions differ. Some researchers don’t want to share information about biomarkers with their patients until they are sure that this information is clinically relevant. Others believe that there could be some benefits to knowing.
What do you think? Would you want this information, or do you think it would cause more harm than good to have it hanging over your head? Let me know what you think- I’d love to get your opinion on this!