Smart Thinking on Disease
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Scientists are discovering fascinating new ways to diagnose and treat diseases. Here are just a few of them.
Your unique ancestral DNA could one day impact how doctors interpret your blood pressure or mammogram results. So says a recent study in which researchers investigated variations in Mexican ancestry. The new findings suggest that physicians could sequence their patients’ DNA to precisely determine their genetic background and adjust clinical guidelines accordingly, versus the more common practice of factoring in race or ethnicity, as doctors do for kidney-function tests, prostate cancer screenings and more. Not only could DNA sequencing prevent underdiagnoses, it would also save money and time otherwise spent on treating patients who may actually be healthy for people with their genetic ancestry. Read the story here.
It’s not something we want to think about: Cancer will “probably never be completely eradicated.” But a new study raises that sobering possibility: that cancer may simply be here to stay. The reason? Cancer genes, plus the mechanisms that allow tumor cells to evade death and invade healthy tissue, “have deep evolutionary roots” — tumor-causing mechanisms have been around a long, long time. To get ahead of cancer, one researcher says, “you have to interfere with fundamental pathways.” Which is happening in the form of an exciting new drug that unleashes the immune system against troublemaking cells. We might not be able to cure cancer completely, but scientists are finding ways to “render it harmless.” Read the story here.
Is that heart disease on your breath? Soon, a medical gadget might tell you. Researchers are devising a new generation of devices that can “sniff out” breast cancer, tuberculosis, heart failure and other ailments based on your “breathprint,” the molecular signature in the air you exhale. These disease detectors could well revolutionize the costly, cumbersome field of diagnostics. Breath tests would deliver low-cost results in a matter of minutes. And early detection would boost survival rates for diseases like lung cancer, whose symptoms typically don’t appear until an advanced stage. Breath diagnostics have been around for a while, but new devices are faster, easier to use, sensitive and reliable. Which means we might all breathe easier, longer. Read the story here.
In petri dishes and bioreactors around the world, a tiny revolution is unfolding. Scientists are growing tiny brains, livers, kidneys and other organs — aka “organoids” — that look and function much like their full-sized counterparts. These fun-sized organs could give a serious boost to biomedical research, helping to unravel diseases in ways that aren’t possible in the animal models or flasks of cells usually used in research and drug testing. Eventually, scientists hope to use organoids — custom-made from patients’ own stem cells — to replace diseased organ parts. Which could be a huge step toward solving the organ shortage problem. Read the story here.