No Cure For Cancer

Posted by on May 15th, 2011

I’ve gotten a lot of mail this weekend about the supposed new “Canadian cure for cancer” and while I hate to rain on parades, I thought I’d do a bit of fact checking before getting too excited.  There were a few things that made me scratch my head when reading the initial article. (Starting with the fact it’s a four-year-old piece on a notorious Content Mill site that is just now circulating.)  So, I went to a friend of mine, who has worked extensively in the field of nuclear medicine and this is what she had to say:

If you read the article it talks about how University of Alberta scientists have used a drug called dichloroacetic acid (DCA), and according to the article, Big Pharma aren’t interested because the drug is off-patent and they can’t make money off of it. So bang, the Canadians cured cancer and no one cares.

…Except that’s not really true.

University of Alberta scientists are currently working on small-scale clinical trials of DCA; according to their most recent update, they’ve trial-ed this on five patients–five–which is not a large enough sample for us to go ahead and say that cancer has been ‘cured.’

Furthermore, they don’t go into great detail, but what they do say isn’t that they cured any of those patients. “In some patients there was also evidence for clinical benefit, with the tumors either regressing in size or not growing further during the 18 month study.” No idea how many “some” of the five patients are, but clearly at least one of the five had further tumor growth during the 18 months. There’s also a note mentioned about how it took 3 months for the drug to reach therapeutic levels; three months in a glioblastoma patient is pretty damn long (a GBM is a fast-growing brain tumor that untreated will kill you in two to four months, on average; with treatment it tends to kill you in fourteen months, and it has a ridiculously low five year survival rate. The wikipedia page gives a decent overview.)

Anyway. Point being, this ‘magic bullet’ has been trial-ed on five people at this point, and they’re still very much in the clinical trials stage. This means we’re likely years off from the point where we have to start worrying who’s going to make money off of DCA as a cancer treatment, because we’re years off from knowing whether or not it’s actually, well, a cure. (Or, like most things in cancer treatment, just a promising treatment that helps some people and has some unpleasant side effects.)

If you’re worried about whether or not they’ll be able to get adequate funding (which, in all things scientific these days, is a well-founded concern), visit the U of A team’s home page, read what they’re doing, and make a donation if you think it’s something worth exploring further. But please, for the love of god, let’s not continue to propagate mistruths and obfuscations published by a website whose advertising slogan is ‘publish easily, attract readers, earn rewards.’ There’s a reason publishing is hard, and it’s not because Big Pharma makes it so–it’s because we publish scientific results in peer reviewed journals, and they’re held to fairly rigorous standards there.

I’m under no illusion that we will see a FDA approved, Big Pharma approved cure for cancer until pharmaceutical companies can figure out a way to charge more for it than the billions they rake in from cancer treatment each year.  But it’s way too early to imply that this avenue of research is the suppressed holy grail of cancer research.   Trust me – I’ve lost my father, my sister and all of my aunts and uncles to cancer and I’ve had my own scare – when a cure is developed, no matter how off the grid it may be, I’ll be thrilled beyond words.  But an out of date, poorly researched Hubpages article misrepresenting the work of a group of hard-working scientists is no reason to uncork the champaign and thaw out the Duke…

…not just yet at least.

Link Dump 24-02-2011

Posted by on February 24th, 2011
  • Toward computers that fit on a pen tip: New technologies usher in the millimeter-scale computing era

    A prototype implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients is believed to contain the first complete millimeter-scale computing system…

  • Organs-on-a-Chip for Faster Drug Development

    The chips are still in their early stages, but investigators are translating more and more body parts to the interface. Last summer bioengineers at Harvard University..created a device that mimics a human lung: a porous membrane surrounded by human lung tissue cells, which breathes, distributes nutrients to cells and initiates immune responses.

  • The ‘core pathway’ of aging

    DePinho published a study in Nature in January 2011 that demonstrated it was possible to reverse the symptoms of extreme aging in mice by increasing their levels of telomerase, the enzyme that maintains the health of the telomeres.

  • Neuroscientists Create Perception Of Having Three Arms

    To prove that the prosthetic arm was truly experienced as a third arm, the scientist ‘threatened’ either the prosthetic hand or the real hand with a kitchen knife, and measuring the degree of sweating of the palm as a physiological response to this provocation.

  • Learning the Alien Language of Dolphins

    Herzing’s method is effectively the same as that used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The keyboard allows for dolphins to teach humans as much as the humans teach the dolphins.

The Skin Gun That Sprays New Skin on Burn Victims Is Real

Posted by on February 2nd, 2011

New technology will give burn patients a higher fighting chance to prevent infection and recover with less scaring.

WARNING: Contains graphic burn images

We’ve heard about the spray-on skin gun back in 2008 but we didn’t think it’d become this real, this useful, this fast. Though it is still technically in an experimental stage, the skin gun has already successfully treated over a dozen burn victims. The way it works is by using stem cells from the patient’s healthy skin and mixing it with a solution to come up with the spray paint. And combined with that fancy gun, the rest is easy. Doctors say “skin cell spraying is like paint spraying”.

Via Gizmodo, video from Christian Naths on Vimeo, due to region restrictions.

Octomom as Selfish Cyborg

Posted by on February 1st, 2011

Ph.D. Octopus’ Luce has a fascinating article up, concerning the social construction of Nadya “Octomon” Suleman as a selfish cyborg:

In contrast no mention was initially made of Suleman’s refusal to undergo the same selective reduction procedure. A bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania called the scandal an “ethical failure” and there were invocations only of Suleman’s obsessions, not God’s gifts. Of course Suleman embodied one of the media’s favorite objects of fascination and reproach: young, female, desirous, and with a body that performed feats unknown to natural woman. Like other media favorites, Suleman even got her own hybridized nickname, Octomom, but unlike Brangelina, the hybridity was maternal rather than romantic, interspecies rather than intra-; Octomom was part-mom, part-(marine)-beast, and implicitly part-machine.

Though at first the nickname Octomom seems to reduce Suleman to the sum of her eight kids, the focus on Suleman’s desire or “obsession” instead reduced her eight newborns to herself. The scorn heaped on Suleman’s actions carried the implication that the children should never have been born in the first place, a curious stance for a society obsessed with abortion, celebrity children, and big families like the conservative Christian Duggars and John & Kate Plus 8. But Suleman made no attempt to explain her extraordinary pregnancy outside her own personal desires, and she lacked the trappings-husband, comfortable income, religious belief-that might have normalized it socially.

As a result, Octomom became a symbol of selfish enhancement, artificial excess, and irresponsible motherhood, and a reproductive technology that has been used to conceive over 250,000 pregnancies in the United States since the early 1980s suddenly became the focus of intense public discussion, giving bioethicists a platform to point out that while IVF is widelyregulated throughout Europe, the US federal government only demands that ART clinics track their success rates.

Read the rest at Ph.D. Octopus.

[Link via Jezebel.]

Forgotten: The most radioactive town in Europe

Posted by on January 31st, 2011

At about 10.30am on 17 January 1966, when Jesus Caceido heard a deafening explosion coming from the village of Palomares, the future mayor of the area had no idea he had just witnessed one of the Cold War’s most serious nuclear accidents – or that nearly half a century later, the 1,500 villagers would still be battling to have the ensuing contamination removed for good. After all, they live in Europe’s most radioactive village.

Today, 45 years after four nuclear bombs fell near the village when a US Air Force B-52 bomber and a refuelling aircraft collided in mid-air, tens of thousands of cubic metres of contaminated soil and an estimated – although never officially confirmed – half a kilogram of plutonium remain. And the radiation is getting potentially more dangerous, not less.

“As this type of plutonium decays, it is converted into another radioactive substance, americium, which is highly carcinogenic and can be released into the atmosphere,” says Igor Parra, a specialist for the Ecologistas en Accion pressure group for Palomares.

Via The Independent.

Remote-Controlled Capsule Endoscope Safely Examines the Stomach

Posted by on January 21st, 2011

Via Science Daily:

A study from researchers in Germany showed that magnetic maneuvering of a modified capsule endoscope in the stomach of healthy volunteers under clinical conditions is safe, well-tolerated, and technically feasible. Maneuverability of the capsule within the stomach was excellent and visualization of the gastric mucosa, the inner lining of the stomach, was satisfactory in the majority of subjects. Apart from a single experiment performed with a supervising flexible gastroscope, this was the first study to use the system in the stomach of healthy subjects.

See also:

Thermo Mirror

Posted by on January 20th, 2011


NEC subsidiary NEC Avio has developed a thermometer [JP] that measures the user’s temperature without them having to touch the device. As the world’s first device of its kind, it captures your temperature via a built-in infrared sensor and integrates a desktop mirror (hence the name “Thermo Mirror”).

All you need to do is to look at the mirror and your temperature will be measured automatically, and when it detects someone who is feverish, an alarm goes off.

Via crunchgear.

Could Swine Flu Hold the Key to a Universal Flu Vaccine?

Posted by on January 20th, 2011

The virus that doesn’t give up, from Environmental Graffiti:

In the ever evolving drama of nature, however, the influenza virus has found its own response to the immune resistance. It reconfigures into a new viral strain by rearranging its binding protein. By doing this, the virus avoids pre-existing antibody immunities. The body is forced to generate a new model of antibodies, which gives the virus time to spread.

However, in a strange twist of fate, it seems that the H1N1 Swine Flu virus is about to close the drama by adding a new character. The antibodies produced in the body for this virus work on swine flu, but they also work for other influenza viral strains. Survivors of swine flu appear to be immune from all forms of influenza for many years into the future.

The researchers from the National Institute of Health who discovered this flu virus immunity are now working with the antibodies to create a universal vaccine. Such a vaccine, once administered, would last 10 years, or perhaps longer. It could be easily given to the population at large.

Spray-On Stem Cell Treatment for Burn Victims

Posted by on November 30th, 2010

Cardiothoracic surgeon Amit Patel and burn care surgeon Amalia Cochran are overseeing experimental procedures utilizing this new “bedside stem cell technique.” By combining a patient’s own cells with a few other chemicals thrown in, the research team is able to create a sort of bio jelly that can be sprayed directly onto a wound. Preliminary trials have shown some promising results at accelerating the healing process

From Gearlog.

Skin patch could offer pain relief with every flinch

Posted by on November 26th, 2010

Via John Evans at NewScientist:

Unyong Jeong’s team at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, covered a flexible rubber film with a sheet of corrugated microporous polystyrene, with gutters around 3 micrometres wide and 1 micrometre deep. The gutters were then filled with a liquid and sealed with another rubber film. Finally, the first rubber film was peeled away to expose the underside of the liquid-filled polystyrene gutters. Flexing the patch distorts the polystyrene tunnels enough to reduce their volume, squeezing the solution out through the pores in the plastic. Once the strain is removed, the tunnels spring back into shape, ready for the next use

He envisages the first practical use will be skin patches for treating muscle pain and rheumatism. “Current [skin patches] are designed to just continuously release the active agents,” he says. “If we can control the release rate responding to the motion of our muscles, it will make the patches more effective and prolong the time of use.” He is also hoping to develop biodegradable strain-release patches to heal organs and damaged muscles inside the body.

‘Skin Printer’

Posted by on November 4th, 2010

Via, a machine that prints layers of cells mixed with fibrinogen, type 1 collagen and thrombin has been reported by

The system, which lays down cells with the same fluid-based inkjet technology used in many printers, could print large swathes of living tissue directly onto the injuries of soldiers wounded on the battlefield. Covering burns and related wounds is of critical importance because, the scientists note, “any loss of full-thickness skin of more than 4 cm in diameter will not heal by itself.”

See also:

Hat-tip to @catvincent!

Electronic implant allows the blind to see

Posted by on November 3rd, 2010

From New Scientist – Health:

Eberthart Zrenner and colleagues at the University of Tübingen in Germany have developed a microchip carrying 1500 photosensitive diodes that slides into the retina where the photoreceptors would normally be. The diodes respond to light, and when connected to an outside power source through a wire into the eye, can stimulate the nearby nerves that normally pass signals to the brain, mimicking healthy photoreceptors.

The team reports that their first three volunteers could all locate bright objects. One could recognise normal objects and read large words. …

…. As a safety precaution, the implants in this first pilot study were removed after several weeks, says Walter Wrobel, head of Retina-Implant, a company based in Reutlingen, Germany, formed by the researchers to eventually market the implant. “Based on the results of this study, we have designed a new system, which is being implanted permanently, or as long as patients like it.”

In the new system, the power source connects to the retinal implant via a mechanical coupling through intact skin, not via a wire through an incision in the skin as the earlier system did. “That means they can shower easily, leave the hospital and go around town on their own,” says Zrenner. “They can go out for a meal, and really see things, like a nice glass of beer.”

See also:

Q Sensor – new wrist device to monitor stress

Posted by on October 28th, 2010

As reader Tzagash Shal-Goram said, on sending this in, File this one under “shriekyware“. I have to agree.

Developed to help caregivers monitor the mood of autistic children, it’s easy to see other uses for this – from personal alarms to livebloggin’ a night out.

More details from Technology Review:

[The] device developed by Affectiva, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, detects and records physiological signs of stress and excitement by measuring slight electrical changes in the skin. While researchers, doctors, and psychologists have long used this measurement–called skin conductance–in the lab or clinical setting, Affectiva’s Q Sensor is worn on a wristband and lets people keep track of stress during everyday activities. The Q Sensor stores or transmits a wearer’s stress levels throughout the day

When a person–autistic or not–experiences stress or enters a “flight or fight” mode, moisture collects under the skin (often leading to sweating) as a sympathetic nervous system response. This rising moisture makes the skin more electrically conductive. Skin conductance sensors send a tiny electrical pulse to one point of the skin and measure the strength of that signal at another point on the skin to detect its conductivity.

More still in this video from Technology Review.

eLEGS from Berkeley Bionics

Posted by on October 9th, 2010

Taking the technology they created and licensed to Lockheed Martin to create the HULC, Berkeley Bionics have now developed a new product that lets paraplegics walk again.

WIRED tells us more:

the exoskeleton consists of a robotic frame controlled through crutches. The crutches contain sensors; putting forward the right crutch moves the left leg, and vise versa. The eLEGS battery can enable a user to walk for one day before it needs to be recharged, according to the product’s developer Berkeley Bionics.

Berkeley Bionics modified the HULC to make the eLEGS extremely user friendly with a Velcro strap, backpack-style clips and shoulder straps; anybody should be able to slip it on and off in a minute or two. The eLEGS will fit most people between 5′ 2″ and 6′ 4″, weighing 220 pounds or less, and Berkeley Bionics said it was especially important to make the exoskeleton thin, lightweight and very quiet when operated.

YouTube Preview Image

Mini Generators Make Energy From Random Ambient Vibrations

Posted by on March 25th, 2010

Currently in the prototype stage, from

Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed tiny generators that can produce enough electricity from random, ambient vibrations to power a wristwatch, pacemaker or wireless sensor. In humans, these vibrations could come from moving muscles or limbs. The generators have demonstrated that they can produce up to 500 microwatts from typical vibration amplitudes found on the human body. That’s more than enough energy to run a wristwatch, which needs between 1 and 10 microwatts, or a pacemaker, which needs between 10 and 50.

‘To Age or Not to Age’ – a documentary

Posted by on March 17th, 2010

To Age or Not to Age profiles the science of aging, it also addresses some of the moral, religious, practical and economic implications of increased, lifespan. Who will have access to the medicine? Who will benefit from the breakthroughs? Will the price of these compounds make this a drug for the elites?

This has had very limited screenings so far, but if you’re in, or near, Paris you can see it on the 29th.

Anti Self-medication

Posted by on March 1st, 2010


Conceptual (h)ear Piercing Jewelery

Posted by on February 10th, 2010


The Deafinite Style is a concept from Munich-based Designaffairs STUDIO that turns a hearing aid into a piece of jewelry, provided you’re up for a bit of lobe stretching to get started. The main advantage they propose (aside from an instant hipster-grunge-punk look) is the opportunity to embed the TriMic System — a highly effective directional microphone system made from 3 individual microphones — into the plug, helping people who suffer from severe hearing loss.

Garbage City

Posted by on November 30th, 2009

A hilly suburb of Cairo, where Coptic Christians make a living sorting and disposing of trash:

Link and photo via

Implantable Silicon-Silk Electronics

Posted by on November 16th, 2009

Scientists of the University of Pennsylvania are creating electronics that almost completely dissolve inside the body, through the use of thin, flexible silicon electronics on silk substrates.

While implanted electronics must usually be encased to protect them from the body, these electronics don’t need protection. The whole process is pretty much seamless: The electronics on the flexible silk substrates conform to biological tissue. The silk melts away over time and the thin silicon circuits left behind don’t cause irritation because they are just nanometers thick.

To make the devices, silicon transistors about one millimeter long and 250 nanometers thick are collected on a stamp and then transferred to the surface of a thin film of silk. The silk holds each device in place, even after the array is implanted in an animal – so far the technique is tested on mice – and wetted with saline, causing it to conform to the tissue surface.

In a paper published in the journal Applied Physics Letters, the researchers report that such circuits can be implanted in animals with no adverse effects. And the performance of the transistors on silk inside the body doesn’t suffer.

The researchers are now developing silk-silicon LEDs that might act as photonic tattoos that can show blood-sugar readings, as well as arrays of conformable electrodes that might interface with the nervous system.