CRISPR Could Fry All Cancer Using Newly Found T-Cell

One of the human body’s greatest features is its natural antivirus protection. If your immune system is working normally, it produces legions of T-cells that go around looking for abnormalities like cancer cells just to gang up and destroy them. They do this by grabbing on to little protein fragments called antigens that live on the surface of the bad cells and tattle on their whereabouts to the immune system. Once the T-cells have a stranglehold on these antigens, they can release toxins that destroy the bad cell, while minimizing collateral damage to healthy cells.

CAR T-cell therapy process via National Cancer Institute

This rather neat human trick doesn’t always work, however. Cancer cells sometimes mask themselves as healthy cells, or they otherwise thwart T-cell attacks by growing so many antigens on their surface that the T-cells have no place to grab onto.

Medical science has come up with a fairly new method of outfoxing these crafty cancer cells called CAR T-cell therapy. Basically, they withdraw blood from the patient, extract the T-cells, and replace the blood. The T-cells are sent off to a CRISPR lab, where they get injected with a modified, inactive virus that introduces a new gene which causes the T-cells to sprout a little hook on their surface.

This hook, which they’ve dubbed the chimeric antigen receptor (CAR), allows the T-cell to chemically see through the cancer cells’ various disguises and attack them. The lab multiplies these super soldiers and sends them back to the treatment facility, where they are injected into the patient’s front lines.

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This Machine Is Poised To Join The Fight Against Cancer

Can you imagine a near future where your family doctor can effectively prick your finger and test you for a dozen or so types of cancer? Currently, cancer detection is a time-consuming and expensive process. Existing methods of screening for cancer usually involve taking a whole lot of blood and running tests that cost thousands of dollars. But Toshiba has created a cancer-detecting machine that sounds like something straight out of science fiction.

A researcher tests the Toray method. Image via Nikkei Asian Review

The machine is about the size of a small office copier, and it looks like one, too. But this small machine can do some powerful tricks. Toshiba claims that the machine can detect 13 types of cancer from a single drop of blood with 99% accuracy. What’s more impressive is that it can do this under two hours, as opposed to days or weeks depending on laboratory backlog. Most importantly, they are aiming to do this entire battery of tests for about $180. Ideally, this machine will do everything that current blood cancer detection equipment does, just better, faster, and with fewer resources.

Some of the cancers the machine can test for have been previously difficult to detect, like ovarian, pancreatic, and esophageal cancer. But this machine can screen for all three of these  — great news for early detection of these ravaging cancers — as well as breast, prostate, gastric, colon, liver, biliary tract, bladder, lung, brain, and sarcoma. The only catch is that the machine can’t pinpoint which cancer exactly, it only knows if microRNA one or more of the 13 came up.

Image source: Toshiba Corporate Reserach Center

So, how does it work? Cancer cells secrete certain types of microRNA into the bloodstream that healthy cells don’t. The machine works by assessing the different types of microRNA that show up in the sample drop, and studying their concentrations. Their work builds on that of Toray Industries, who announced earlier this year that they had made a cancer-detection chip based on microRNA accumulation that is 95% accurate. Development of this chip follows on the heels of research that finds testing for microRNA in bloodwork has the potential to detect cancers in earlier stages, and in some cases like for bowel cancer, with a much less invasive testing procedure.

Toshiba, in partnership with the National Cancer Center Research Institute and Tokyo Medical University will conduct a trial of the machine next year. If the trial is successful, they hope to commercialize it soon after.

The Ins And Outs Of Geiger Counters, For Personal Reasons

There are times in one’s life when circumstances drive an intense interest in one specific topic, and we put our energy into devouring all the information we can on the subject. [The Current Source], aka [Derek], seems to be in such a situation these days, and his area of interest is radioactivity and its measurement. So with time to spare on his hands, he has worked up this video review of radioactivity and how Geiger counters work.

Why the interest in radioactivity? Bluntly put, because he is radioactive, at least for the next week. You see, [Derek] was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and one of the post-thyroidectomy therapeutic options to scavenge up any stray thyroid cells is drinking a cocktail of iodine-131, a radioisotope that accumulates in thyroid cells and kills them. Trouble is, this leaves the patient dangerously radioactive, necessitating isolation for a week or more. To pass the time away from family and friends, [Derek] did a teardown on a commercial Geiger counter, the classic Ludlum Model 2 with a pancake probe. The internals of the meter are surprisingly simple, and each stage of the circuit is easily identified. He follows that up with a DIY Geiger counter kit build, which is also very simple — just a high-voltage section made from a 555 timer along with a microcontroller. He tests both instruments using himself as a source; we have to say it’s pretty alarming to hear how hot he still is. Check it out in the video below.

Given the circumstances, we’re amazed that [Derek] is not only keeping his cool but exhibiting a good sense of humor. We wish him well in his recovery, and if doing teardowns like this or projects like this freezer alarm or a no-IC bipolar power supply helps him cope, then we all win.

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Jerri Nielsen: Surviving The Last Place On Earth

There may be no place on Earth less visited by humans than the South Pole. Despite a permanent research base with buildings clustered about the pole and active scientific programs, comparatively few people have made the arduous journey there. From October to February, up to 200 people may be stationed at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station for the Antarctic summer, and tourists checking an item off their bucket lists come and go. But by March, when the sun dips below the horizon for the next six months, almost everyone has cleared out, except for a couple of dozen “winter-overs” who settle in to maintain the station, carry on research, and survive the worst weather Mother Nature brews up anywhere on the planet.

To be a winter-over means accepting the fact that whatever happens, once that last plane leaves, you’re on your own for eight months. Such isolation and self-reliance require special people, and Dr. Jerri Nielsen was one who took the challenge. But as she and the other winter-overs watched the last plane leave the Pole in 1998 and prepared for the ritual first-night screening of John Carpenter’s The Thing, she had no way of knowing what she would have to do to survive the cancer that was even then growing inside her.

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The Physics Of Healing: Radiation Therapy

Few days are worse than a day when you hear the words, “I’m sorry, you have cancer.” Fear of the unknown, fear of pain, and fear of death all attend the moment when you learn the news, and nothing can prepare you for the shock of learning that your body has betrayed you. It can be difficult to know there’s something growing inside you that shouldn’t be there, and the urge to get it out can be overwhelming.

Sometimes there are surgical options, other times not. But eradicating the tumor is not always the job of a surgeon. Up to 60% of cancer patients will be candidates for some sort of radiation therapy, often in concert with surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy can be confusing to some people — after all, doesn’t radiation cause cancer? But modern radiation therapy is a remarkably precise process that can selectively kill tumor cells while leaving normal tissue unharmed, and the machines we’ve built to accomplish the job are fascinating tools that combine biology and engineering to help people deal with a dreaded diagnosis.

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Automated Chamber Passes Just The Right Gas

It sounds like an overly complicated method a supervillain would use to slowly and painfully eliminate enemies — a chamber with variable oxygen concentration. This automated environmental chamber isn’t for torturing suave MI6 agents, though; rather, it enables cancer research more-or-less on the cheap.

Tasked with building something to let his lab simulate the variable oxygen microenvironments found in some kinds of tumors, [RyanM415] first chose a standard lab incubator as a chamber to mix room air with bottled nitrogen. With a requirement to quickly vary the oxygen concentration from the normal 21% down to zero, he found that the large incubator took far too long to equilibrate, and so he switched to a small acrylic box. Equipped with a mixing fan, the smaller chamber quickly adjusts to setpoints, with an oxygen sensor providing feedback and controlling the gas valves via a pair of Arduinos. It’s quite a contraption, with floating ball flowmeters and stepper-actuated variable gas valves, but the results are impressive. If it weren’t for the $2000 oxygen sensor, [RyanM145] would have brought the whole project in for $500, but at least the lab can use the sensor elsewhere.

Modern biology and chemistry labs are target-rich environments for hacked instrumentation. From DIY incubators to cheap electrophoresis rigs, we’ve got you covered.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Online Bone Marrow Cytometry Aid

Simple blood tests can lead a doctor toward a diagnosis of blood cancers, like leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, but to really see what’s going on, he or she needs to go to the source of the problem: the bone marrow. Examining maturing blood cells from the marrow with a microscope is an important step in staging the disease and developing a plan for treatment, but it’s a tedious and error-prone process that requires a doctor to classify and tally a dozen or so different cells based on their size, shape and features. Automated systems like flow cytometry and image analysis software can help, but in an austere environment, a doctor might not have access to these. Luckily, there’s now an on-line app to assist with bone marrow cytometry.

Thanks to [Eduardo Zola], a doctor can concentrate on classifying cells without looking up from the microscope, and without dictating to an assistant. Keys are assigned to the different cell morphologies, and a running total of each cell type is kept. With practice, the doctor should be able to master the keying for the various cells; we suspect the generation of physicians that grew up with the WASD keying common in PC-based gaming might have a significant advantage over the older docs when it comes to learning such an app.

[Eduardo]’s app seems like a simple way to improve on an important medical procedure, and an enabling technology where access to modern instrumentation is limited. To that end, one area for improvement might be a standalone app that can run on a laptop without internet access, or perhaps even a version that runs on a smart phone. But even as it is, it’s a great entry for the 2015 Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: