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WWR #1

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

Hello BMSA readers! It’s about that time to knuckle down for finals! We hope you enjoy the selection of articles we’ve hand-picked for December 2022. Stay focused and reach your goals, Mustangs.

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New mRNA vaccine targeting all known flu strains shows early promise

Contributor Saniyah Qureshi

Rigorous testing is underway involving a novel mRNA vaccine that targets all 20 known influenza strains. Although in its early stages of animal testing, this vaccine has proven to be effective in providing immunity to existing and potentially new flu strains. Moreover, this vaccine was effective in generating significant levels of antibody protection when tested in animal models such as ferrets and mice. This vaccine contains lipid nanoparticles that can target all known influenza A and B strains. The next step is to initiate Phase 1, which involves human studies, with the hopes of inducing broad-ranging immune memory. Scott Hensley, one of the lead authors in this study and immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania, says this vaccine could lead to a “reduction in hospitalizations and severe disease — and that's really [the] main goal." The vaccine provides immunity to both animals who have not previously dealt with a virus and those who have. Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan, believes that the threat of a new influenza virus spilling over is always possible and that this vaccine “could not only cover what we're currently dealing with, but what we don't know." As of now, this virus sounds promising and proves to be a great advancement in mRNA vaccine technology and innovation.

Ontario’s First High-Efficiency Ambulatory Surgical Centre

Contributor Grace Sebulsky

London Health Science Centre (LHSC) recently published a statement with the Ontario Hospital Association commenting on their new off-campus ambulatory surgical center, the Nazem Kadri Surgical Centre. Thus far, over 3,800 surgeries have been successfully completed, freeing up capacity within traditional ORs so that higher intensity surgeries can be completed. Initially begun as an experiment project in 2016, the LHSC surgical center has seen “higher patient experience score for those with procedures conducted at the center, patients spend[ing] less time in post-operative care, [and] reduced costs by streamlining processes, equipment, staffing requirements and resources”. In a trial conducted by Western’s Graduate and PostDoctoral Studies back in 2019, with 1000 patients, the average cost of surgery in a traditional OR was $469 in comparison to the high efficiency surgical center that averaged $172. In the future, LHSC plans to not only expand their surgical center but also demonstrate proof of the high efficiency process such that other hospitals implement their own ambulatory surgical center.

Cancer: 'Single-step' CRISPR treatment may provide lifelong protection

Contributor Sharon Chen

CRISPR is a fairly new technology that was only discovered in 2012. However, it is already being used in a multitude of ways, including cancer treatments. One such treatment is called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (CAR-T cell therapy). T-cell receptors (TCR), which are a type of white blood cell located on the surface of T cells, are able to recognize and destroy antigens. However, TCRs may not always fit the antigen of cancer cells and there is an overall lack of T cells in a patient’s body. Using CRISPR, TCRs can be modified to fit the antigen of cancer cells and placed back into the patient. Currently, CAR-T cell therapy is being used to treat blood cancers. However, researchers are currently developing a similar method of treating solid cancers or non-blood-related cancers. The study testing out this personalized treatment involved taking and sequencing blood and tumour samples from the patients. Then, they used an algorithm to determine how to best modify the TCRs to treat each patient’s tumour. These modified TCRs are grown into billions of cells in a dish before they’re given back to the patient. Prior to receiving the modified TCRs, patients must also go through conditioning chemotherapy. Although there were mixed results on the effectiveness of the study, researchers found that the CRISPR-edited T cells did reach their target. Moreover, most of the side effects from this treatment came from the conditioning chemotherapy and not the modified TCRs. However, this treatment is quite time-consuming and expensive. Modifications are still needed to reduce the time and cost of treatment and improve the efficacy. Future research is needed to explore what happens when patients receive a larger dose of edited T cells, as well as ways to make T cells more resistant to attacks from the tumor.

Don’t bother with dietary supplements for heart health, study says

Contributor Phoebe Yin

With heart disease being one of the leading causes of death, it’s no surprise that many people make taking care of their heart health a priority. A type of low-density lipoprotein, known as cholesterol, can lead to fatty deposit buildup in the arteries and as a result, a heart attack or stroke. To reduce this risk, fish oil, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, plant sterols, and red yeast rice are commonly taken due to their alleged ability to “lower bad cholesterol”. However, American researchers discovered that taking low doses of statins, which are cholesterol-lowering medications, are more effective than these natural, dietary supplements. Participants in a study who took statins saw a 40% reduction in low-density lipoproteins, whereas participants who took supplements saw no significant change. It’s natural to look for natural supplements or treatments, but unfortunately, they’re much less effective when it comes to heart health. American doctors believe this study can help patients understand the irreplaceable value of medication.

Two teaspoons of lab-made blood could have enormous potential for people with rare blood conditions

Contributor Quynh Phi

A blood transfusion might seem like an easy, simple, routine procedure, and for most patients, this is true. However, for those with rare blood types or conditions (e.g. sickle cell disease, or development of antibodies against most donor blood types), transfusions might prove to be extremely complex as patients face months of waiting, if not more, for compatible donors. Even then, there’s the possibility of dangerous reactions to transfusions with incompatible blood.

An avant-garde trial with the world’s first lab-made blood transfusion was performed in England this November. Researchers isolated stem cells from whole blood and grew red blood cells from those stem cells, followed by transfusion into two healthy humans. So far, no side effects have been detected. Scientists are monitoring the survival time of these synthetic cells, which seems promising: lab-made cells are manufactured around the same time whereas a standard transfusion contains cells of a variety of ages. This means lab-grown cells could be more likely to stay in circulation for longer, resulting in lower demand for repeated, regular transfusions in chronic patients.

This trial, if successful, might lay the groundwork for future innovative transfusions such as those of platelets, which are usually in critically short supply. This study might also pioneer the development of blood cells compatible with sickle cell disease patients who have particularly shaped blood cells and often need multiple transfusions over a lifetime. Scientists see lots of potential to revolutionize blood support with this study and hope that down the line, transfusions with lab-grown cells could become a routine protocol for hard-to-transfuse patients.

A New Potential Drug for Epilepsy

Contributor Jackie Han

Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) is a common seizure disorder, affecting about 50 million people worldwide. A characteristic of TLE is neuroinflammation, which is an immune response caused by the abnormal functioning of glial cells in the central nervous system, like astrocytes and microglia. These immune response cause the brain to swell up. The drugs that are currently used for TLE do not focus on neuroinflammation, and hence, this is a great route for new drug development. Although other medications for epilepsy are available, 33% of TLE patients remain unresponsive to current treatment, creating an imminent need for new drugs. Very recently, a group of researchers have identified and developed a new drug candidate that has potential for effectively treating TLE by suppressing neuroinflammation.

Glial cells are important for neurotransmission. Excessive glutamate and other molecules can leak out from reactive glia via a special class of channels, called hemichannels, to the extracellular environment, and this mechanism enhances neuroinflammation and aggravates symptoms of TLE. Researchers found a new, small organic molecule called D4, which targets these connexin hemichannels, thereby directly targeting neuroinflammation.

Researchers tested the efficacy of D4 using a mouse model. The findings suggest that D4 strongly suppresses the TLE-induced neuroinflammation, and increases the animal's survival rate overall. Further trials and tests are to be performed, but D4 certainly appears to be a viable new drug.

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