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The East African : Dec 22nd 2014
34 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK DECEMBER 20-26,2014 S CI E N C E US scientists develop drug to fight bladder cancer cells It has been given ‘b≥eakth≥ough the≥apy’ status and could be used widely by the end of 2015 By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent A new drug that makes it easier for the immune system to find and destroy bladder cancer has been developed by US scientists. The drug limits the extent to which cancer cells can sneak past the immune system by stripping the cells of the “camouflage” they use to evade attack by the immune system. In a study published in Nature, the scientists say in some instances, bladder cancer patients with terminal prognoses who were given the drug recovered fully. While certain chemicals prompt a strong immune system response, others try to suppress its role. According to the researchers, tu- mours are able to capitalise on this process and, sometimes, they camouflage themselves as the PD-LI protein which is usually tasked with auto-immune disease prevention. The immune system looks more positively on the PD-LI than it would a tumour and so mounts no attack. Bladder cancer is one of the com- mon cancers affecting men and women. The current treatment for bladder cancer is transurethral resection, which removes the tumour from the bladder and provides information regarding stage and grade of the tumour. The new drug, manufactured by Roche, was studied on 68 advanced CAUSES, SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS Bladder cancer is currently the sixth most common diagnosed cancer. Bladder cancer develops when cells in the bladder begin to grow abnormally Causes It’s not always clear what causes bladder cancer but it has been linked to smoking, a parasitic infection, a medical history of cancer or chronic bladder infection, radiation and chemical exposure. Signs and Symptoms Blood in urine (hematuria) — urine may appear dark yellow, bright red or cola colored. Or urine may appear normal, but blood may be detected in a microscopic examination of the urine Frequent urination Painful urination Pelvic pain Feeling the need to urinate, but not being able to pass urine Lower back pain on one side of the body Source: bcan.org bladder cancer patients, none of whom was expected to live more than six months. The study focused on the envi- ronment around a tumour and immune cells, in order to help predict which patients would respond to therapy. All the patients had tried chem- otherapy and had been given between six and eight months to live. More than half the patients, whose tumours were using PD-L1 to hide from the immune system, showed signs of recovery. Two patients, post-treatment, ap- peared entirely cancer-free and the drug also had a positive impact on Men: Are 3-4 times more likelyto be diagnosed and the risk increases as one ages Women: Often diagnosed at a late stage and have a worse prognosis. The 5-year survival rate for women is equal to the 10-year survival rate for men patients without PD-LI-concealed tumours. One in 10 patients responded to the experimental therapy even if PD-L1 was not present in the tumour. “There have been no new drugs for bladder cancer for 30 years,” said Tom Powles, an oncologist at the Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University of London and one of the research team. “The tumours have developed a camouflage layer, PD-L1, and by removing the camouflage the tumour becomes identifiable. A subgroup of patients seems to do exceptionally well.” The drug has been given “break- through therapy” status in the US and could be used widely by patients there at the end of 2015, if a larger trial shows the same results. Next, much larger-sized trials would be needed before bladder cancer patients in Europe can get the drug but, so far, it seems to have tremendous potential. A previous study presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago in June, showed similar therapies could improve survival in advanced skin cancer. In a trial of 411 patients evaluat- ing a drug, pembrolizumab, 69 per cent of patients survived at least a year. Those results were described as having the “potential to be a paradigm shift for cancer therapy”. A separate study of 175 patients, led by Yale University in the US, showed responses to the drug in patients with non-small cell lung cancer, melanoma, renal cell carcinoma and other cancers. “We’re seeing a lot of very excit- ing results from these new treatments using the immune system,” said Peter Johnson, the chief clinician at Cancer Research UK. “This study in bladder cancer is further proof of the power of this approach, and it’s really good to find a new treatment for a type of cancer that we’ve been struggling to make progress with for many years.” ChildFund wins global ≥ecognition fo≥ innovation By EUNICE KILONZO The EastAfrican AN ORGANISATION supporting needy children has won global recognition for an innovative money transfer system that helps it to reach beneficiaries in Kenya with cash and health messages. ChildFund International beat 6,000 entrants to the Grand Prize in the 2014 Associations of Financial Professionals Pinnacle Awards in Washington, becoming the first non-profit organisation to win the prize. The awards recognised the organisation’s ex- cellence in treasury and finance. According to Apollo Ekelot, the finance director at ChildFund Kenya, the organisation was seeking a way to transfer funds to its projects safely and quickly without bank accounts. “We used to incur huge costs in logistical support because we had to had to rely on several methods and people to get cash to where it was needed. We thought, why not try mobile banking?” he said. In 2001, the organisation adopted the mobile money platform that cut its costs as well as ey payments via the mobile phone. “We have reduced the logistical costs by over 80 per cent and have also introduced financial services into communities where this was unheard of. The payments are as simple as a cell phone text,” he said. Mobile Technology, Mr Ekelot said, was an A visitor plays with orphans in a children’s home in Nakuru, kenya. Mobile money transactions make it easy for organisations working with the vulnerable to remit funds. Picture: FILE reducing risk for staff, who before had to deliver cash in person. ChildFund’s treasury team used a customised mobile payment programme, where they procured the phones and trained beneficiaries on how to use them. They then partnered with banks and mobile phone service providers such as Safaricom to release the mon- avenue that has eased their operations and facilitated efficient communication in their work. “Imagine, with a click of a button, we are able to send money to over 2,500 people via M-Pesa. And it is not just that; we also said health messages to parents, social workers and our partners simultaneously,” Mr Ekelot said. Money is sent to the organisation’s pro- gramme officers in the hard to reach area, to pay for services as well as to buy supplies needed for children in these areas. The money is also used to buy food, and to settle bills for families and children. He said the award renewed their zeal to bet- ter serve children across Africa and said other organisations should look around for simple yet grand ideas to make their work safe and easy. and reliable. An Ebola survivor-turned-care giver in Liberia. Pic: File New antibodies boost hope for dengue vaccine A new class of antibody found in the blood of patients with dengue fever has boosted hopes for a vaccine against the virus, which debilitates millions and kills tens of thousands each year. Researchers writing in the Journal of Immunology report that the new group of antibodies was spotted while they were studying blood drawn from patients who picked up dengue infections. They found that about a third of the immune reaction launched by each patient came from a new class of antibodies. Yoga to offer protection against cardiac diseases Doing yoga may be a good way to protect against heart disease, particularly if you cannot do more vigorous exercise, research suggests. A review in the Netherlands of 37 studies involving nearly 3,000 people found yoga was independently linked to a lowering of heart risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. Yoga does not count towards the recommended physical activity that we should all do each week but experts say it may still be beneficial. BRIEFS Techno Brain scoops prize for fast growth Techno Brain, an East African IT company headquartered in Nairobi, has been voted the second fastest growing technology company in Africa. The ranking by Deloitte for Technology Africa Fast 50, 2014 focused on the technology field recognising companies that have achieved the fastest rates of revenue growth in Africa over the past five years. Techno Brain came second because it had shown an impressive growth of 621 per cent during this period. The overall top winner of the award was Interswitch Ltd of Nigeria. Liberia starts treatment of Ebola using serum Liberia has begun treating Ebola patients with serum therapy, a treatment made from the blood of Ebola survivors. Doctors hope the experimental treatment will help combat the virus that has been sweeping through West Africa. According to doctors, if a person successfully fights off the infection, then they will have antibodies in their blood that can kill Ebola. Doctors then take a sample of the blood and turn it into serum — by removing the red blood cells but keeping the important antibodies — that can be used to treat other patients.
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Dec 29th 2014