Big Names Gamble Big Bucks on Blood Tests for Early Cancer Detection

Forget biopsies, ultrasounds, mammograms, pap smears, rectal exams, and other unpleasant cancer screenings—the race is now on for simple, affordable blood tests that can detect all sorts of cancers extremely early.

Source: Big names gamble big bucks on blood tests for early cancer detection

This kind of screening is of a very different type to PSA or mammography, where many things can cause elevated PSA or high radio opacity in breast tissue. You are looking either for circulating tumor cells, or as in the Grail case, nucleic acid fragments from said cells. You sequence the DNA you have, looking for known oncogenic mutations. If you find them, the patient has cells with active oncogenes in them. As some oncogenes are known to be particularly deadly, mutant KRAS for instance, they would presumably be prioritized. I would worry more about false negatives than false positives with this technology, as it would presumably not be able to pick up lesser known mutations, and might be completely blind to tumors caused for example by gene amplification.

Why screen early? There are some very rapid cancers, and there are some which appear to be very rapid because they are diagnosed very late. Many of these cancer, pancreatic (and KRAS) being a poster boy ,have been around and undetected for many years, yet the average patient only survives about 6 months after diagnosis. For these cancers, this kind of screening could be a real lifesaver. The average ovarian tumor is 400 grams when detected, and survival is then usually a brutal land war.

We might start screening and then find out tumors can be detected in everyone. This would give us useful data on how frequently cancers arise, and how frequently they are overcome by the immune system. In such a case we would learn not to treat everyone, but maybe wait until certain thresholds were exceeded. Or, since we know what the mutations are the tumor carries, we could use highly targeted immunotherapies, with low toxicity. Everything is impossible to implement perfectly on day 1, but take a look at the landscape, try some things, and learn, and a decade later you have made real progress.

Poverty Stunts IQ in the US, But Not in Other Developed Countries

As a child develops, a tug of war between genes and environment settles the issue of the child’s intelligence. One theory on how that struggle plays out proposes that among advantaged kids—with the pull of educational resources—DNA largely wins, allowing genetic variation to settle smarts. At the other end of the economic spectrum, the strong arm of poverty drags down genetic potential in the disadvantaged.

Source: Poverty stunts IQ in the US but not in other developed countries

Perhaps the difference in results between the US and other countries is that other countries tend to have a cohesive national curriculum that is unified, plus more evenly distributed education funding and better distribution of good teachers, whereas the US’ educational system is piecemeal and broken down by state and municipal subdivisions, with the poorest regions being where the worst teachers are dumped and with terribly distribution of education funding

How Much Does Genetics Really Affect Your Fitness?

If you’re not seeing results in the gym, there are a lot of things you can tweak: your diet, your exercise schedule, and the types of workouts you do, to name a few. But genetics is also a big factor. We’ve all had that thought on bad days: Maybe I’m just not cut out to succeed at this.

Source: How Much Does Genetics Really Affect Your Fitness?

Height is considered ~80% heritable, but malnourishment and/or disease can stunt your growth.  If you’re really serious about addressing your height, limb-lengthening operations (cosmetic surgery) are a reality.  But tot only are they ridiculously expensive, but they also involve having your legs broken!  To lengthen limbs, the bones are broken to be spread so the body fills the gap by healing.   Anti-inflammatory painkillers can’t be prescribed because they might inhibit bone growth.   At a rate something like a millimeter a day, the apparatus is tweaked daily.  Some have achieved 6 inches, but most seem to be 2-3 inches.  Surgery would require someone like me to be off blood thinners, so far less likely that anyone will want to do the surgery for you.

All that said, for me part of the process has been about accepting what I can not change.

Study Confirms that Smoking Causes Emphysema

…due to incomplete combustion of insoluble nanoparticulates of carbon.  The longer you smoke, the worse it gets.

Many people who pass away from severe emphysema are found, at the time of autopsy, to have black lungs. The discoloured lungs are most strongly associated with people who have smoked heavily or worked in certain industries.

Source: New Study Confirms The Lethal Effect Of Smoking

Why is this study is important?  We knew that the black stuff was carbon and nanoparticles are bad, but we weren’t quite sure how much of emphysema was from poisons in the smoke, and how much was from immune cells that ingested the carbon particles (and the underlying mechanisms).  But it would make diagnosing smoking as the cause, and assessing overall health risk from smoking easier… But because of the way the tobacco industry operates, and the limited restrictions placed on it, it probably won’t help many people until it’s too late, but this data can be used to possibly find ways to combat some of it’s harmful effects in the future.

Inhaling smoke from any burning organic matter is likely to be just as hazardous.  Puff, puff, pass on that 😉

What About Diagnosing with X-Rays?

X-ray scans only differentiate between atoms, not molecules. This is because the energy is so high (in order to penetrate through the body) that “molecules” aren’t even visible to the x-ray (it has a small interaction cross section), only individual atoms can block them.

Lead Exposure in Mothers can Affect Future Generations

A human girl develops their eggs while in the womb. A mother not only holds her daughter but the eggs of her grandchildren…

A team of researchers at Wayne State University have discovered that mothers with high levels of lead in their blood not only affect the fetal cells of their unborn children, but also their grandchildren. Their study, Multigenerational epigenetic inheritance in humans: DNA methylation changes associated with maternal exposure to lead can be transmitted to the grandchildren, was published online this week in Scientific Reports.

Source: Lead exposure in mothers can affect future generations

Lead-based paint and leaded gasoline weren’t banned until the late 1980s and still pose a significant health risk to many vulnerable populations (e.g. young children). Interestingly, leaded gasoline was actually phased out because it was causing the newly invented catalytic converters to get clogged. It wasn’t until after leaded gasoline was banned that people made the connection between high blood lead levels and leaded gasoline use.

Lead mostly poses a health risk to minorities and low-income residents though. Areas where homes are still coated with untreated lead-based paint that has now began to peel off and contaminate the soil. Children that are crawling on the floor/ground will get lead on their hands and later put their fingers in their mouths–this is the most common way.

Lead poses a unique risk to women (and children) due to the fact that lead is stored in the bones. During pregnancy, lead becomes agitated and will re-enter the bloodstream and be passed on to the child.

Today, researchers still have not found a toxicity threshold for lead, which essentially means that any amount of lead will have adverse health effects. Low-level lead poisoning negatively effects cognitive functioning and can cause individuals to exhibit lower IQs.

Bonus Time!

The Thrifty Phenotype (AKA Barker Hypothesis) – intergenerational disease risk in an elegant little bundle. First documented in Dutch children born in times of famine during WWII I think it was, but recognized all over now.  You could use known week of conception and a chart showing just when citrus became hard to come by in a given region to predict weight or head-to-waist circumference ratio at birth. And while that’s cool on its own, you could also use similar info to predict an individual’s risk for heart disease or or diabetes in adulthood.

Your DNA Can Teach Us About Ancient History

Earlier this year, researchers from Oxford University published a study showing how the slave trade and colonization shaped the genetics of North and South America.

Analyzing more than 4,000 DNA samples from across both continents, as well as Europe and Africa, they were able to detect patterns in line with what historians knew about migrations across the Atlantic.

Source: What Your DNA Says About Medieval History

I’d like to know who was slumming around with the Neanderthals. Do you think the cave ladies got tired of their uptight cavemen? Maybe the cavemen partied with Neanderthal hotties!

It’s research like this that has allowed us to determine when Y-chromosomal Adam existed, and that a handful of Bronze age men could have fathered 2/3rds of the European population.

What Is the Molecular Clock, Exactly?

In the 150 years since Charles Darwin recognised the kinship of all life, scientists have worked to fulfil his dream of a complete Tree of Life. Today, the methods used to trace the evolutionary branches back through time would exceed Darwin’s expectations. Scientists across a range of biological disciplines use a technique called the molecular clock, where the past is deciphered by reading the stories written in the genes of living organisms.

Source: What Is the Molecular Clock, Exactly?

This is how we’ve come to estimate that Y-Chromosomal Adam Lived ~208,300 Years Ago…

‘Metabolic Switch’ Toggles Our Cells to Store or Burn Fat

It seems like cruel fate that some folks are naturally thin, while others have to work tirelessly to control their weight. But in the future, we may be able to level the playing field, because scientists have just discovered a ‘metabolic master switch’ that determines whether fat-producing adipocytes store or burn energy.

Source: ‘Metabolic Switch’ Toggles Our Cells to Store or Burn Fat

It’s a potential avenue for medication, which would be years or even decades from reality.  While it’d be interesting to get confirmation why some have more difficulty than others with loosing weight, I think ignorance is bliss so I think time is better spent dieting for actual results.

This Experiment First Cracked the Genetic Code—But Most People Have Never Heard of It

One of the most important experiments in the world manages to fly under most people’s radar. After years of patient experimental work, two scientists managed to figure out how one code in DNA translated into an actual, physical protein.

Source: This Experiment First Cracked the Genetic Code—But Most People Have Never Heard of It

It’s nice to see a headline on the net not confusing the genetic code with the genetic sequence. Only the latter is something akin to the source code of computer science, whereas the former governs how genetic information is translated into proteins.

Investigators Can Get Your DNA From the Guts of Maggots That Have Fed On You

Next week, on CSI… 😉

Some crime scenes don’t have bodies. What they have is a place where a body was, and a suspiciously large amount of maggots. Up until recently, the maggots could only have been a very bad sign. Now, it seems that maggots can help genetically identify their last meals.

Source: Investigators Can Get Your DNA From the Guts of Maggots That Have Fed On You

How else are your dependents supposed to get the insurance money?