Archive for October, 2014

Reversing the ageing process for human adult stem cells by Researchers

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Scientists have reversed the aging process in human adult stem cells, which are in turn responsible for replacing aged cells throughout the body (Image: Public Library of Science)

stemcellaging cell structure image

By now, most people are probably aware of the therapeutic value of stem cells, as they can become any other type of cell in the human body. One of their main duties, in fact, is to replace those other cells as they degrade. Once people reach an advanced age, however, even the stem cells themselves start to get old and nonfunctional – when the cells that are supposed to replace the other cells can’t do their job anymore, age-related tissue problems start occurring. A team of researchers from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in collaboration with the Georgia Institute of Technology, however, may be on the way to solving that problem. They have succeeded in reversing the aging process in human adult stem cells.

When regular cells become aged, the caps on the end of their chromosomes (known as telomeres) get shorter. It is therefore hypothesized that many age-related problems are due to the shortening of these telomeres. Given that adult stem cells retain their full telomeres, however, the scientists had to find some other discernible way in which they age.

To do so, they compared the DNA of freshly-isolated adult stem cells from young donors, with that of stem cells from the same donors, but that had undergone an accelerated aging process in the lab. It turned out that most of the DNA damage in the older cells was due to the activity of parts of the cell genome known as retrotransposons. While young cells are able to limit this activity and deal with the damage it causes, older cells are not.

By suppressing the “accumulation of toxic transcripts” from the retrotransposons, however, the researchers were able to reverse the aging process in the older stem cells. They were, in fact, even able to regress them to an earlier stage of development.

The Buck Institute/Georgia Tech team is now looking at how suitable the rejuvenated stem cells may be for treating degenerative disorders such as arthritis, osteoporosis and metabolic syndromes.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Cell Cycle.

Henry Sapiecha

Stem cell-based treatment for baldness a step closer

Friday, October 31st, 2014


hair-follicle restore for bald people  images (2)

As one of the follically-challenged, any new breakthroughs in the area of hair regeneration will generally get my attention. When stem cells first started to gain widespread media attention I, no doubt like many others, thought a full head of hair was just around the corner. But despite numerous developments, years later my dome is still of the chrome variety. Providing the latest cause for cautious optimism, researchers have now developed a way to generate a large number number of hair-follicle-generating stem cells from adult cells.

In what they claim is a world first, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and the New Jersey Institute of Technology have developed a technique to convert adult human stem cells into epithelial stem cells (EpSCs).

By adding three genes to human skin cells called dermal fibroblasts that live in the dermis layer of the skin and generate connective tissue, a team led by Xiaowei “George” Xu, MD, PhD, at the Perelman School of Medicine was able to convert them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The iPSCs, which have the ability to differentiate into any cell type, were then converted into epithelial stem cells (EpSCs) that are normally found at the bulge of hair follicles.

Through careful control of the timing of delivery of growth factors to the cells, the researchers say they were able to turn over 25 percent of the iPSCs into EpSCs in 18 days. When they then mixed these EpSCs with mouse follicular inductive dermal cells and grafted them onto the skin of immunodeficient mice, functional human epidermis and follicles similar to hair follicles were produced.

hair-follicle restore for bald people  images

“This is the first time anyone has made scalable amounts of epithelial stem cells that are capable of generating the epithelial component of hair follicles,” said Xu, who added that these cells have many potential applications, including wound healing, cosmetics, and hair regeneration.

But some hurdles still need to be jumped before I make my first trip to the hairdresser in a decade. Xu points out that when a person loses hair, they lose not only epithelial cells, but also a kind of adult stem cell called dermal papillae. “We have solved one major problem, the epithelial component of the hair follicle. We need to figure out a way to also make new dermal papillae cells, and no one has figured that part out yet.”

On a positive note, researchers from the Tokyo University of Science have reported promising results in reconstructing hair follicle germs from adult epithelial stem cells and cultured dermal papilla cells, so even though we haven’t rounded the corner yet,it definitely seems to be getting closer.

The teams research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

Henry Sapiecha

Bats may be part of Ebola solution as well as source of outbreak: Scientist

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Fruit bats for sale at a food market in Brazzavile, Republic of Congo, December 15, 2005. image

Fruit bats for sale at a food market in Brazzavile, Republic of Congo, December 15, 2005

A CSIRO research scientist says bats’ immune systems could hold the key to fighting viruses like Ebola.

Bats are suspected of being the natural host for the Ebola virus.

Dr Michelle Baker says the animals are capable of carrying large loads of the virus without suffering so much as a fever.

“If you’re a virus and your primary goal in life is to reproduce and survive, you don’t necessarily want to kill your host really quickly, so bats and viruses have achieved a nice equilibrium,” she said.

Bats live with Ebola by having certain components of their immune system constantly switched on so they are prepared before the virus enters their system.

“What we need to do now is learn how bats tolerate high levels of activation of the immune system, constantly, without any detrimental effects,” Dr Baker said.

In contrast, the immune system of humans is only activated after contact with the virus.

Initially the virus shuts down the early response which then leads to a deadly overreaction.

“By the time our immune system is activated, the virus is already out of control,” Dr Baker said.

“At this point, our immune system produces a huge pro-inflammatory response.

“The immune system’s primary role is to destroy the virus but in the case of an infection such as Ebola, when the immune system is activated to a very high level, it’s actually more damaging to the host than it is beneficial.

“A lot of the internal and external bleeding we see is actually a consequence of the immune system over-responding to the infection.”

The way bats respond to viruses could provide a clue to successfully treating deadly infections like Ebola, but translating bat immunity into humans is also problematic because over-activation of the immune system can be so damaging.

“I think we’ve got a long way to go until we come up with a therapeutic we can translate from what we’re learning from bats into humans.”

Eating, butchering fruit bats causing Ebola transmission to humans

African fruit bats first pass the virus to primates and then to humans.

Dr Baker said transmission usually occurred through meat derived from a wild animal.

“A lot of the small villages in West Africa rely on bush meat as a primary form of protein in their diet,” she said.

“So the primary risk factor is butchering and handling of the raw meat.

“We know that primates get very sick from Ebola virus so they may be acting as a secondary reservoir for Ebola.”

CSIRO’s Biosecurity Flagship director Dr Kurt Zuelke said the Ebola outbreaks and others like it, such as Hendra, Avian Influenza and SARS were the result of increased interaction between humans and wildlife.

“We see animals and people living in closer proximity as urban areas move into more rural areas,” he said.

“Three quarters of the new diseases in people are coming from animals as we see increased mobility of people.

Henry Sapiecha

People conscious after ‘death’, study shows

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Scientists believe there may be life after death, with a large-scale study showing patients experience real events after their heart stops beating.

Is it possible that there is life after death, albeit very briefly. heart starter in doctors hands image

The Awareness during Resuscitation (Aware) study, involving 2060 patients from 15 hospitals in the UK, US, and Austria, was the largest ever medical study into near-death or out-of-body experiences.

It was previously thought that only hallucinatory events were experienced in these circumstances, director of resuscitation research at the State University of New York Dr Sam Parnia said.

“Contrary to popular perception,” Parnia said, “death is not a specific moment. It is actually a process that begins when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop working, and the brain ceases functioning – a medical condition termed cardiac arrest, which from a biological viewpoint is synonymous with clinical death.”
The study’s results showed 39 per cent of patients who survived cardiac arrest described a perception of awareness, but did not have explicit recall.

A total of 46 per cent experienced a broad range of mental recollections, 9 per cent had experiences compatible with near-death experiences, and 2 per cent exhibited full awareness compatible with out-of-body experiences including “seeing” and “hearing” events.

One man even recalled leaving his body entirely, and watching his resuscitation
from the corner of the room.

Despite being clinically dead for three minutes, the 57-year-old from the UK recounted the actions of the nursing staff in detail and described the sound of the machines.

“This is significant, since it has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions, occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted, but not an experience corresponding with ‘real’ events when the heart isn’t beating,” Parnia said.

“In this case, consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat.

“This is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn’t resume again until the heart has been restarted.”

Henry Sapiecha

The use of nasal material shows how a paralysed man walked again in Poland. Story 2.

Monday, October 27th, 2014


This 38-year-old Bulgarian patient, who suffered his injury in 2010, is believed to be the first person in the world to recover from the complete severing of the spinal nerves.image

FIRST STEPS: Darek Fidyka walks with the aid of leg-braces and a walking frame at the Akron Neuro-Rehabilitation Center in Wroclaw, Poland. Photo: AFP

A paralysed man has begun to walk again after pioneering surgery injected cells from his nasal cavity into his spine. How was this possible – and what does it mean for others with spinal injury? Kate Hagan stitches together the evidence.

Darek Fidyka sounds as though he has been through a lot. How did he lose his ability to walk?

A Bulgarian firefighter, Mr Fidyka’s spinal cord was severed after he was repeatedly stabbed in the back during a knife attack in 2010. It left the 40-year-old paralysed from the chest down. Despite two years of intensive physiotherapy he had showed no sign of recovery.

Why did scientists think he might be able to walk again?


Scientists have long recognised the potential of particular cells in the olfactory bulb, at the top of the nasal cavity, to stimulate growth of nerve fibres. Called olfactory ensheathing cells, they act as pathway cells to enable nerve fibres in the olfactory system to be constantly renewed throughout a person’s life, preserving the senses of smell and taste.

The role of the cells in the olfactory bulb has led scientists to explore their potential in the spinal cord, where regeneration of nerve fibres fails after spinal injury.


Mr Fidyka had two operations. In the first, Polish surgeons removed one of his olfactory bulbs and grew the olfactory cells in culture in a laboratory. Two weeks later they injected the cells above and below Mr Fidyka’s spinal injury. They also transplanted nerve tissue from his ankle into his injured spinal cord to form a bridge for nerve fibres to grow.

How has the operation changed his life?

Three months after the treatment Mr Fidyka noticed that he was developing muscle on his left thigh. After six months, he took steps along parallel bars using leg braces. Two years later he can walk with a frame and drive a car. He has also recovered some bladder, bowel and sexual function.

Mr Fidyka said walking again was an incredible feeling. “When you can’t feel almost half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it’s like you were born again,” he told the BBC. Mr Fidyka says he tires quickly when walking, but believes it is realistic to believe he will one day become independent.

What does this mean for paralysed people – will this treatment be broadly applicable? In short, will they be able to walk again?

Researchers involved in Mr Fidyka’s case say the treatment will need to be successfully repeated to definitively show the approach can repair a severed spinal cord. They hope to treat another 10 patients over coming years and have said they will consider patients from anywhere in the world who would likely have a similar injury to Mr Fidyka.

Florey Institute head of spinal research Stephen Davies warned the treatment may not work for all types of spinal injury. He said it was “too early to claim that the experimental therapy represents a silver bullet” and a clinical trial with large numbers of patients was needed to determine its benefits.

And Griffith University group leader of olfactory and brain repair James St John said Mr Fidyka’s case had demonstrated that transplanting olfactory cells into the spinal cord could restore sensation and some motor control in humans – but stressed there was still a long way to go.

“Each patient’s injuries are different and we don’t yet understand why there is recovery in some situations but not in others,” Dr St John said. “It is also important to understand that there are many types of olfactory [cells] and the correct combination of cells has not yet been determined.”

Does the scientific community have any reservations about what appears to be groundbreaking research?

The response has generally been: it is very early days for this form of treatment; let’s not get ahead of ourselves; expect mixed results as further trials are run.

Simone Di Giovanni, the chair in restorative neuroscience at Imperial College London, is among those urging caution about raising false hope for patients with spinal cord injury.

“One case of a patient improving neurological impairment after spinal cord knife injury following nerve and olfactory cell transplantation is simply anecdotal and cannot represent any solid scientific evidence to elaborate on. In fact there is no evidence that the transplant is responsible for the reported neurological improvement,” he said.

And Dusko Ilic, a senior lecturer in stem cell science at King’s College London, said transplantation of olfactory ensheathing cells in animal studies had varied results.

University of Nottingham professor of advanced drug delivery and tissue engineering Kevin Shakesheff added: “At best I’d expect to see quite a lot of variability in the clinical success because of the complexity of the tissue they are trying to repair and the different extent of damage in each patient.”

Henry Sapiecha

Paralysed man with a completely severed spinal cord walks again after world-first surgery

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Paralysed man now walks again

A Bulgarian man, who became paralysed from the chest down in a knife attack, is now able to walk again after receiving a pioneering cell transplant therapy.

In 2010, an assailant attacked Darek Fidyka with a knife, repeatedly stabbing the bald, broad firefighter in the back, and altered his life forever. One of the strikes cleanly sliced through Fidyka’s mid-spine. Doctors at the time told the Bulgarian there was only a one per cent chance he would recover. He had lost all motor and sensory control over his legs.

Fidyka went into intensive physiotherapy, but nothing worked. He showed no signs of recovery.

But now, following a surgery scientists hail as a “breakthrough” and a world first, life has changed for the 38-year-old Fidyka. He can walk with a frame, drive and live with greater independence.

This 38-year-old Bulgarian patient, who suffered his injury in 2010, is believed to be the first person in the world to recover from the complete severing of the spinal nerves.image

This 38-year-old Bulgarian patient, who suffered his injury in 2010, is believed to be the first person in the world to recover from the complete severing of the spinal nerves. Photo: AFP/BBC

As described by the BBC, which was granted special access to the project and to the rehabilitation over the course of a year, Polish surgeons put into practice a technique developed at University College London. There, research by Geoffrey Raisman revealed damaged nerve cells can form new connections with a little help from special cells in the nasal cavity called olfactory ensheathing cells.

The surgeons took nerve cells from Fidyka’s nose, used them to culture new ensheathing cells, and transplanted them into the spinal cord stumps above and below his injury. The hope was they would connect and form a bridge or pathway across the gap caused by the injury. And that’s exactly what happened.

Within months after the procedure, Fidyka developed feeling in one of his legs and today can move around on his own. In an interview with the BBC, he described it as an “incredible feeling. … When you can’t feel almost half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it’s like you were born again.”

Darek Fidyka can now walk with a frame, giving him greater independence image

Darek Fidyka can now walk with a frame, giving him greater independence. Photo: AFP/BBC

Scientists were cautious about the promising procedure, stressing only one patient has so far been treated. “Determination of the precise mechanisms of action, repetition in more patients and more long-term follow up are all necessary to help validate whether this promising procedure is of clinical relevance,” John Sladek of the University of Colorado told the Independent.

Still, if just for Fidyka, the scientists are rejoicing at what the BBC calls a “world first” in medicine, the full narrative of which is published in the journal Cell Transplantation. “Prior to the transplantation, we estimated that without this treatment, our patient’s recovery chances were less than one per cent,” Pawel Tabakow of the Wroclaw Medical University said in a statement. “However, we observed a gradual recovery of both sensory and motor function that began four months after the surgery.”

“He can get around with a walker and he’s been able to resume much of his original life, including driving a car,” Raisman, one of the study’s authors, told the Guardian. “He’s not dancing, but he’s absolutely delighted.”

He added to the Independent: “I believe this is the first time that a patient has been able to regenerate severed long spinal nerve fibres across an injury and resume movement and feeling. I believe we have now opened the door to a treatment of spinal cord injury which will get patients out of wheelchairs. Our goal is to develop the first procedure to a point where it can be rolled out as a worldwide general approach.”

That goal, however, is clearly a long way off. Right now, he’s working to raise funds to treat several more patients in Poland in the next five years. Those tests may help show whether this treatment can help an estimated 3 million people paralysed across the world.

“Paralysis is something that most of us don’t know very much about, because we are not affected by it,” David Nicholls, the founder of the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation told the Guardian. But “the scientific information relating to this significant advancement will be made available to other researchers around the world so that together we can fight to finally find a cure for this condition which robs people of their lives.”

The English chef started the charity after his 18-year-old son Daniel, on a gap year in Australia, became paraylsed after diving into a sandbank below the surface at Bondi Beach in 2003.

“I got call telling me that Dan had had a swimming accident and that he had broken his neck,” Nicholls told the BBC. “I promised Dan that we would get him walking – I had no idea at that time that paraysis was incurable.”

“This [breakthrough] gives us enormous hope. The catalyst of setting of that charity: there was an 18-year-old Australian boy in the next bed to Dan whose parents came to see him and never came back – they abandoned him and that’s just not acceptable.”

The Washington Post

Henry Sapiecha

Spider burrowed into appendix scar, crawled through man’s body

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

spider crawling under mans skin resulted in a searing sensation.image

The spider resulted in a “searing sensation”. Photo: Shanelle Miller

If Bali belly, dengue fever and dangerous drinks have not been enough to put you off taking a holiday to Bali – perhaps the story of “spiderman” will.

West Australian man Dylan Thomas may now be joking about whether he’ll develop “superpowers” but on the weekend he was experiencing a “searing sensation” as a spider that had made its way into his abdomen through an old appendix scar, crawled underneath his skin, all the way up to his sternum.

The horrifying incident happened while the Bunbury man, now known as ‘spiderman’ to his friends, was holidaying on the Indonesian island.

The mark the spider left on Thomas' trunk.image

He told Radio 6PR about the experience.

“It wasn’t really a tickling sensation, obviously once the venom started to affect my skin it was a really burning sensation like a searing feeling,” he said.

Mr Thomas said he believed the spider had burrowed into his abdomen on Friday night as he noticed a mark on his stomach on Saturday morning that continued to worsen.The mark the spider left on Thomas’ trunk.An initial visit to a doctor on Sunday saw him diagnosed as having been bitten by an insect and sent away with antihistamines

Dylan Thomas had a spider crawl underneath his skin image

Mr Thomas spent another day with the arachnid tunneling inside of him, before going to a hospital.

“Well after running tests and putting things inside my stomach they finally found out it was a tropical spider that’s been living inside of me for the last 3 days, managed to get it out luckily,” he told his Facebook friends.

Two doctors who initially assessed him “had no idea” what was causing the marks on Mr Thomas’s skin until they called in a specialist dermatologist.

The spider was eventually removed with tweezers. It was dead when pulled out.

Mr Thomas said the experience had ruined his first trip to Bali.

Henry Sapiecha

Doctor Tom Borody claims faecal transplants curing incurable diseases like Crohn’s

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Australian doctor, Professor Tom Borody claims to be able to cure diseases such as Crohn’s, Colitis, auto immune conditions and even neurological disease with a treatment known as Faecal Microbiota Transplantation. (Credit: ABC)




An Australian doctor claims he is curing incurable diseases using an all-natural waste product we usually flush away – human stool.

Professor Tom Borody has been championing the treatment, known as faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), for 25 years.

As modern science begins to appreciate the critical role gut bacteria plays in human health, his treatment of diseases including Crohn’s and colitis, auto immune diseases and even neurological disease is provoking both criticism and excitement.

While some doctors regard faecal transplants as potentially dangerous, two of Australia’s biggest teaching hospitals are embarking on a large national trial.

Professor Borody is at science’s new frontier, manipulating the bacteria that live in the human gut.

“In terms of genetics there are 3.1 million genes. That’s a hell of a crowd of individuals living in our colon,” he said.

Bacterial cells far outnumber human cells in our bodies and bacteria experts including CSIRO’s chief research scientist, Dr David Topping, believe the world is at the edge of an extraordinary medical revolution that will come through the understanding of the so-called human microbiome.

“I think we’re on the edge of something extraordinary. The attention has switched entirely to the large bowel bacterial population which we now know is absolutely critical to human health,” Dr Topping said.

Professor Borody is not waiting for controlled clinical trials to treat a range of diseases.

Patients travel to his Sydney clinic from as far as the UK. Many are seriously ill. They come for FMT, where donor human stool is injected into their intestines or colons.

“We know that bacteria manufacture active anti-microbial molecules so when we infuse these new bacteria they are like a factory of antibiotics that have gone in there and they weed out and kill the bug that we cannot identify,” Professor Borody said.

FMT is now recognised in the US as a first line treatment to combat an epidemic of the antibiotic-resistant and often deadly gut bacteria, C.difficile.

But Professor Borody claims he has also cured dozens of colitis and Crohn’s cases, gut diseases regarded as incurable.

“I think it’s a hell of a breakthrough to say we can cure colitis,” he said.

Nurse ‘cured’ of Crohn’s after faecal transplant

Today nurse Suzanne Heskett is full of energy and walks several kilometres each day, but 13 years ago she was very ill, diagnosed with Crohn’s, a disease she believed would never be cured.

“I really believe that I was so sick that I would have ended up with part of my bowel removed,” she said.

“I was going to the toilet 18 times a day. I was sitting on the toilet for hours, cramping and in pain.”

During a consultation with Professor Borody he told her a cure was possible. It was an opportunity that Ms Heskett could not turn down.

“When Professor Borody offered this chance of a cure I thought: what if it works?” she said.

“They put a nasal tube down into my small intestine. I had three donors – about 950 mils –  and all up it took about five hours.”

She says she felt better almost immediately and over several months her condition steadily improved.

“Eleven months after having the stool transplant I had another colonoscopy to see what it looked like,” she said.

“I remember I was waking up from the anaesthetic and I heard Professor Borody say if he hadn’t known I’d had Crohn’s he wouldn’t have believed it. I was so happy.”

Ms Heskett’s colon has been healthy for 12 years with no sign of the Crohn’s infection that had kept her housebound for years.

Australian Gastroenterological Society urges caution

Other doctors, however, are not convinced faecal transplantation cured Ms Heskett.

Dr Katie Ellard, president of the Australian Gastroenterological Society, says no data exists to show FMT cures anything except infections caused by the bacteria, C.difficile.

“Crohn’s disease can wax and wane and people can get better for a while without intervention,” she said.

“It’s inappropriate to let enthusiasm overtake caution and start doing FMT for all sorts of conditions where we don’t know if it works or if there is a potential downside.

“We don’t know how to manipulate the faecal microbiota do we? It’s not impossible that we could do something that could give the patient symptoms or exacerbate their problem.”

Mainstream medicine may not have embraced faecal transplants, but Professor Borody has a patient waiting list that extends into next year.

His collaborator Emeritus Professor Robert Clancy says FMT is not only safe but a game-changer.

“If we can completely change the outcome of a significant proportion of patients with colitis for the very first time then it tells us a lot more about what is causing it,” he said.

“It opens up opportunities for other areas and conditions. It’s very exciting to be on the edge of this new idea about how the bacteria in the gut are driving and talking to the rest of the body.”

Professor believes gut is gateway to toxins

Controversially, Professor Borody believes the gut is the gateway for toxins to enter the body, triggering an array of seemingly unrelated diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s and autism.

He says he has been surprised many times when diseases far from the gut have eased or vanished following faecal microbiota transplantations.

“We’ve had a young person with rheumatoid arthritis and it went away. It was classic rheumatoid factor positive RA,” he said.

Professor Borody also claims symptoms of Parkinson’s eased in three patients treated for chronic constipation.

But scepticism is strong. Autism Australia says there is no evidence that antibiotics can treat autism, and Parkinson’s groups do not recommend patients have faecal transplants.

The Australian Medical Association does not have a view on the treatment, and Medicare offers no rebate.

Case for gut pathogens triggering diseases builds

But worldwide, as interest grows, the case for gut pathogens triggering a vast range of diseases is building.

“It makes sense that molecules can get into the body’s system and change it, affect immunity, cause allergies,” Professor Clancy said.

“It is just an extension of that idea that pathogens would disturb brain structure and function, and the heart. We’re looking at everything afresh.”

Recently scientists found the distinct pathological signature for Parkinson’s in the colons of people in the early stage of the disease.

The CSIRO thinks such discoveries open the way for a profound change in treating and perhaps one day preventing diseases that plague the modern world.

“The interaction between microflora, particularly their products and their substrate, holds immense potential for the management and prevention of serious diseases, colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, perhaps even conditions like Alzheimer’s, autism and Parkinson’s,” Dr Topping said.

A nationwide trial of faecal transplants as a treatment for colitis is about to get underway, under the direction of St Vincent’s hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne.

It makes sense that molecules can get into the body’s system and change it, affect immunity, cause allergies.

Emeritus Professor Robert Clancy

It’s inappropriate to let enthusiasm overtake caution and start doing FMT for all sorts of conditions where we don’t know if it works or if there is a potential downside.

Henry Sapiecha

Dr Katie Ellard

Drug that stops bowel cancer growth in 80 per cent of cases uncovered by Melbourne researchers

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Bowel cancer is the second largest cause of cancer deaths in Australia image

Australian scientists have discovered a set of drugs that stop the growth of bowel cancers in about 80 to 90 per cent of cases.

Dr Toby Phesse, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, said new forms of treatment for this type of cancer are in high demand.

“About 4,000 people are going to die of [bowel] cancer every year in Australia, and so we’re really crying out for new therapies to try and target this disease,” Dr Phesse said.

“And our lab is specifically looking for targeted strategies to try and work out which signalling pathways or which genes could be targeted to try and prevent this cancer.”

Dr Phesse said the team of researchers found a particular kind of drug called JAK inhibitors that can be used to target colon cancers.

“This particular pathway is regulated in many types of cancer, including colon cancer, and we found that 80 per cent of colon cancers have got a certain mutation in the weak pathway,” he said.

“However, this pathway is also required for the normal cells of the intestine and so if you try and target that pathway directly, you pose a severe threat of actually affecting the normal cells of the intestine.

“So we wanted to try a different strategy and try and target a parallel pathway and that is what brought us to the JAK pathway.


“And we found that with the JAK inhibitors these tumours, 80 per cent of them, they were exquisitely sensitive to JAK inhibitors.”

We just have to bring the story out now that these drugs actually can be used in colon cancer.

Dr Toby Phesse, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research


The drugs work in two ways: by stopping cell growth and, in pre-chemical models, preventing the development of new tumours.

“So this will be important for people who have got a familial condition in which they develop multiple intestinal tumours,” Dr Phesse said.

“It’s very exciting and it really opens the window now to use these drugs.”

With JAK inhibitors already approved for use in other diseases, Dr Phesse expects the up-take of this new bowel cancer treatment to be quick.

“The great thing is that they are already existing in the clinic and they’re being used to treat disorders such as psoriasis, arthritis, minor fibrosis,” he said.

“So we don’t have to spend the many years and the resources … to develop a new drug.

“They’re there in the clinic and we just have to bring the story out now that these drugs actually can be used in colon cancer.”

Henry Sapiecha


Tuesday, October 7th, 2014
A dog called Oscar pre-treatment with the berry compound (L) and 15 days after treatment (R).blushwood berries image
Photo: A dog called Oscar pre-treatment with the berry compound (L) and 15 days after treatment (R).
(Supplied: QIMR Berghofer Medical Institute)
Usually when you treat a tumour it takes several weeks for it to resolve, but this is very, very rapid. Dr Glen Boyle

Scientists have been surprised by the rapid cancer-fighting properties of a berry found only in Far North Queensland.

An eight-year study led by Dr Glen Boyle, from the QIMR Berghofer medical research institute in Brisbane, found a compound in the berry could kill head and neck tumours as well as melanomas.

An experimental drug derived from the berry, EBC-46, has so far been used on 300 animals, including cats, dogs and horses.

Dr Boyle said in 75 per cent of cases, the tumour disappeared and had not come back.

blushwood tree with berries image

“There’s a compound in the seed – it’s a very, very complicated process to purify this compound and why it’s there in the first place, we don’t know,” he said.

“The compound works by three ways essentially: it kills the tumour cells directly, it cuts off the blood supply and it also activates the body’s own immune system to clean up the mess that’s left behind.”

There were no side effects, but what amazed scientists most was how fast it worked: the drug took effect within five minutes and tumours disappeared within days.

“The surprising thing for us and the thing that we don’t see very often is the speed with which this occurs,” Dr Boyle said.

“Usually when you treat a tumour it takes several weeks for it to resolve, but this is very, very rapid.

Dr Glen Boyle with berries from the blushwood tree found in far north Queensland. image

“There’s a purpling of the area, of the tumour itself, and you see that within five minutes and you come back the next day and the tumour’s black and you come back a few days later and the tumour’s fallen off.”

The berry grows on the blushwood tree, which only grows in pockets of Far North Queensland.

“The tree is very, very picky on where it will grow,” Dr Boyle said.

“It’s only on the Atherton Tablelands at the moment and they’re trying to expand that to different places of course because it’d be nice to be able to grow it on a farm somewhere.

Dr Boyle said the findings of the pre-clinical trials suggested the drug could be effective in human patients.

But Dr Boyle warned the drug could only be used for tumours that can be accessed by direct injection and was not effective against metastatic cancers.

He said it would be an additional treatment option, rather than a replacement for chemotherapy or surgery.

“Elderly patients for example who just can’t go through another round of chemo or can’t go through another general anaesthetic for example, this could be used to treat those sorts of tumours and hopefully improve quality of life for people,” he said.

Biotechnology company QBiotics has obtained ethical approval to begin human trials.


Henry Sapiecha