Scientists probing the reason why cancer is far less common in individuals with Huntington’s disease have revealed that the gene responsible for the fatal brain condition produces a molecule that is deadly to cancer cells.
In a recent paper published in the journal EMBO Reports, scientists from Northwestern University in Chicago, IL, note exactly how they tested the molecule in human and mouse cancer cells, as well as in mice with ovarian cancer.
“This molecule,” explains senior study author Marcus E. Peter, who’s a professor of cancer metabolism, “is a super assassin against all tumor cells. We’ve never seen anything this powerful.”
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He and his colleagues hope that the discovery will lead to a short-lived treatment that can target and destroy cancer cells without triggering the progressive brain damage that occurs alongside Huntington’s disease.
Huntington’s disease is a fatal and inherited disorder that destroys nerve cells in the brain, causing a progressive decline in mental and physical ability. Symptoms will typically emerge between age 30 and 50 and progress over a period that lasts 10–25 years.
There are currently 30,000 people in the United States living with Huntington’s disease, as well as another 200,000 who are at risk of inheriting it.
There is currently no cure for Huntington’s disease, which arises from a fault in the Huntington gene. The gene is passed from parent to child. Children with a parent who has the disease have a 50 percent chance of carrying the gene.
The faulty Huntington gene contains more than a normal number of repeats of a certain sequence of nucleotides in its DNA code. Nucleotides are the “alphabet”of DNA and RNA and there are five of them: A, G, C, T, and U.
In Huntington’s disease, the Huntington gene contains too many repeated sequences of CAG. The more repeated sequences of CAG in the gene, the earlier the disease develops.
The repeated sequences give rise to molecules called small interfering RNAs that attack genes that are important for cell survival, and they trigger a type of cell death that brain cells are susceptible to.
However, it seems that cancer cells are much more vulnerable to this type of cell death, which opens up the possibility of using the process to eliminate cancer cells in a way that does not damage healthy cells.
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Quick rise in young people with Type 2 diabetes is alarming
Hundreds of young people are being treated for Type 2 diabetes, a 41% rise in just four years.
The condition occurs when the body cannot make enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
It is often linked to obesity and is most commonly seen in adults, where it can lead to a range of health problems such as heart disease and strokes.
Some 715 people under the age of 25 received treatment for the disease in England and Wales during 2016/17 and 78.6% of them were obese.
The number of cases is up from the 507 registered in 2013/14, according to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
But the true number may be much higher, as the RCPCH recorded only those young people being treated in paediatric units, not by a GP.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH, said: “A rise in Type 2 diabetes of this magnitude is alarming and shows that the childhood obesity epidemic is starting to bite.
“It’s also concerning that we might not be seeing the full picture.”
The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, said more support was needed, especially for obese children and ethnic minorities, as almost half of those treated in 2016/17 were black or Asian.
Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “These figures are a sad indictment of how we have collectively failed as a society to tackle childhood obesity, one of the biggest health challenges we face.”
She called for “urgent action”, saying: “Type 2 diabetes can be a lifelong debilitating illness and these figures will only multiply if we delay.
A new way to ‘freeze’ water
Freezing can be a great way of preserving assorted foodstuffs or biological tissues and organs, but it’s not without its risks. The formation of sharp ice crystals can damage cell membranes, while the defrosting process comes with its own potential dangers.