A portable blood lab; prostate cancer’s Achilles heel; breast cancer and menstruation

Bulletins, Media bulletins

Three stories today:

One in Tasmania – a clever little widget using controlled lighting for personal drug testing.

A story from Sydney’s Centenary Institute on starving prostate cancer.

And from Adelaide – how at certain stages of the menstrual cycle your immune cells may make you more susceptible to breast cancer. University of Adelaide issued the release last Thursday.

And next week is StarFest in Coonabarabran. The local bowling club is hosting a Nobel Laureate (Brian Schmidt), a Prime Minister’s Science Prize winner (Ken Freeman), with the head of Mt Stromlo (Matthew Colless) and Fred Watson. More on that at www.aao.gov.au

More below.

Monitoring drugs at home, not the hospital 

A tiny Tasmanian invention that could make personalised medication easy and affordable.

Millions of people should have their blood tested each day to check the level of prescription drug in their blood.

Some drugs are only effective within a very narrow range. Too little and the drug is ineffective, too much and the drug could be deadly.

But the current blood tests mean a trip to hospital, requires well-trained analysts, toxic solvents and expensive instruments. Monitoring this way is not practical due to cost and the time involved.

Now, a team at the University of Tasmania has invented a mechanism that uses controlled lightning to accurately measure the concentration of a drug in blood within just three minutes.

The mechanism will form the heart of a device that could fit into one hand and cost just a couple of dollars per test allowing millions to test their own blood at home, not in the hospital.

“I am testing different antidepressants while modifying the device design to get the best results,” says Aliaa Shallan, a PhD student at the University of Tasmania School of Pharmacy, who is part of the team and one of the 2013 Fresh Scientists.

“Once it’s fully ready, this device will have immediate application. The device has the potential to analyze other drugs like anti-psychotics and anti-epileptics.”

More details, including high res images, at freshscience.org.au/2013/portablelab

For interviews and more information, contact AJ Epstein: 0433 339 141 or aj@scienceinpublic.com.au

Prostate cancer’s Achilles’ heel uncovered

“The Holst effect” opens up new therapeutic options for prostate cancer treatment, which kills about 3300 Australian men each year.

A team of researchers from Sydney, Vancouver, Adelaide and Brisbane are getting closer to a new treatment for prostate cancer that relies on starving tumours of essential nutrients they need to grow.

In work just published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Dr Jeff Holst, from Sydney’s Centenary Institute, and his colleagues have shown they can slow the growth of the cancer by blocking the proteins which pump the amino acid leucine into tumour cells.

“[This is] a landmark article that uncovers the Achilles heel of prostate cancer,” says an editorial in the journal. “Discovery of this leucine hunger in metastatic prostate cancer opens up a new therapeutic option to treat prostate cancer by inhibiting amino acid transporters.”

The work is particularly good news for men suffering from prostate cancers that have become resistant to standard treatments, such as lowering the levels of exposure to male sex hormones.

And other work within Dr Holst’s laboratory suggests that other solid cancers, such as melanoma, breast and colon cancer may well be amenable to the same approach.

  • The paper, editorial and photographs are available at www.centenary.org.au and at www.scienceinpublic.com.au
  • For further information contact Tim Thwaites on 03 9398 1416 or 0427 258 455
  • For interviews contact: Jeff Holst 02 9565 6172

Immune cells open window to breast cancer risk

University of Adelaide researchers uncover the role of immune cells and menstruation in the risk of developing breast cancer.

A team at the University of Adelaide has shown that while the immune cells known as macrophages have an important role to play in the normal function of the breast, at certain stages in the menstrual cycle they may help to make the breast more susceptible to cancer.

Researchers have known for some time that there is a link between the number of years of menstrual cycling and breast cancer risk, but we’re now starting to understand the cell-to-cell interactions that are impacting on this risk.

“It’s sort of a Jekyll and Hyde scenario – we need the macrophages to do their job so that the breast can function normally, but at the same time they’re giving cancerous cells the chance to survive,” says Associate Professor Wendy Ingman, lead author of the study.

More details from the University of Adelaide website: www.adelaide.edu.au/news/news64882.html

For interviews, contact: