In this week’s edition of Med-Sci Matters, we discuss the FDA’s green light for CAR-T therapy, how house dust could be contributing to weight gain, how smartphones are providing insights into global activity levels and new data showing that artificial sweeteners could lead to increased health risks.
Edging closer to the first CAR-T approval019 is now likely to be the first CAR-T therapy approved for use and could pave the way for a new era in personalized immunotherapy. CAR-T, which stands for Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell therapy, involves removing T-cells from a patient’s blood, genetically engineering them to attack specific antigens on the tumor, and then infusing them back into the patient to specifically target the immune system against the cancer.
Patients in the Novartis trial showed a high rate of remission; however trials from other companies investigating CAR-T therapies have been plagued with set-backs, resulting in high numbers of patient deaths and trials being shut down. Apart from potential long-term safety issues, the logistical issues of collecting and engineering each individual patient’s cells prior to reinfusing may be a challenge.
The positive vote was welcomed by several companies working in the field and heralded as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment. It will be interesting to see how companies deal with manufacturing these treatments for each patient (and how they will price it), if approved.
Could your house be making you put on weight?
In shocking new research published last week in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers found that chemicals stored in common house dust could be contributing to obesity. Dust containing compounds called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) from household items (e.g., sofas or plastics) was found to cause fat cells to accumulate more fat. Manufacturers are attempting to reduce levels of EDCs in products but their use is still fairly widespread.
To test the effect of the EDCs, researchers collected dust samples from a small sample of homes in the US and exposed mouse fat cells to them in a dish. The cells exposed to the dust increased the amount of fat they stored or divided to store more fat, thus suggesting an obesogenic effect. The experiments were conducted in a dish, but if translatable to the real world setting, could have significant health implications.Read More: Science Daily, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News
Stepping up: Smartphones show which countries walk most
Using data from over 700,000 people’s smartphones, researchers measured the average number of daily steps taken and compared steps among over 100 countries. The average was only 4,961 – about half of the recommended daily 10,000. This, however, doesn’t account for exercises such as swimming or cycling, or that people don’t always have their smartphones on them. Hong Kong was the most active country (6,880 steps per day) and Indonesia was the least active (3,513).
Interestingly, the average number of steps did not correlate to obesity levels as much as “activity inequality” levels. Countries with the biggest differences between most and least active had higher obesity levels. These differences were mainly driven by sex e.g., countries like Saudi Arabia with high obesity levels also have a high inequality level, with women doing far fewer steps than men. More walkable cities (e.g. New York) had smaller inequalities.
The study provides key insights into activity levels across the world and highlights the potential use of smartphones in enabling huge, global studies, providing insights on a much bigger scale than previously possible. The results were published in Nature.
Artificial sweeteners: Not so sweet after all?
Artificial sweeteners could be causing people to gain weight and increase their risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, according to new research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. After reviewing 37 studies containing a total of around 400,000 people, the authors found that use of sweeteners (e.g. aspartame, sucralose and stevia) was associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease (at least in observational studies).
This study does not prove causality – indeed, some “reverse causation” may be at play, e.g., people with obesity may use artificial sweeteners more. Nonetheless, the findings raise concerns about the dramatic increase in use of artificial sweeteners and the long-term health risks they may be associated with. Further investigations are needed to prove any causality and if proven, may lead to restrictions in their use in food and drinks.