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Anchor lead: Is being able to spot cancer with a blood test closer to reality? Elizabeth Tracey reports

You have your own DNA circulating in your bloodstream all the time, and new tests aim to identify such DNA that may come from cancer cells. Now a new test, developed by Victor Velculescu and colleagues at Johns Hopkins and other institutions, is chalking up some impressive results.

Velculescu: The test, called DELFI, spots unique patterns in the fragmentation of the DNA, shed from cancer cells and circulating in the bloodstream. We used DELFI to detect the presence of cancer in 57% to more than 99% of blood samples from 208 patients with various stages of breast, colorectal, lung, pancreatic, gastric, or bile duct cancers. DELFI also performed well in blood tests from 215  healthy individuals, incorrectly identifying cancer in just four cases.  :33

Velculescu notes the promise of such testing is an easy way to spot cancer early. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.

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Anchor lead: How can we explain why some people respond to cancer treatments and others don’t? Elizabeth Tracey reports

Cancer treatments known as immune checkpoint inhibitors have produced amazing results in about half of people in whom they’re used. Now research from Johns Hopkins may help explain why the other half doesn’t respond by looking more closely at DNA. William Nelson, director of the Kimmel Cancer Center, describes the results.

Nelson: The propensity to respond was driven as much by the insertions and deletions as it was by the mutations. Which may be an explanation for why only half the people respond particularly well, with DNA mismatch deficiency to immune checkpoint inhibitors.  :15

Nelson says this is important clinically.

Nelson: It gives you general logic where you can say we can better refine, with testing, who is likely to benefit extraordinarily from immune checkpoint inhibitors and who is not, so that we can spend our time thinking about how to treat them better.  :15

At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.

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Anchor lead: A new approach to engaging the immune system may help with common infections, Elizabeth Tracey reports

You’ve likely had a number of vaccines in your lifetime to protect you against common infections like measles and mumps. These rely on the production of antibodies in your blood, and now another approach to vaccines that might activate immune cells against the common skin infection Staph aureus is being investigated by Lloyd Miller and colleagues at Johns Hopkins.

Miller: Instead of focusing on these antibody responses and we focus now on the T cells we may actually get a preventive vaccine or immunotherapy against staph infections in the future.  :10

Miller says its not known why some people get really invasive staph infections.

Miller: We’re very focused on engaging the host’s own immune response and figuring out why certain people can develop and clear staph infection and why others can’t. and maybe some people develop this T cell response and others don’t.  :13

Engaging the T cell response may point the way toward new treatments, Miller says. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.

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Anchor lead: Can a new type of immune cell help a common infection? Elizabeth Tracey reports

Gamma/delta T is a type of immune cell that helps wall off a common skin infection- staph – and prevent it from spreading throughout the body, research by Lloyd Miller and colleagues at Johns Hopkins and several other institutions has shown. Miller says harnessing this aspect of the immune response is critical.

Miller: Staph aureus infections can become invasive and they can cause severe skin infections and they can actually spread into the bloodstream and cause bacteremia and sepsis and cause life threatening infections. The protective response is what we’re trying to learn in the lab is how the body contains and clears staph infections. And this is really important because staph aureus is becoming a multidrug resistant to common antibiotics. So finding new mechanisms that can actually target your own body’s immune response to help clear these infections is of paramount importance.  :30

Miller says current research is focused on finding out more about this subclass of immune cells and how to activate them. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.

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Anchor lead: Spring is the time to watch carefully for suicides, Elizabeth Tracey reports

Now that days are longer and summer is almost here, we’re all feeling better, right? Not so, says Adam Kaplin, a psychiatrist and mood disorders expert at Johns Hopkins. Kaplin notes that suicides actually peak in the spring.

Kaplin: One-third of people before they go on to attempt suicide will visit their primary care practitioner within a week, and two-thirds within a month. And they’re not coming in and saying hey I’m suicidal, they’re coming in and saying I’m fatigued, something’s not right. This is the time of year that people are going to go on an attempt or complete suicide so this is the lifesaving time to especially be aware and cognizant that if your patient’s coming in with some of these nonspecific symptoms that could be harbingers of an underlying mood disorder then you’re got to start screening.  :32

Kaplin believes inflammation plays a role, and spring is when pollens and molds can cause body-wide inflammation, but says more research needs to be done to prove the connection. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.

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Anchor lead: Girls are catching up with boys when it comes to suicide, Elizabeth Tracey reports

Among those 10 to 14 years of age, girls are starting to close the gap with boys when it comes to completed suicide, the most recent data show. Adam Kaplin, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins and a mood disorders expert, believes one factor is the FDA putting a black box warning on some antidepressant medicines.

Kaplin: The first black box warning was 2003-2004. 2006-7 it was extended up to the age of 25 and that’s when there was this huge inflection, in part because parents freaked out and didn’t want their kids put on any of these terrible black box warning drugs but I think more significantly because pediatricians stopped being comfortable prescribing them.  :22

Kaplin identifies another important factor.

Kaplin: Girls and boys have both started to be educated about how to complete a suicide through the use of social media in ways of doing it.  :10

Kaplin urges parents to be vigilant in scrutinizing their kid’s use of social media. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.

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Anchor lead: Spring is the season for suicides, Elizabeth Tracey reports

Suicides in the US have risen by 30% in the last 15 years, the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal. Adam Kaplin, a psychiatrist and mood disorders expert at Johns Hopkins, says spring is the time when we really need to pay attention.

Kaplin: We’ve known forever that April, May, June, the spring is when the rates go up, they double in many places. And once they hit that peak they sort of go down to the lowest level is in December. There’s a growing appreciation of the role of inflammation, and what really gets going in the springtime are allergic rhinitis which causes a systemic inflammation. Inflammation we know brings people’s moods down, we know its associated with increased chances of suicide attempts and suicide.  :33

Kaplin says newer generations of antihistamines people take to combat allergies don’t reduce inflammation in the brain so aren’t likely to help. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.

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