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NEWSSTAND – July 2019

Eating crickets probably won't stop you getting cancer

It’s another day and another commute to work. You open your newspaper and see the headline: “Eating insects could protect you from cancer!” Should you stop at the health shop on your way to work and pick up some dried crickets for breakfast? Maybe, if you want an environmentally friendly meat alternative, but probably not if you are looking for ways to prevent cancer.

The problem with headlines like this is that they can often be misleading. Has there really been a study that found eating insects means you’re less likely to get cancer?

The study reported in the news measured the levels of a type of chemical compound, called antioxidants, present in commercially available edible insects, including crickets and ants. Antioxidants help maintain a healthy environment inside our cells, but research is inconclusive as to whether or not they protect us against cancer.

The study found that dried cricket powder contained 5 times the antioxidant activity found in freshly squeezed orange juice. And that’s about it. The researchers state clearly that they only measured whether insects provide some nutritional benefits and they point out that we don’t know if our bodies can even make use of the antioxidants found in insects. They also don’t mention anything about insects protecting us from cancer. So where did the newspapers go wrong?

Taking what a simple nutritional study found and spinning it   to fit a narrative about cancer is problematic. We are bombarded with information on what does and doesn’t cause or cure cancer and these stories make it hard to tell fact from fiction. Science moves at an often frustratingly glacial pace, but that doesn’t mean we should jump from A to Z without going through all the steps in-between. Could antioxidants from crickets potentially help to protect you from cancer? The real answer is a tad more boring than the headlines: “We just don’t know yet”.

Second-hand obesity

We all know that second hand smoke is dangerous, but did you know that obesity can also cause second hand damage? At least according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh.

The study found that children born to obese mothers are more likely to develop cancer in early childhood. Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the research, involving data from 2 million births, found that children born to severely obese mothers had a 57% higher risk of developing leukaemia before the age of 5.

While it is not entirely clear how the two factors are linked, one theory suggests that the increased risk might have something to do with changed levels of insulin that can come with being obese. While the results might worry people, the researchers point out that not all levels of obesity carry the same risk and even a small weight loss can reduce the real-life risk for the child. "Right now, we don't know of many avoidable risk factors for childhood cancer," said Dr Shaina Stacy who was involved in the study. "My hope is that this study can be, in a way, empowering and also motivating for weight loss."

Infecting bladder cancer with the common cold

Next time that you have a nasty cold, think twice before you curse the virus that’s giving you a runny nose. A new study from the University of Surrey suggests that a modified version of the common cold virus could be used to treat bladder cancer by invading cancer cells and triggering the patient’s immune system to attack and kill the infected cancer cells.

Non-muscle invasive bladder cancer costs the NHS more per patient than nearly every other cancer because even after successful treatment many patients’ cancer comes back.

In the study, 15 people with bladder cancer received a dose of the modified cold virus one week before they had surgery to remove their tumour. Analysis of samples from the patients’ tumours taken after the surgery showed that the cold virus had targeted and killed cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. Encouragingly, the treatment didn’t cause any significant side effects, and all the patients’ tumours shrunk in the week before surgery, with one patient’s tumour completely disappearing.

The team at the University of Surrey now want to move to larger trials and possibly combine the use of the common cold virus with targeted immunotherapy to help boost its effect against cancer.


Brain paste

A gel-like paste made of chemotherapy drugs could help save lives by being smeared into the cancerous area following surgery to remove tumours in the brain, according to a new study from the University of Nottingham.

Glioblastoma multiforme is an aggressive brain cancer that has a devastatingly low average survival time of 15 months post diagnosis. Even when the tumour can be removed surgically, cancer cells are often left behind in areas that cannot be safely removed, allowing the tumour to regrow.

To solve this problem, the researchers designed a polymer gel containing two different chemotherapeutic drugs and applied it to the diseased area of the brain following surgery to remove the brain tumours in rats. The polymer gel, which was originally intended to mend broken bones, releases the drugs directly inside the brain. This avoids the problem of the blood brain barrier, a protective barrier that protects the brain from foreign invaders, but also stops chemotherapy from reaching tumours in the brain.

Half of the rats treated with the gel following surgery survived longer than those that just had surgery and tests showed that their brains were cancer free. Following these encouraging results, the researchers are planning to start a clinical trial at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham to test the brain paste in people with brain tumours.

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