3 share Nobel medicine prize for new tools to kill parasites

MEDICAL RESEARCH

3 share Nobel medicine prize for new tools to kill parasites

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A pharmacy manager for Walgreens administers a flu vaccine on site. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Three scientists from Ireland, Japan and China won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discovering drugs against malaria and otherparasitic diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people every year.

The Nobel judges in Stockholm awarded the prestigious prize to Irish-born William Campbell, Satoshi Omura of Japan and Tu Youyou — the first-ever Chinese medicine laureate.

Campbell and Omura were cited for discovering avermectin, derivatives of which have helped lower the incidence of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, two diseases caused by parasitic worms that affect millions of people in Africa and Asia.

Tu discovered artemisinin, a drug that has helped significantly reduce the mortality rates of malaria patients.

“The two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually,” the committee said. “The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immensurable.”

River blindness is an eye and skin disease that ultimately leads to blindness. About 90 percent of the disease occurs in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

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Lymphatic filariasis can lead to swelling of the limbs and genitals, called elephantiasis, and it’s primarily a threat in Africa and Asia. The WHO says 120 million people are infected with the disease, without about 40 million disfigured and incapacitated.

Campbell, born in 1930, is a research fellow emeritus at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Omura, 80, is a professor emeritus at Kitasato University in Japan and is from the central prefecture of Yamanashi. Tu, 84, is chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

“I wonder if I deserve the prize. I have learned so much from microorganisms and I have depended on them, so I would much rather give the prize to microorganisms,” Omura told Japanese broadcaster NHK.

Omura isolated new strains of Streptomyces bacteria and cultured them so that they could be analyzed for their impact against harmful microorganisms, the Nobel committee said.

Campbell showed that one of those cultures was “remarkably efficient” against parasites in animals. The bioactive agent was purified and modified to a compound that effectively killed parasitic larvae, leading to the discovery of new class of drugs.

Tu turned to herbal medicine to discover a new anti-malarial agent, artemisinin (pronounced ar-tuh-MIHS’-ihn-ihn), that was highly effective against malaria, a disease that was on the rise in the 1960s, the committee said.

The last time a Chinese citizen won a Nobel was in 2012, when Mo Yan got the literature award. But China has been yearning for a Nobel Prize in science. This was the first Nobel Prize given to a Chinese scientist for work carried out within China.

“This is indeed a glorious moment,” said Li Chenjian, a vice provost at prestigious Peking University. “This also is an acknowledgement to the traditional Chinese medicine, for the work began with herbal medicine.”

The medicine award was the first Nobel Prize to be announced. The winners of the physics, chemistry and peace prizes are set to be announced later this week. The economics prize will be announced next Monday. No date has been set yet for the literature prize, but it is expected to be announced on Thursday.

The winners will share the 8 million Swedish kronor (about $960,000) prize money with one half going to Campbell and Omura, and the other to Tu. Each winner will also get a diploma and a gold medal at the annual award ceremony on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of prize founder Alfred Nobel.

Last year’s medicine award went to three scientists who discovered the brain’s inner navigation system.

Nasal spray shows promise as treatment for Alzheimer’s disease

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 (Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center)

Researchers say they’ve developed a nasal spray that could potentially improve memory and other mental capabilities for the more than 5 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

In a pilot study at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, researchers studied 60 adults between the ages of 55 and 85 diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or mild to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia (AD). Participants were nasally administered doses of man-made insulin called insulin detemir for 21 days.

The insulin detemir is designed to attach to album, a blood protein. Album absorbs the insulin detemir, distributing it throughout the body and allowing it to work. Because the insulin detemir dissolves from the protein slowly, it has a longer period of exposure in the body, lead study author Dr. Suzanne Craft, professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest Baptist told FoxNews.com.

Participants who received 40 international unit (IU) doses of insulin detemir over the course of the trial showed significant improvement in their short-term ability to retain and process verbal and visual information, compared with those who received 20 IU doses or a placebo. According to Craft, performance on tests of mental manipulation and memory improved by as much as 25 percent.

Even recipients who carried the APOE-e4 gene – which is proven to increase Alzheimer’s risk – showed significantly higher memory scores than those who received the lower dosage or placebo.

“Our team was surprised at the level of improvement for the participants with the gene that raises Alzheimer’s risk, as very few types of therapies have been shown to benefit these patients,” Craft said.

Further research is needed to determine the mechanisms behind insulin detemir’s effect on memory.

The insulin detemir doses did not cause any negative side effects, and Craft said the study’s overall results support further investigation of insulin detemir as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Researchers hope to follow up on the pilot study in a larger group of participants who would receive the insulin detemir for a longer period of time. Additionally, Craft said they would also like to directly compare the insulin detemir to other forms of insulin to see which provides the most therapeutic benefit.

“Alzheimer’s is a devastating illness, for which even small therapeutic gains have the potential to improve quality of life and significantly reduce the overall burden for patients, families and society,” she said. “Future studies are warranted to examine the safety and efficacy of this promising treatment.”

Study results are published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Exercise boosts tumor-fighting ability of chemotherapy in cancer patients, researchers say

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 (Reuters)

While exercise has been found to benefit cancer patients both physically and psychologically, researchers say a new study proves it can also boost the effect chemotherapy has on a patient.

In a study by a team at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers using a mouse model of melanoma found that combining exercise with chemotherapy shrunk tumors more than chemotherapy alone.

The researchers sought to find whether exercise would protect against negative cardiac-related side effects of the cancer drug doxorubicin, which is known to damage heart cells.

The team first injected melanoma cells into four teams of mice. They then injected two groups with doxorubicin and the other two with a placebo. Over a two-week period mice in one of the groups injected with the drug and one of the untreated groups walked 45 minutes, five days a week, on treadmills, while the other two groups did not.

While data showed that exercise did not help protect against cardiovascular damage, it did show that in mice that had received the drug and exercised, tumors significantly shrunk.

“We looked, and the exercise didn’t do anything to the heart – it didn’t worsen it, it didn’t help it,” Joseph Libonati, senior author of the study and associate professor at Penn School of Nursing, said in a news release. “But the tumor data – I find them actually amazing.”

The team plans to examine further how exercise enhances the effect doxorubicin has on tumors, but are encouraged that results may help find ways to cut down on cardiovascular damage caused by the drug.

“If exercise helps in this way, you could potentially use a smaller dose of the drug and get fewer side effects,” Libonati said.

Toxic jerky treats linked to more than 1,000 dog deaths

Toxic jerky treats linked to more than 1,000 dog deaths

Published May 19, 2014·
FoxNews.com

Reuters

More than 1,000 dog deaths may now be linked to toxic jerky treats, according to a recent update from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The agency said that since 2007, there have been almost 5,000 complaints of pet illnesses related to the treats. The majority of the symptoms reported include gastrointestinal or liver disease, and about a third were linked to kidney and urinary disease.

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About 10 percent of the illnesses included other signs such as neurologic, dermatologic, and immunologic symptoms, and about 15 percent of the kidney and urinary disease cases also tested positive for Fanconi syndrome – a rare kidney disease also associated with the pet deaths.

The FDA is still unsure of the specific cause for the reported illnesses and deaths, but most cases reportedly occurred after the pets had eaten chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats imported from China. No specific brands were recalled in the FDA’s latest release, but Dr. Jonathan Levine, an associate veterinarian at Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners in New York City, said owners should always check the labels of whatever foods they give their pets.

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“Always be aware of what you’re buying and where it’s coming from,” Levine said.

Yet that may not always be enough to keep pets safe; products stamped “Made in the USA” could still contain ingredients sourced from China or other countries, the FDA warned.

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In 2007, some pet food companies voluntarily removed some jerky treats from the market. But, at the time, the FDA said it didn’t want to issue a recall without a definitive cause. Those products included Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky Treats and Chicken Grillers, made by Del Monte, and Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch dog treats, made by Nestle Purina.

The FDA has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to figure out what foods may be contributing to pet disease. The study will compare the foods eaten by sick dogs to those eaten by dogs who haven’t gotten sick, in order to determine if the jerky is really the culprit.

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So far, testing of jerky pet treats from China revealed low levels of antibiotics as well as the antiviral drug amantadine in some chicken samples. Although FDA-approved for pain-control applications in humans and in dogs, the agency prohibited its use in poultry in 2006 to help preserve its effectiveness.

The FDA does not believe amantadine contributed to the illnesses, as the side effects of the drug do not correlate with the symptoms seen in the pets; however, amantadine should not be present at all in jerky treats.

Chinese authorities have agreed to conduct additional screenings and follow up with jerky treat manufacturers, and the FDA has notified U.S. treat makers of the presence of amantadine in some jerky products. The agency will also continue testing these products for drugs and other antivirals.

The FDA cautioned pet owners that jerky pet treats are not required for a balanced diet. If your pet experiences any sign of illness, including vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy, contact your veterinarian right away.

New app puts speech therapy in patients’ pockets

New app puts speech therapy in patients’ pockets

Published March 09, 2014

FoxNews.com

Technology and medicine are working together in a smart new way: By putting speech therapy in patients’ pockets. The Name That! smart phone app helps patients with a type of speech disorder called aphasia.

The app was developed by AppsLab at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), which seeks to help professors or faculty develop apps with educational value.

“Typically the clients that we work with are adults who have had some kind of neurological damage,” app co-creator Dr. Angela Burda, a professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders at UNI, told FoxNews.com. “Typically a stroke, perhaps a brain injury, sometimes tumors — sometimes it can be as a result of a surgery to remove tumors.”

Patients can use the app to practice matching pictures and associated words, according to Dr. Stephen Hughes, who helped build the app.

“So we’re looking at the kinds of things that they’re doing already with paper and pencil and saying, ‘Can we use the technology to help them manage that experience better?’” Hughes said.

The Name That! app isn’t meant to take the place of traditional treatment. Rather, the creators hope that it will supplement what speech therapists already do in sessions. Hughes and Burda are currently working on expanding the app’s simplistic design in order to fit more needs of aphasia patients.

Other aphasia experts, like Dr. Jean K. Gordon, a professor and aphasia expert at the University of Iowa, support using smart phone technology as part of treatment because of recent advancement and benefits in the technology.

“We’ve used computers in aphasia therapy for decades, but they were always big and clunky,” Gordon explained. “But the nice thing is now people are using these multipurpose devices. They’re more portable, cheaper, and they don’t mark them off as being disabled. I think that we’re going to continue to see more and more apps like this.”

Researchers grow human lungs in lab for first time

Researchers grow human lungs in lab for first time

Published February 17, 2014

FoxNews.com
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In a breakthrough that could one day revolutionize transplant medicine, researchers have successfully grown human lungs in a lab for the first time, Medical News Today reported.

Using portions of lungs from two deceased children, researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston created a scaffold-like structure by stripping one set of lungs down to just collagen and elastin – the main components in connective tissue.

The researchers then gathered cells from the other set of lungs and applied them to the scaffolding, before placing it in a chamber filled with nutritious liquid. Four weeks later, the team had a complete human lung – and they were able to successfully repeat the procedure using another set of lungs.

The researchers first developed this technique in 2010, and have since tested the method on rat lungs and pig lungs before testing it on human lungs.

“It’s taken us a year to prove to ourselves that we actually did a good job with it. You don’t run out immediately and tell the world you have something wonderful until you’ve proved it to ourselves that we really did something amazing,”  researcher Dr. Joan Nichols said.

Though the researchers are excited about their discovery, they said it could take a minimum of 12 years before the use of lab-generated lungs in human transplants becomes a reality

Simple breath test may help diagnose lung cancer

Simple breath test may help diagnose lung cancer, study finds

Published January 29, 2014

FoxNews.com
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An easy breath test may be able to indicate if a person has early-stage lung cancer, HealthDay News reported.

In a new study, researchers analyzed the exhaled breath of people who had suspicious lesions on their lungs.  Using a special device developed at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, the researchers looked for levels of four cancer-specific substances called “carbonyls.”

Elevated levels of three out of the four carbonyls predicted lung cancer in 95 percent of the patient’s tests.  Normal levels of these carbonyls were associated with a noncancerous growth in 80 percent of patients.

“Instead of sending patients for invasive biopsy procedures when a suspicious lung mass is identified, our study suggests that exhaled breath could identify which patients” need to seek surgery immediately, study author Dr. Michael Bousamra, of the University of Louisville, said in a press release.

Click for more from HealthDay News.

Bacteria-eating viruses found to effectively destroy C. difficile superbug

Bacteria-eating viruses found to effectively destroy C. difficile superbug

By Loren Grush

Published October 17, 2013

FoxNews.com
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    This image shows a virus infecting a C. diff cell. (DR. MARTHA CLOKIE/STEFAN HYMAN, SCHOOL OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER)

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    This image shows a burst open cell with phages escaping. (DR MARTHA CLOKIE/STEFAN HYMAN, SCHOOL OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER)

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    This micrograph depicts Gram-positive C. difficile bacteria from a stool sample culture. (CDC.GOV)

Over the past decade, the superbug Clostrodium difficile (C. diff) has been on the rise in hospitals throughout the United States and England. The trend has many health experts concerned, as most strains of the bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, making them very difficult to treat and potentially deadly.

But now, researchers from the University of Leicester in England may have discovered a more potent, and seemingly unlikely, treatment for these highly infectious bacteria: viruses.

Through work funded by the British Medical Research Council (MRC), researchers have shown that a group of naturally occurring bacteria-eating viruses – known as phages – effectively target and destroy C. diff bacteria in cell cultures.

According to lead investigator Dr. Martha Clokie, while phages have often been used to target other forms of bacteria, they have yet to be used to target C. diff.

“(Researchers) haven’t really found C. diff phages before, partly because they looked in the wrong places,” Clokie, from the University of Leicester’s department of infection, immunity and inflammation, told FoxNews.com. “We know C. diff to be a gut pathogen, causing huge problems in hospital settings, but it also has a strong presence in environmental settings… And wherever you find bacteria in a natural environment, you will almost always find viruses (that target them).”

With this theory in mind, Clokie and her team searched environmental areas where C. diff is known to exist, such as in soil, rivers and estuaries.  Together, they managed to isolate around 40 different viruses associated with the bacteria – the largest known set of C. diffphages ever collected.

The researchers then tested the phages on clinically relevant strains of C. diff bacteria in cell cultures.  Ultimately, they were able to identify a mixture of seven viruses that effectively destroyed the most problematic strains of the bacteria.

“When we add the viruses to the bacteria, the bacteria die in petri dishes,” Clokie said.  “We can also grow gut cells on plates, infect our gut cells with C. diff, and show that adding these viruses gets rid of theC. diff.”

Given the success of their research, Clokie and her team have partnered with the AmpliPhi Biosciences Corporation, a U.S.-based biopharmaceutical company that specializes in the development of phage-based treatments for bacterial infections.  Through their partnership, they have patented Clokie’s virus mixture, hoping to develop it further into a viable treatment option.

“It’d be like an oral pill – a little capsule of viruses,” Clokie explained.  “It’d allow viruses to pass through the stomach, degrade at that point and access C. diff where it needs to.  We’re at an exciting stage for this; we’re not quite there yet, but we’re in an exciting place.”

A phage-therapy such as this one is desperately needed in both the United States and England. While hospital acquired infections (HAIs) have declined in the United States in recent years, C. diff still remains at historically high levels.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the superbug is linked with 14,000 American deaths each year.  C. diff is also extremely difficult to treat as many of the clinically significant strains of the bacteria are naturally resistant to antibiotics.

Additionally, the people most at risk for C. diff infection – which often involves severe dehydration and diarrhea – are sick or elderly patients who have recently been treated with antibiotics in a hospital or other medical setting.

Although antibiotics are valuable for their ability to destroy harmful bacteria in the body, they also effectively kill the body’s “good” bacteria, which help protect against unwanted infection. As a result, this makes patients more susceptible to contracting C. diff from contaminated surfaces or the unwashed hands of health care workers.

Clokie said one of the great things about her team’s phage mixture is that it bypasses this very significant problem.

“The viruses are so specific (to C. diff) that they won’t even kill other bacterial species,” Clokie said.  “Antibiotics kill other bacteria you actually need, but these viruses are so specific that they just take outC. diff. They can’t even recognize human cells and use them as hosts.”

With further funding from AmpliPhi, Clokie is working on having a fully developed phage mixture ready to go into phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials relatively soon.  She believes that a shift towards phage-based therapies could help eliminate the negative impact antibiotics have had on increasing HAIs and spurring antibiotic resistance.

“It would really allow doctors to have another way of treating patients,” Clokie said.  “As soon as people get a little sick with C. diff, you could give them this virus mixture.  We hope to lower patient death rate and reduce their stays in hospital, so we would be reducing the health care burden in general.”

New Alzheimer’s discovery

New Alzheimer’s discovery could hold key to preventative treatments for high-risk patients

By Amanda Woerner

Published October 22, 2013

FoxNews.com
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For years, people with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease have shied away from genetic testing, which could reveal that they carry the ApoE4 protein – a genetic risk factor associated with a 10-fold higher chance of developing the incurable neurodegenerative condition.

However, new research has highlighted a potential pathway for early intervention methods that could help those at a high risk for Alzheimer’s, making genetic screening for the disease as important as cholesterol tests are to preventing heart disease.

Researchers from The Buck Institute for Research on Aging, an independent research association based in Novato, Calif., have long been interested in discovering why ApoE4 is associated with such a high risk for Alzheimer’s disease.  

“Why is this the dominant risk factor?” study author Dr. Dale Bredesen, founding CEO of the Buck Institute, told FoxNews.com. “Though people have known this for 20 years, it’s never been clear what it is that ApoE4 does to confer such risk.”

Prior research had focused on the discovery that ApoE4 appears to affect the clearance of amyloid-beta (A-beta), a plaque that builds up in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. However, Bredesen and his colleagues weren’t convinced that this finding told the whole story of why ApoE4 causes Alzheimer’s.

“Treating that hasn’t worked very well,” Bredesen said. “There’s an emerging feeling, which we believe, that this is more than just about A-beta.”

In a study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Bredesen and his colleagues analyzed ApoE4 cell cultures and discovered that ApoE4 was also associated with a dramatic reduction in SirT1 – a protein associated with anti-inflammation, anti-aging and longevity.

Bredesen said that as SirT1 decreases, it affects a certain protein crucial to the storage or loss of memories – the amyloid precursor protein (APP).

“You have a molecule called the APP, present in neurons and most cells in your body, and at all times this APP is getting cleaved,” Bredesen said. “It turns out there are two alternative patterns. So it is a little bit like how the government can go on shutdown or active. APP can go in the direction of memory or forgetting.”

In Alzheimer’s, Bredesen says people are on the ‘wrong side’ of this process – causing them to forget rather than retain memories.

However, by maintaining SirT1 levels, researchers believe they may be able to prevent these proteins from going awry. As a result of their discovery, Bredesen and his colleagues attempted to identify drugs that might be able to maintain levels of SirT1 in ApoE4 cell cultures. So far, they have successfully identified four drugs that seem to be effective – though they have yet to test their findings in humans.

“It gives us a leg up on saying, ‘Okay, we can begin to look at how to treat people with ApoE4 even when they’re young to make sure they never get Alzheimer’s, by affecting that link between ApoE4and Alzheimer’s,’” Bredesen said.

Furthermore, Bredesen and his colleagues also performed experiments in which they successfully reinserted SirT1 proteins back into cells already affected by ApoE4. By doing this, they were able to correct the abnormalities present in the cell and return it to a healthy state. This led Bredesen and his colleagues to speculate that treatment might be possible even for those already entering the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

“Most people today don’t want to know if they have ApoE4 because what can they do about it? This could change the landscape where we say everyone should know, just like with high cholesterol or high blood pressure, because you can do something about it,” Bredesen said.

New blood test can detect lung and prostate cancers

New blood test can detect lung and prostate cancers

By Loren Grush

Published October 16, 2013

FoxNews.com
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A new blood test can help detect the presence of early-stage lung and prostate cancers – as well as any recurrences of these diseases.

In a new study presented at the Anesthesiology 2013 annual meeting, researchers have found that an increased level of serum-free fatty acids and their metabolites in the blood stream can help indicate the presence of lung cancer in the body.

According to the study’s authors, such a test could be extremely beneficial for the detection and management of the disease.

“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., and unlike some other cancers, there is no easy way to diagnose it,” senior author Dr. David Sessler, professor and chair of the department of outcomes research at the Cleveland Clinic, told FoxNews.com.  “The current standard is a spiral CT, which works well, but they are expensive, and they expose patients to radiation.  So having a blood test for lung cancer would be very helpful.”

Sessler said that he and his research team stumbled upon these biomarkers for lung cancer while conducting an entirely different experiment.

“It was complete serendipity,” Sessler said.  “We were looking for inflammatory markers associated with a particular type of anesthesia – general anesthesia versus epidural anesthesia.  There was no difference in inflammation, but we noticed that patients with lung cancer had higher incidences of these fatty acids and their metabolites.”

After making this discovery, the researchers decided to further analyze these potential biomarkers. They examined blood samples from 55 patients with lung cancer and 40 patients with prostate cancer, comparing them to samples from people without cancer. The blood samples from the cancer patients had one- to six-times greater amounts of the serum-free fatty acids and their metabolites than the samples from cancer-free patients.

In a second phase of the study, the researchers examined blood samples from 24 patients with lung cancer before they underwent curative surgery.  They then analyzed the patients’ blood at six and 24 hours after surgery.  The level of serum-free fatty acids and their metabolites decreased three to 10 times within 24 hours after the cancerous tumors were removed.

The researchers didn’t assess why the level of these compounds increased, but they said their findings are consistent with previous research on the relationship of serum-free fatty acids and cancer.

“The three fatty acids are necessary for cancer cell growth, and some cancers stimulate the release of these fatty acids,” Sessler said.

Though the blood test was shown to be effective in detecting the disease, the researchers argue that it should not be used as the go-to test for lung cancer screenings.  However, it could be helpful for a certain population of patients.

“It’s by no means a perfect test; blood tests rarely are,” Sessler said. “It is about 75 percent for sensitivity and specificity.  It is probably not a good enough test to use for routine screening, but it well could be helpful for high risk patients or patients who have found a nodule but don’t know if it’s cancerous enough.”

Sessler also said the blood test could be helpful for those who have already undergone lung cancer surgery to better understand if they will suffer recurrence.

“If someone who has lung cancer and has surgery, you might use this as a follow up,” Sessler said. “Presumably the fatty acids go down after surgery, and an increase in concentration might tell you if patient is having a relapse.”

While other blood tests do exist for some cancers – most notably the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test for prostate cancer – Sessler said this is still an exciting discovery for the future of lung cancer treatment.

“Yes, there are some biomarkers for some cancers, but there’s no general cancer biomarker, nor has there ever been an established biomarker for lung cancer,” Sessler said.