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breakthroughs from the lab

ONCOLOGY UPDATE: USING LIQUID BIOPSY TO ASSESS CANCER CARE

BY Julia Evangelou Strait
Liquid biopsies for colorectal cancer detect tumor DNA that has broken free of the cancer and is circulating in the blood.. Image courtesy of Science Photo / KTSDESIGN

Cancer is most often detected using traditional tissue biopsy: the removal of tissue by needle, endoscope or open surgery. The tissue sample is then examined for the presence of cancer cells. Though the standard of care, this kind of biopsy comes with some limitations. Because the procedure is invasive, it can be risky, and recovery can be uncomfortable. Additionally, such a procedure may not be safe for some people and may not be practical for those needing a series of biopsies to monitor the progress of cancer treatment.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), “researchers have been exploring a new approach that could potentially complement or, in some cases, serve as an alternative to tissue biopsies.” That alternative is liquid biopsy, “which relies on analyzing bits of tumor material—molecules as well as whole cells—that are found in bodily fluids such as blood or urine.” While a few liquid biopsies have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, mostly for lung, breast, ovarian and prostate cancers, none have been approved for colorectal cancer.

Following are reports of two new studies at Washington University School of Medicine that are assessing new applications for this relatively new cancer-care tool.

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FOR MOMS, OXYGEN DURING CHILDBIRTH OFTEN IS UNNECESSARY

FOR MOMS, OXYGEN DURING CHILDBIRTH OFTEN IS UNNECESSARY

BY Kristina Sauerwein

Babies who suffer oxygen deficiencies during birth are at risk of brain damage that can lead to developmental delays, cerebral palsy and even death. To prevent this, most women in labor undergo continuous monitoring of the baby’s heart rate and receive supplemental oxygen if the heart rate is abnormal, with the thought that this common practice increases oxygen delivery to the baby. However, there is conflicting evidence about whether this long-recommended practice improves infant health.

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ALZHEIMER’S RESEARCH: CLEARING AMYLOID PLAQUES IN THE BRAIN

ALZHEIMER’S RESEARCH: CLEARING AMYLOID PLAQUES IN THE BRAIN

BY TAMARA BHANDARI

As people age, a normal brain protein known as amyloid beta often starts to collect into harmful amyloid plaques in the brain. Such plaques can be the first step on the path to Alzheimer’s dementia. When they form around blood vessels in the brain, a condition known as cerebral amyloid angiopathy, the plaques also raise the risk of strokes.

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NEW FOCUS ON EMERGING DISEASES

NEW FOCUS ON EMERGING DISEASES

BY JULIA EVANGELOU STRAIT

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine are establishing an international collaboration that aims to help scientists prepare for the next pandemic and, perhaps, provide insight into the current one.

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DRUG COMPOUND BLOCKS NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS

DRUG COMPOUND BLOCKS NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS

BY JULIA EVANGELOU STRAIT

The spiral-shaped cochlea of the inner ear is responsible for detecting sound. Inner hair cells lining the cochlea transform the mechanical vibrations of sound waves into chemical signals. These chemicals—primarily one called glutamate—are then released from the hair cells and received by glutamate receptors on auditory nerve fibers. These fibers then send electrical impulses to the brain. There, the signals are interpreted as language, music or signs of danger, for example.

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CANCER CARE UPDATE: IMPROVING IMMUNOTHERAPY

CANCER CARE UPDATE: IMPROVING IMMUNOTHERAPY

BY JULIA EVANGELOU STRAIT

In recent years, cancer immunotherapy drugs have revolutionized the treatment of certain cancers, such as lymphoma, lung cancer and melanoma. This kind of treatment works by triggering the body’s immune system to attack tumors. Some people respond well to immunotherapy drugs, while others don’t respond at all. Cancer immunologists want to change that.

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ONCOLOGY REPORT: LOWERING THE RISKS OF TREATMENT SIDE EFFECTS

ONCOLOGY REPORT: LOWERING THE RISKS OF TREATMENT SIDE EFFECTS

BY JULIA EVANGELOU STRAIT

The current age of cancer care employs surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, in combination or alone, to eradicate tumors and offer the potential for remission. But the side effects of some of these therapies can introduce new complications requiring additional treatment. Oncologists and their patients work in tandem to fight the disease in ways that preserve life and protect health with as little risk as possible.

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POTENTIAL NEW THERAPY FOR CROHN’S, COLITIS IDENTIFIED

POTENTIAL NEW THERAPY FOR CROHN’S, COLITIS IDENTIFIED

BY TAMARA BHANDARI

More than 1 million people in the United States have inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. This condition, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, causes miserable episodes of abdominal pain, diarrhea and in severe cases, rectal bleeding, making life for those afflicted with the disease especially difficult.

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NEW ALZHEIMER’S BLOOD TEST MAY SPEED TREATMENT RESEARCH

NEW ALZHEIMER’S BLOOD TEST MAY SPEED TREATMENT RESEARCH

BY TAMARA BHANDARI

Up to two decades before people develop the characteristic memory loss and confusion of Alzheimer’s disease, damaging clumps of protein start to build up in their brains. And there is growing consensus among neurologists that Alzheimer’s treatment needs to begin as early as possible, ideally before any cognitive symptoms arise. By the time people become forgetful, their brains are so severely damaged no therapy is likely to fully heal them.

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ALZHEIMER’S REPORT: THE SEARCH FOR DIAGNOSTIC TOOLS

ALZHEIMER’S REPORT: THE SEARCH FOR DIAGNOSTIC TOOLS

BY JIM DRYDEN

Significant brain damage from Alzheimer’s disease can occur years before symptoms such as memory loss and cognitive decline appear. Scientists estimate that Alzheimer’s-related plaques can build up in the brain two decades before the onset of symptoms, so researchers have been looking for ways to detect the disease sooner. Currently, physicians use PET scans and lumbar punctures to help diagnose Alzheimer’s, but these tests are expensive and invasive.

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WOMEN’S HEALTH: OBESITY AND EARLY-ONSET COLORECTAL CANCER

WOMEN’S HEALTH: OBESITY AND EARLY-ONSET COLORECTAL CANCER

BY JULIA EVANGELOU STRAIT

In the United States, overall rates of new colorectal cancer cases and deaths from the disease have decreased steadily since 1980, largely owing to recommended colonoscopy screening starting at age 50. However, for reasons that remain unknown, new cases of, and deaths due to, both colon and rectal cancers have been increasing for younger adults ages 20 to 49.

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LABOR AND DELIVERY STRATEGIES

LABOR AND DELIVERY STRATEGIES

BY KRISTINA SAUERWEIN

Two new studies answer important questions about the process of giving birth. The findings may help pregnant women, working with their obstetricians, make choices that will benefit their health and that of their babies.

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CLUES FOUND TO LUNG TRANSPLANT FAILURE

CLUES FOUND TO LUNG TRANSPLANT FAILURE

BY KRISTINA SAUERWEIN

Among organ transplant patients, those receiving new lungs face a higher rate of organ failure and death compared with people undergoing heart, kidney and liver transplants. One of the culprits is inflammation that damages the newly transplanted lung.

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BRAIN CANCER VACCINE CAN EXTEND SURVIVAL RATE

BRAIN CANCER VACCINE CAN EXTEND SURVIVAL RATE

BY JULIA EVANGELOU STRAIT

Most people with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, die less than 18 months after diagnosis. But a multicenter clinical trial of a personalized vaccine that targets this aggressive cancer has indicated improved survival rates for these patients.

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PARENT-CHILD THERAPY HELPS KIDS — AND PARENTS

PARENT-CHILD THERAPY HELPS KIDS — AND PARENTS

BY JIM DRYDEN

Children as young as 3 can be clinically depressed, and often that depression recurs as kids get older and go to school. It also can reappear during adolescence and throughout life.

But it is possible to effectively treat depression in these children. New research demonstrates that an interactive therapy involving parents and their depressed children can reduce rates of depression and lower the severity of children’s symptoms.

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ANTIBIOTICS VERSUS BACTERIA

ANTIBIOTICS VERSUS BACTERIA

BY TAMARA BHANDARI

Antibiotic drugs are lethal to bacteria. And they can be lifesaving for people suffering from serious bacterial infections such as pneumonia and meningitis. But some bacteria are fighting back by developing resistance to antibiotics. And a few of these determined bugs manage to not only resist death by antibiotics, but also turn the lethal drugs into food.

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CAN LAUGHING GAS DETER SUICIDE?

CAN LAUGHING GAS DETER SUICIDE?

BY JIM DRYDEN

Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the united states and is the 10th leading cause of death in missouri. Among Missourians ages 10-24, suicide is the second leading cause of death. On average, one person in the state dies by suicide every eight hours.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine are studying the use of nitrous oxide, also called laughing gas, as a treatment for people who are hospitalized due to suicidal thoughts. They are investigating using the gas as a possible treatment to speed up recovery and reduce risk of suicide.

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RISKS TIED TO HEARTBURN DRUGS

RISKS TIED TO HEARTBURN DRUGS

BY TAMARA BHANDARI, KRISTINA SAUERWEIN

Millions of americans take prescription drugs called PPIs, or proton pump inhibitors, to treat heartburn, ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems. And many of these PPIs are widely available as over-the-counter drugs under brand names that include Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium and Protonix. While ppis are effective at reducing stomach acid, they have also been linked to health problems, including low magnesium levels, bone fractures and the gut infection C. Difficile.

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GUT MICROBES VS INFLUENZA

GUT MICROBES VS INFLUENZA

BY JIM DRYDEN

Microbes that live in the gut don’t just digest food. They also have far-reaching effects on the immune system. A new study shows that a particular gut microbe can prevent severe flu infections in mice, likely by breaking down naturally occurring compounds called flavonoids. These compounds are commonly found in foods such as black tea, red wine and blueberries.

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