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Wellcome Trust Research Round-Up: 09/03/2015

9 Mar, 2015

Our fortnightly round-up of news from the Wellcome Trust community…

New therapy developed to treat lung cancer

B0006911 Lung cancer cellScientists have developed a new technique that uses gene therapy and stem cell therapy in combination to treat lung cancer. Researchers led by Professor Sam Janes, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow at UCL/UCLH, will carry out the first UK clinical trial in NHS patients later this year.

The treatment uses stem cells as a delivery vehicle for an anti-cancer gene. This gene induces a self-destruct pathway in cancer, but not healthy cells. Being encased within a cell protects the genetic material from being degraded by the body so that when it reaches the tumour it is able to trigger a process that kills the cancer cells.

A key advantage of the treatment is that the cells do not need to be from a close relative or tissue match. This is because they have relatively few proteins on the surface and do not induce an immune response in the recipient.

Early tests of the experimental treatment on mice have shown it can reduce and in some cases clear tumours. The team will now test the treatment in human volunteers, firstly to check that the treatment is safe, and then in 56 lung cancer patients to see how effective the therapy is compared with standard care.

Principle Investigator Sam Janes, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at UCL and Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at UCLH, said: “Lung cancer is very difficult to treat because the vast majority of patients are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. We aim to improve prospects for lung cancer by using a highly targeted therapy using stem cells. Once there, they switch on a ‘kill’ pathway in the cancer cells, leaving healthy surrounding cells untouched.

He added: “If clinical trials are successful, our treatment could be transformative for the treatment of lung cancer, and possibly other types of tumour in future.”

Millions of Asian men living today descended from 11 powerful leaders

Genghis KhanGeneticists from the University of Leicester have discovered that millions of modern Asian men are descended from 11 powerful dynastic leaders – including Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan – who lived up to 4,000 years ago.

The study, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust and published in the journal European Journal of Human Genetics, examined the male-specific Y chromosome, which is passed from father to son, in more than 5,000 Asian men belonging to 127 populations.

Most Y-chromosome types are very rare, but the team discovered 11 types that were relatively common across the sample and studied their distributions and histories.

The project’s leader, Prof Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics, explained further: “The youngest lineages, originating in the last 1700 years… were highly mobile horse-riders and could spread their Y chromosomes far and wide. For these lineages to become so common, their powerful founders needed to have many sons by many women, and to pass their status – as well as their Y chromosomes – on to them. The sons, in turn, could then have many sons, too.”

How young men and women learn about sex and relationships

L0029516 CMAC, What Parents should tell their childreMore young people than ever are getting most of their information about sex from school, but most feel they are not getting all the information they need, according to new research published in BMJ Open.

The findings come from the third Wellcome Trust and MRC-funded National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, the largest scientific study of sexual health and lifestyles in Britain. Researchers compared data from nearly 4,000 men and women aged between 16 and 24 collected between 2010 and 2012 with that from previous surveys in 1990-91 and 1999-2001.

They found that for both men and women, school is increasingly reported as a main source of information about sexual matters, having risen from 28% in 1990 to 40% in 2012. However, around half of people reported getting most of their information from less authoritative ‘other’ sources such as their first sexual partner, friends, siblings, media sources, and pornography.

Most people in the study (70%) said they felt they ‘ought to have known more’ when they first felt ready for some sexual experience. They specifically said they wanted more information about ‘sexual feelings, emotions and relationships’, as well as STIs, and for women, contraception.

Study author, Wendy Macdowall, Lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Our results suggest we need a broader framing of sex education in schools that addresses the needs of both young men and women, with a move away from the traditional female-focused ‘periods, pills and pregnancy’ approach….but it’s also important to remember that introducing statutory SRE [Sex and Relationship Education] in schools won’t solve everything. The factors influencing poor sexual health are multiple and complex and so too must be the solutions to them.”

In other news

The Newton Fund is a new initiative intended to strengthen research and innovation partnerships between the UK and emerging knowledge economies. The Wellcome Trust, in collaboration with the MRC, is now accepting applications for Newton Fund research activities that fall in our funding remit in South-east Asia.

aone 10The Wellcome Trust hosted a Women in Science event on Thursday 5th March. We asked attendees to share their thoughts and advice on encouraging women in the field, which are collected here. Look out for a further post summarising the event later this week.

Mosaic, the digital publication from the Wellcome Trust, is celebrating a year of exploring the science of life with long-form science journalism. To coincide with this anniversary they are launching a series of podcasts from the past year’s articles, beginning with three of the most popular stories so far. Further podcasts will then be released weekly, and can be accessed via iTunes and RSS feeds.

Image credits: Lung cancer cell – Anne Weston, LRI, CRUK, Wellcome Images; Genghis Khan by Anonymous court painter – from WikiMedia Commons; What Father’s Should Tell their sons – Wellcome Library, London; Women in Science – Kate Arkless Gray/Wellcome Trust – CC-BY


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