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Successful CAR T-cell therapy, racism in the NHS, low MMR rates and revolutionary cancer test for wo

First patients of pioneering CAR T-cell therapy ‘cured of cancer’

Two of the first human patients to be treated with a revolutionary therapy that engineers immune cells to target specific types of cancer still possess cancer-killing cells a decade later with no sign of their illness returning. The finding suggests CAR T-cell therapy constitutes a “cure” for certain blood cancers, although adapting it to treat solid tumours is proving more challenging.

CAR – chimeric antigen receptor – T-cell therapy works by genetically engineering an individual’s T-cells to recognise and destroy cancer cells. In the UK the therapy is approved for use in children and young adults with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and adults with certain types of lymphoma – both are blood cancers.

Prof Carl June, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said ““We call these cells a living therapy, but it was a big surprise to us that they are still able to kill cancer cells 10 years after infusion…We can’t say whether every last cancer cell was gone within three weeks [of treatment], or it could be that they keep coming up like whack-a-mole and then get killed, but we know that these [CAR T-cells] are on patrol. They persist and they are functional.”

Read the full story in The Guardian.

NHS ‘riddled with racism’ against ethnic minority doctors

A survey by the BMA has found that at least 75% of ethnic minority doctors experienced racism more than once in the last two years, while 17.4% said they regularly faced racism at work, the survey said.

Around 40% of the NHS’s 123,000 doctors are from minority backgrounds, compared to about 13.8% of the general population. Despite this, doctors from minority backgrounds said that there was a toxic “us versus them” culture in NHS trusts across the UK and that they had faced bogus or disproportionate complaints from colleagues, racist comments from superiors, and even physical assault in the workplace.

In response to the survey, NHS Medical Director of Primary Care Dr Nikki Kanani said racism and discrimination of any kind “should not be tolerated by anyone”. “While our latest equality report [in 2020] shows that we have made progress in some areas of the NHS, it is completely unacceptable for anyone to experience racism, discrimination or prejudice at work, and NHS organisations should continue to take a zero-tolerance approach to all and any form of discrimination.”

Read the full story in BBC News.

MMR vaccine rates in England at 10-year low

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, there has been “a significant drop” in the number of children getting MMR jabs and other childhood vaccines, UKHSA said. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the NHS will launch a joint appeal on Tuesday urging parents and guardians to ensure their children have had their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines – as well as other routine jabs – before starting school.

Between July and September last year, the most recent figures available, just 88.6% of children had had their first MMR dose by the age of two while only 85.5% had had both doses at the age of five. The World Health Organization (WHO) says 95% of children need to be vaccinated to keep measles away.

Prof Helen Bedford, professor of children’s health at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health said: “It is very worrying that more than one in 10 children are not fully protected against measles by the time they start school… here has been so much focus on Covid over the past two years, but we mustn’t forget about measles, which has not gone away.”

Read the full story in The Guardian.

Scientists developing test to detect risk of four cancers in women

New research suggests that a “revolutionary” new test could establish women’s risk of breast or ovarian cancer from a routine smear sample. The test looks for markers on the DNA of cervical cells that are linked to the development of cancer.

In a paper published this week, researchers found that this test, known as the women’s cancer risk identification test (WID-test), could identify up to 30 per cent more women at high risk of breast or ovarian cancer than current genetics-based tests. Those women could then be targeted for regular surveillance, risk-reducing surgery, or therapeutics, potentially preventing thousands of people a year from getting cancer.

Professor Martin Widschwendter of the University of Innsbruck and University College London said the test could track a woman through life to see “whether she is heading towards cancer”, allowing “a more personalised approach to cancer prevention and detection, where women will be screened, monitored or treated based on their individual, and changing, risk”. He said further trials would be needed to validate the initial findings in large numbers of women, but added: “We look forward to a future in which cancer screening is driven by better molecular tests that give women the option to take preventive measures at an early stage and journey away from cancer.”

Read the full story in The Times.


Quote of the week

As much of the country returns to normal life, many disabled people and their families are feeling abandoned and forgotten by local authorities because day-care centres have not re-opened to pre-pandemic levels. The parent of 33-year-old Alasdair Russell, who is severely physically disabled and suffers with learning difficulties said:

“No recognition of the impact of Covid has been made by the council on these adults at all…What was more important, having a life or being stuck at home, almost as if you’re in a prison day after day, and not understanding why? At the heart of it, we all feel that it’s cost-cutting measures.”

Read the full story in BBC News.


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