Hopes rise for new cancer treatment
Hopes rise for new cancer treatment after tests with
electromagnetism. Scientists have used low-intensity electromagnetic
fields to treat cancer patients in trials which they say could lead to
the development of a new type of anti-tumour therapy.
Patients hold a spoon-shaped antenna in their mouths to deliver a
very low-intensity electromagnetic field in their bodies. In trials of
patients with advanced liver cancer, the therapy – given three times a
day – resulted in long-term survival for a small number of those
monitored, the team has reported in the British Journal of Cancer. Their
tumours shrank, while healthy cells in surrounding tissue were
Photomicrograph of a human liver section with cancer
However, the scientists – from the US, Brazil, France and Switzerland
– also stressed that the technique was still in its infancy and would
require several years for further trials to take place. “This is a truly
novel technique,” said the team's leader, Professor Boris Pasche of the
University of Alabama, Birmingham. “It is innocuous, can be tolerated
for long periods of time, and could be used in combination with other
Pasche added that he had obtained permission from the US Food and
Drug Administration to carry out trials on large groups of patients and
was talking to companies in the US, Asia, South America, Russia and
Europe about raising funds for future research.
In 2009, Pasche and his colleagues published results in the Journal
of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research which showed that low-level
electromagnetic fields at precise frequencies – ranging from 0.1Hz to
114kHz – halted cancer cell growth in small numbers of patients.
Different cancers responded to electromagnetic fields of different
frequencies. Cells in surrounding, healthy tissue were unaffected.
The exact mechanism for this process was not explained in the paper.
However, results of recent experiments by the team – using cancer cell
cultures in the laboratory and published in the British Journal of
Cancer – suggest that low-level electromagnetic fields interfere with
the activity of genes in cancer cells. In specific cases, this affected
the ability of cancer cells to grow and divide. The spread of tumours
halted and in some cases they began to shrink.
“This is extremely exciting,” said Pasche. “We think the technique
could also be used to treat breast tumours and possibly other forms of
cancer.” The use of electromagnetic fields was also welcomed,
cautiously, by Eleanor Barrie of Cancer Research UK: “This research
shows how specific low frequencies of electromagnetic radiation can slow
the growth of cancer cells in the lab. It's still unclear why the cancer
cells respond in this way, and it's not yet clear if this approach could
help patients, but it's an interesting example of how researchers are
working to find new ways to home in on cancer cells while leaving
healthy cells unharmed.”
The use of electromagnetic fields to treat tumours may seem
surprising given recent controversy over claims that fields generated by
mobile phones and electricity pylons can trigger cancers and leukaemia.
However, Pasche stressed that the intensity of the fields used in his
team's experiments were between 100 and 1,000 times lower than those
from a mobile phone. “In any case, the evidence produced from major
studies of users of these phones does not suggest there is a clearly
identifiable risk posed by these electromagnetic fields,” he said.
Children and traumatic motor accidents: invisible scars
Many parents were shocked and agitated to hear about the recent
accident of the school service van in Mount Lavinia involving nine
school children. Newspaper reports revealed all nine students were
injured, three critically with one being admitted to the General
What has yet to be taken into account are the emotional wounds that
might have been inflicted on the school children, wounds that might
leave life long scars if they are not treated properly.
According to Dr.Gaithri Fernando, Associate Professor, at the
Department of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, an
event can be emotionally traumatic if it involves actual or threatened
death or serious physical or psychological injury. Witnessing such an
event can also cause psychological trauma. According to Dr. Fernando,
mental health researchers and practitioners often focus on catastrophic
traumatic situations such as wars and natural disasters like the
tsunami, but there are also other, more common events like domestic
violence and auto and pedestrian accidents that occur daily and can also
cause emotional trauma.
Let life be as normal as possible
Reactions to a traumatic experience can differ greatly from person to
person. It is important to understand that just because a child or young
person has experienced a traumatic event, this does not mean that they
will inevitably suffer severe emotional consequences as a result. “One
shouldn’t approach children who have faced a traumatic situation and
think that all those children are going to be traumatized,” says Dr.
Factors that influence how much children and young people react to a
traumatic event include the age of the child and his or her ability to
understand the event, as well as the nature of the event itself, and the
level of exposure.
“The way a child reacts to a traumatic situation can be different to
that of an adult” says Dr. Fernando. “It is important that adults remain
calm in an accident because children respond to the reactions of the
adults around them”. If the adults around the children show no fear, do
not panic and handle the situation with calm the children will take the
cue from the adults and behave accordingly.
“Sri Lankan children are quite resilient” says Dr. Fernando. This is
mainly because, to quote Dr. Fernando, “Our culture has many strengths.”
Explaining that Sri Lankans are close to one another and take care of
one another, Dr. Fernando believes that religious beliefs and practices
can help families cope with the losses and grief arising from traumatic
events. However she also points out that one negative aspect of our
society is that we often do not take our children too seriously. She
believes the questions children ask from adults should not be dismissed
with false reassurances, especially in a traumatic situation like a
motor accident. Because children might find it hard to understand the
event itself, this alone can sometimes lead to a lot of fear and
“Try not to dismiss the question or avoid it,” advises Dr. Fernando.
“Try to find out how the child sees the event, and the words the child
uses, and then explain the situation to the child in his or her own
words.” You can say things like “That must have been very scary, but I
really like how you ….” (and find something positive the child did to
cope with the scary event).
Dr. Fernando also explains, “Children involved in a traumatic
accident should be observed for at least two weeks”. Adults should
observe if the children are showing agitation, nervousness, poor
concentration, changes in appetite, irritability, crying, worry, and
“Children who have had a traumatic experience might engage in
trauma-related play” says Dr. Fernando. “A child playing with a toy bus
might make it fall from a height”. Bed wetting and aggressiveness could
also be signs of trauma as well as the questions a child asks from
adults, such as questions about death and dying. “This is where
religious beliefs would help”.
“Never force the child into doing things” warns Dr. Fernando. Though
some children might like to talk about the traumatic event, or just
express their feelings about it, there might be others who might prefer
not to talk about it at all.
It is important not to be pushy and to let the child take his or her
own time to talk about the experience.
Be comforting. Recovering from a traumatic event can be difficult, so
parents and teachers should try to pay extra attention to the child and
be considerate. Dr. Fernando stresses that it is important to stick to
the normalized routines as much as possible because routines help the
child return to their normal lives, and help the child feel safe and
secure. “Send the child to school.
If necessary a parent too should accompany the child to school and
stay in the class with him or her for a brief time.” Dr. Fernando
suggests if a child becomes aggressive in the class the teacher should
say gently “Why don’t we talk about this after class today?”.
The best medicine, though, is your reassuring presence. When a child
feels loved and secure he or she is already on the way to recovery.
“Remember, you can’t always shelter your children from traumatic events”
says Dr. Fernando. “But you can help your children to recover and even
become stronger after the event, if you take the time to listen to your
child and be the centering, stable presence in his or her life.”
Tiny electrical shocks to the brain enhance memory
Lightly shocking a person's brain just before they learned a new task
appeared to strengthen memory in a handful of patients with epilepsy, a
tantalizing result that could have implications for Alzheimer's disease,
U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.
Pacemaker devices known as deep brain stimulators made by Medtronic
and St. Jude Medical are already used to calm muscle tremors in patients
with Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders, and are being
tested for a host of other conditions such as treatment-resistant
The devices are implanted under the skin in the chest with wires
leading up the neck connected to tiny electrodes implanted deep in the
brain, which produce electrical impulses.
The current study was done at the University of California at Los
Angeles in seven epileptic patients awaiting surgery who had electrodes
implanted deep in their brains to help pinpoint the source of their
seizures. The team used this opportunity to see how stimulating the
brain affects memory.
They focused on an area of the brain called the entorhinal cortex,
which helps form and store memories.
“The entorhinal cortex is the golden gate to the brain's memory
mainframe,” Dr. Itzhak Fried, professor of neurosurgery at the David
Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, who worked on the study, said in a
telephone interview. The research was published in the New England
Journal of Medicine.
Fried said sensory experiences that eventually become memories pass
through this hub before they are stored in the hippocampus, the brain's
chief memory center.
For the study, patients played a video game in which they had to
shuttle people around in taxis to different shops in a virtual city.
The team tested whether stimulating the entorhinal cortex or the
hippocampus while they were learning their way around the city improved
“When we stimulated the hippocampus itself, there was not an effect.
It was really stimulation in the gateway to the hippocampus - the
entorhinal cortex - where we got the beneficial effect in terms of
memory,” Fried said.
Compared to testing before stimulation, zapping this part of the
brain helped people recognize landmarks and navigate the virtual city
more quickly. Fried said the findings suggest stimulating the brain just
as memories are forming is key.
Impact on alzheimer's
In Alzheimer's disease, this area of the brain is affected early on,
when signs of dementia begin to appear. Fried said the study might have
implications for treatments for patients with early Alzheimer's disease,
but he cautioned that the results are very preliminary. “The question
would be whether this can help memory in patients with memory
impairments,” he said. Scientists are increasingly focused on ways to
treat the memory-robbing disease, which affects more than 5 million
Despite costly efforts, no drug has been found that can keep
Alzheimer's from progressing, and policymakers are growing increasingly
worried about the swelling ranks of dementia patients as the population
ages. Suzanne Haber, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester
Medical Center in New York who was not involved in the study, said she
was “very excited about the finding,” but she cautioned that the
treatment is very invasive, very expensive and unproven in Alzheimer's
The Obama administration said on Wednesday it plans to spend an
additional $156 million over the next two years to help find an
effective treatment for Alzheimer's. One team has already tried deep
brain stimulation in Alzheimer's patients. In a study published in the
Annals of Neurology in 2010 researchers tested deep brain stimulation in
six patients over the course of a year and found the treatment to be
relatively safe. They also saw signs the treatment might have an effect
on memory. Dr. Sandra Black, a brain researcher at the University of
Toronto who wrote an editorial on the current study, said the findings
could have implications for early stage Alzheimer's disease if tests
were developed to identify this process early through imaging or
“Although the current evidence is preliminary, is based on small
samples and requires replication, the potential application of
deep-brain stimulation in amnestic disorders is enticing,” Black wrote.