Reader’s Scigest 10-03-16

By Bruno Martin

Achilles’ heel

As cancer spreads, it evolves. This makes the genetic makeup of tumours from the same patient appear very different. However, research from MIT, Harvard and UCL has revealed that spreading cancers retain a set of surface proteins shared by all of a patient’s tumour cells. These surface proteins act as a universal flag for the patient’s immune system to target, which opens two new routes for cancer treatment. One option is for doctors to take biopsies of tumours and multiply the immune cells capable of recognising these surface proteins; then they are reinfused into the patient. Alternatively, the surface proteins themselves could be isolated from the tumour to create a vaccine.

Far sight

After nearly 26 years in space, the Hubble telescope has just set the record for observing the most distant galaxy yet. The light detected came from a group of stars called GN-z11, which is 13.4 billion light years away. This means that, through Hubble, we are now observing the galaxy as it was just 400 million years after the Big Bang. The old telescope is set to retire when its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is launched in 2018. During its years in service, Hubble has surpassed all expectations, considering when it was launched no celestial object further than 7 billion light years had been detected. Scientists still hope to find stars a further 200 million light years beyond GN-z11.

Monkeying around

A team led by Professor Miguel Nicolelis, from Duke University in North Carolina, has taught two rhesus monkeys to telepathically control a robotic wheelchair. The monkeys had two electrodes surgically implanted in their brains, so that a brain-machine interface could decode their neural signals and translate them into movement commands, thus allowing the animals to drive the wheelchair across the room to a grape dispenser using thought alone. The scientists hope to deliver this implant to humans soon, enabling people who live with paralysis or motor neuron diseases the possibility of driving wheelchairs independently.

Photograph: NASA via Wikimedia Commons

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