Rail: Circulating Science

Cancer

Patients’ own tumor proteins used in new vaccine

Researchers have tested a personalized cancer therapy and the results are promising. Cancer occurs when cells in the body undergo a series of mutations that lead to unrestricted, prolific growth. These mutations can lead to unique proteins that researchers can use as an identifying signal.

By using seven specific proteins expressed exclusively in the tumor cells of each patient, researchers were able to design a patient-specific vaccine. When the therapy is administered, the patient’s own immune system uses the vaccine to learn what the tumor cells look like. The immune system, with newly trained immune cells, can then mount an aggressive attack on the tumor, similar to how it would respond to other illnesses. Although the study was a small one and larger clinical trials are necessary, the immune response generated by the therapy is convincing and offers a promising avenue for researchers to continue exploring. 

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Physics

Large Hadron Collider looking for dark matter, antimatter

After a two-year break for upgrades, the Large Hadron Collider — the world’s largest particle accelerator — is up and running once again. After making international headlines for the discovery of the Higgs Boson, the LHC underwent numerous improvements and repairs. Now, researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, otherwise known as CERN, are turning their attention towards matter that has proven more elusive: dark matter and antimatter.

Dark matter, despite comprising the vast majority of matter in the universe, still remains a mystery for physicists worldwide. After the big bang, the universe was filled with equal amounts of matter and antimatter. Protons, neutrons and electrons were abundant, but so were anti-protons, anti-neutrons and anti-electrons. When a particle meets its anti-counterpart, a process called annihilation occurs. Essentially, they cancel each other out. However, evidenced by our continued existence, all matter was not annihilated, yet antimatter is relatively rare, begging the question of what happened between the two. These mysteries and more are what the LHC hopes to unravel in future experiments.

Human Ancestors

New oldest human ancestor discovered

A recent study has identified Little Foot’s bones to be 3.67 million years old. Lucy’s remains — the former oldest known Australopithecus africanus — were only 3.2 million years old, making her almost half a million years younger. Little Foot’s remains were discovered in South Africa 21 years ago, along with  stone tools found to be 2.18 million years old — among the oldest tools ever discovered.

Scientists at Purdue University had almost given up on dating Little Foot, as previous attempts had proven troublesome. Luckily, a new method — known as isochron burial dating — became available and proved successful. The method was originally developed to analyze solar wind samples from a previous NASA mission. Isochron burial dating uses radioactive isotopes aluminum-26 and beryllium-10, which are created upon exposure to cosmic rays on the Earth’s surface. After being buried or otherwise shielded from such rays, the isotopes begin to decay at known rates, allowing the ratio of the two to be used for more accurate dating. 

— Compiled by Laeth George


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