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The Update

Issue #22, August 2021

The Update is a monthly digest of all that is interesting, exciting and new in the world of medicine and medical science, presented in a curated and convenient package.

1. CAR-NK Cells as an Immunotherapeutic Tool to Kill Cancer Cells while Sparing Healthy Cells 

Mechanisms of Action of Natural Killer cell Cytotoxicity
  • Natural killer cells are part of innate immunity, they use the cytolytic function to kill target cells. They have various receptors which help them to recognize their target cell and differentiating it from a normal healthy cell. 
  • In this study, the scientists used this information to use genetically engineered chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-engineered NK cells that were found to differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells that are found in and around tumors and kill only the targeted cells. 
  • HER2 expressing Breast cancer cells were found to be more potently killed by HER2 CAR-NK cells as it has higher cytotoxicity than donor-matched HER2 CAR-T cells against tumor targets. 
  • These results show that CAR-NK cells may be a highly effective and safe source of immunotherapy in the setting of solid tumors.
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2. Partially Restored Vision in a 58-Year-Old Genetically Blind man Using Gene Therapy

The 58-year-old man during the clinical trial identifying the position of the two cups
  • In this study published in nature medicine by Sahel et al, the scientists were able to partially restore vision in a 58-year-old man which had genetically inherited blindness.
  • In this type of blindness, some proteins in the retina are absent which prevents the retina to perceive light, so as a solution Sahel et al used a technique called optogenetics where light-sensitive proteins were added to the retina that perceived amber light. 
  • The man was given special goggles which scanned the environment's pixels and registered it and then sent a pulse of amber light from that pixel into the eye.
  •  The man was able to see the two cups but it was a blurry and narrow field of view hence, the vision was partially restored. 
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3. Gut Microbiome Features Unrelated to Diet Linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have a distinctive and underdeveloped range and volume of gut bacteria that isn’t related to their diet
  • The results of a small study carried out by scientists at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and The Chinese University of Hong Kong suggest that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have a distinctive and underdeveloped range and volume of gut bacteria that isn’t related to their diet.
  • The team’s findings indicated that children with ASD have significantly fewer bacteria linked to neurotransmitter activity, but also exhibit five species of bacteria that typically are not found in the guts of children without ASD.
  • Their results suggested that the factors most strongly and independently associated with microbiome composition in the stool samples were age, autism, and weight (BMI). Interestingly, diet wasn’t an influential factor, but the stool samples of children with ASD displayed a greater variety of microbes than those matched for age and weight who didn’t have the condition. More specifically, ClostridiumDialister and Coprobacillus bacteria were enriched in children with autism, while numbers of Faecalibacterium bacteria were significantly decreased.
  • Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder can be difficult because there is no definitive medical test and diagnosis is based on physician assessment. So, potential fecal biomarkers could be of key interest, the scientists suggested; “Potential fecal bacteria biomarkers used to predict ASD can therefore facilitate early treatment and intervention.”
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4. SARS-CoV-2-Blocking Nanobodies Can Handle Mutations, Take the Heat

Nanobody could be used as antiviral treatment against Covid 19
  • Nanobodies, or single-domain antibodies, are smaller and simpler than conventional antibodies, but they have huge potential. Since this potential is being explored by multiple research teams, any one team has difficulty producing standout work. Yet researchers from two Göttingen institutions, the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biophysical Chemistry and the University Medical Center, assert that they have developed nanobodies that are truly special.
  • These nanobodies can block the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but that’s not especially distinctive. Nanobodies developed by other researchers can do that, too. What sets the nanobodies from Göttingen apart, the Göttingen researchers pointed out, is that they can bind and neutralize the virus up to 1,000 times better than previously developed nanobodies. The Göttingen nanobodies can also, in the researchers’ words, “tolerate the K417N/T, E484K, N501Y, and L452R immune-escape mutations found in the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Epsilon, Iota, and Delta/Kappa lineages.”
  • And that’s not all. The Göttingen researchers reported that they have optimized their nanobodies for stability and resistance to extreme heat. These qualities, together with the ease with which nanobodies can be manufactured, make the Göttingen nanobodies especially attractive as a way to counter COVID-19. Treatments for COVID-19 are needed in vast quantities. In addition, these treatments often need to tolerate less-than-ideal transport and storage conditions.
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For comments and corrections, please contact the authors:
Nour Kamal Saba'neh - 
Science & Technology Officer | +971551227108
Abdullah Ahmed Tariq - Member, Committee on Science & Technology 

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