Tag Archives: yale

New gene-based immunotherapy hunts for hidden cancer cells

New technology could find previously hidden cancer cells. Image Credit: Pixabay

Cancer cells are very good at becoming the masters of disguise when it comes to avoiding detection from the immune system. This game of hide-and-seek is critical to allowing the cells to metastasize and spread throughout the body.

However, a group of scientists from Yale have developed a system to make the cancerous cells stand out from the crowd and help the immune system spot and eliminate tumors that other forms of immunotherapies might miss. This improved system, reported in the journal Nature Immunology, reduced or eliminated melanoma and triple-negative breast and pancreatic tumors in mice, even those located far from the primary tumor source.

Cancer cells genetically change and evolve over time. Scientists have discovered that as these cancer cells evolve, they may lose the ability to create interleukein-33 (IL-33). When IL-33 disappears in the tumor, the body’s immune system has no way of recognizing the cancer cells and they can begin to spread, or metastasize. So far, researchers have found that the loss of IL-33 occurs in epithelial carcinomas. These cancers include prostate, kidney breast, lung, uterine, cervical, pancreatic, skin, among others.

The new technology, coined Multiplexed Activation of Endogenous Genes as Immunotherapy (MAEGI), will basically launch a massive cell hunt for tens of thousands of genes and then acts like a GPS to mark their location and amplify the signals.

MAEGI weds viral gene therapy and CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) technology to mark the tumor cells for immune destruction, which then turns a cold tumor (one that lacks immune cells) into a hot tumor (those with immune cells). Essentially, it takes the hidden cancer cells and lights them up like a Christmas tree.

“This is an entirely new form of immunotherapy,” said Sidi Chen, assistant professor of genetics and senior author of the study. “And once those cells are identified, the immune system immediately recognizes them if they show up in the future.”

This new system should, in theory, be effective against multiple cancer types, including those currently resistant to immunotherapy. Upcoming studies will optimize the system for simpler manufacturing and prepare for clinical trials in cancer patients.

Top Universities grade inflation? Most common grade at Harvard is A, median is A-

The most common grade at Harvard is A, and the median grade is A-, Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris explained, raising fears about top American Universities artificially inflating their grades or employing softer grading standards. The information was delivered at the monthly meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as a response to government professor Harvey C. Mansfield:

“A little bird has told me that the most frequently given grade at Harvard College right now is an A-,” Mansfield said during the meeting’s question period. “If this is true or nearly true, it represents a failure on the part of this faculty and its leadership to maintain our academic standards.”

Image source.

After what appeared to be a shamed hesitation, Harris gave the response:

“I can answer the question, if you want me to.” Harris said. “The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-. The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A.”

In a later email response, Mansfield wrote that he was “not surprised but rather further depressed” by Harris’s answer.

“Nor was I surprised at the embarrassed silence in the whole room and especially at the polished table (as I call it),” Mansfield added, referencing the table at the front of the room where top administrators sit. “The present grading practice is indefensible.”

Grade inflation

So is this a Harvard thing, or is it a national grade inflation issue? Well most top Universities don’t make their average grades public, and I could only find information on Yale and Princeton. Last spring, Yale’s ad hoc committee on grading found that 62 percent of Yale College grades between 2010 and 2012 were in the A-range. Their committee is yet to take any concrete measures, but it’s good to hear that at least they are aware of the problem. Meanwhile, Princeton has totally restructured their grading system. Princeton’s grading policy has set a common grading standard for the University, under which As (A+, A, A-) shall account for less than 35% of the grades given in undergraduate courses and less than 55% of the grades given in junior and senior independent work. The Faculty has agreed that grades in the A range signify work that is exceptional (A+), outstanding (A) or excellent (A-).

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Ivy league college students graded more than they deserve

However, even with limited information, it seems fairly intuitive that Harvard isn’t an isolated case – since the mid 1960s, US college grades have risen significantly, from an average of 2.5 to an average of 3.2 – something which doesn’t seen possible to explain just by improving student performances. However, Harvard seems more prone to this issue than other top universities. In 2001, FAS’s Educational Policy Committee labeled grade inflation “a serious problem” at the College after a report in the Boston Globe labeled the College’s grading practices “the laughing stock of the Ivy League.”

Still, Princeton aside, I have seen no discussions of grade deflation in Ivy League Universities.

Scientists create the first molecular transistor

Researchers from Yale University succeeded in what seemed to be an impossible task: they’ve created a transistor from a single molecule. In case you don’t know, a transistor is a “semiconductor device commonly used to amplify or switch electronic signals” (via wikipedia).

power_transistor

The team showed that using a single benzene molecule attached to gold contacts is just as good as the regular silicone transistor. Also, by modifying the voltage applied through the contacts, they were able to control the current that was going through the molecule.

“We were able to allow current to get through when it was low, and stopping the current when it was high,” says Mark Reed, Professor of Engineering & Applied Science at Yale.

The importance of this discovery should not be underestimated; it could prove to be very useful, especially in computer circuits, because common transistors are not feasible at such small scales, and this may very well be another step towards the next generation of computers. However, researchers underlined the fact that fast molecular computers are probably decades away.

“We’re not about to create the next generation of integrated circuits,” he said. “But after many years of work gearing up to this, we have fulfilled a decade-long quest and shown that molecules can act as transistors.”