Why treating stress could help beat cancer

The stress of being told you have breast cancer may be reducing the potency of drugs used to treat the disease, according to new research by the University of Brighton.

Early trials show stress-relieving medications may increase the efficacy of chemotherapy and by doing so, improve recovery. Managing stress and anxiety at an early stage, researchers say, could become routine.

Dr Melanie Flint

Dr Melanie Flint, Reader in Cancer Biology at the University of Brighton’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, has been studying the impact stress hormones have on patients, and the effect chronic psychological stress has on disease progression, as well as response to drug treatment. Dr Flint said: “Stress hormones are highly potent and can interact with almost every cell in the body including normal, cancer and immune cells.”

Her research has shown that DNA can be damaged as a result of the interaction between our cells and stress hormones, leading to cell transformation: “A diagnosis of breast cancer is a cause of a great deal of stress, which in itself, is a significant reason for stress management to be considered early on.”

Melanie is part of a team of scientists at the University of Brighton researching breast cancer. Dr Flint collaborates with Professor Dame Lesley Fallowfield, Professor of Psycho-Oncology, who will be speaking at the British Science Festival on the 5 September, in an event titled, ‘Risk and uncertainty in breast cancer treatment’.

Dr Val Jenkins, who works with Professor Dame Lesley Fallowfield said: “Combining the expertise of laboratory-based scientists with that of psycho-oncologists in an innovative area of research is likely to produce tangible benefits for patients receiving cancer treatments.”

Dr Flint works with women who have recovered from triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), accounting for roughly 20% of all breast cancers. She has found the period of most stress is different for each woman:

“Patients experience stress for a variety of reasons: through knowledge that they are high risk, enduring multiple biopsies, indirect stress of family members, as well as fear of pain, sickness and potential end of life. Some patients seek stress interventions such as exercise and positive reinforcement from medically-trained individuals.”

Each of the women Dr Flint worked with stated that stress was a major factor during their cancer history, and that they felt stress could play a role even in tumour progression and treatment.

Dr Flint said: “Determining the effects of stress on the efficacy of chemotherapy will have an impact on the potential utility of pharmacological interventions such as beta-blockers, or psychological interventions including mindfulness-based stress reduction, and on the correct time point for administration in the disease trajectory for greatest therapeutic effect.

“The research will impact patients and clinicians, through recognition that stress is a contributing factor for drug resistance in the treatment of breast cancer.”

 

 

 

 

Explaining our research on the BBC

The university’s Diabetes Research Group (DRB) featured on BBC South East’s Inside Out programme on 27 February.

Professor Adrian Bone, Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology and Head of the DRB, and his team explained cutting-edge research being undertaken at the university to improve treatment for a disease that, for Type 1 diabetes alone, affects 10,000 people in the South East.

To watch the programme go to the BBC’s iPlayer service and scan along to 17.40 mins.

New insight into aged-related hearing loss

Scientists at the University of Brighton have moved a step closer to understanding the underlying cause of age-related hearing loss which affects 11 million people in the UK.
Hearing loss is believed to originate in non-sensory cells in the cochlea, the auditory portion of the inner ear containing the organ which produces nerve impulses in response to sound.
The cells are coupled together by ‘gap junctions’ which are formed of two proteins called connexin 26 and connexin 30. It is mutations or failures in these proteins that cause most cases of hearing loss.
However, experiments by our Sensory Neuroscience Research Group have shown that one particular mutation in the connexion 30 protein actually prevents deafness to high-frequency sound.
Professor Ian Russell, Professor of Neurobiology here at university and a member of the group, said: “This was a great surprise: The mutation should have impaired the function of the cochlea, not aided it.”
He said: “Other members of the research team are now making direct measurements from these supporting cells to understand how the mutation changes the properties of the gap junctions. They should obtain measurements that will enable us to understand how the mutation alters the electrical and mechanical properties of the cochlea and eventually lead to our understanding how sensitivity is preserved in a cochlea that would otherwise be decimated by age-related-hearing-loss.”
The Sensory Neuroscience Research Group’s findings were published on 21 February in Nature Communication. Continue reading

Soapbox Science’s first visit to Brighton

Head down to the seafront between 1-4pm on Saturday 29 July and celebrate women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) with Soapbox Science.

Soapbox Science hosts events across the UK and the world raising the profile of women in science – breaking down barriers and challenging stereotypes about who a researcher is. And they are coming to Brighton for the first time this summer.
Chantal Nobs, a PhD student at the University of Brighton, was one of 12 women selected to participate in the Soapbox Science London event on London’s Southbank in 2016.

Find out more about the Brighton event here.

Lunchtime learning

huxley_oct2010_001Our school are hosting a series of seminars on Fridays from 1-2pm in H400. Everyone is welcome so put the dates in your diaries.

Here’s what is coming up over in the next few weeks:

 

Friday 18 November
“e-learning apps: could they have an impact on student engagement and retention?”
presented by Dr George Olivier

Friday 25 November
“What we do not know about our hearing”
presented by Andrei Lukashkin

Friday 9 December
“Yeast: a versatile living test tube to screen drug targets and inhibitors”
presented by Dr Cathy Moore, Institute for Infection and Immunity

Discovering new antibiotics

Scientists at the University of Brighton are working with a team in South Korea on research that could lead to the development of new antibiotics.

Just weeks after Prime Minister David Cameron called for a worldwide cut in the unnecessary use of antibiotics and rewards for drug companies which develop new medicines to fight drug-resistant superbugs, the scientists have been studying soil bacteria which, they say, have the genetic potential to “produce tens of thousands of novel antibiotics”.

The South Korean-led study has been supported by University of Brighton scientists Professor Colin Smith and Dr Giselda Bucca in the university’s College of Life, Health and Physical Sciences.

The scientists undertook a detailed study of the activity of genes that are responsible for antibiotic production in a soil bacterium called Streptomyces. These bacteria are the major producers of antibiotics that are used worldwide to treat infections. Their study reveals how the activity of the genes for antibiotic production are controlled in the particular species of bacterium they studied – Streptomyces coelicolor – and this new knowledge, they say “suggests new ways for scientists to increase production of known antibiotics and, perhaps more importantly, to discover new antibiotics”.

Professor Smith said: “There is a critical need for developing new antibiotics because of the global rise in antibiotic resistance. Soil bacteria such as Streptomyces have the genetic potential to produce tens of thousands of novel antibiotics. However, it can be very difficult to coax them to produce these antibiotics in detectable quantities under laboratory conditions.

“The results from our study suggest how we could manipulate these bacteria to switch on production of antibiotics. This could allow us to ‘awaken’ genetic pathways for antibiotics that are not usually active outside of their natural soil environment. This, in turn, could enable us to study their properties and to scale up their production in the laboratory if they look promising as new antibiotics.”

Professor Smith and Dr Bucca are now embarking on a proof-of-concept study with the global pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline to establish whether the same genetic controls operate in other Streptomyces bacteria. Professor Smith said: “If they do then this will open up new possibilities for increasing production of clinically-important antibiotics.”

The research is published in Nature Communications, find out more here.

Professor Colin Smith

Professor Colin Smith

New research will benefit patients

Scientists at the University of Brighton are playing an integral role in developing a new early warning system that tells patients and carers when urinary catheters are infected and at risk of blocking.

Urinary catheters are the most commonly used medical devices, with hundreds of millions sold worldwide every year. Many of these will be used for long-term management of incontinence in older individuals or those with spinal cord injuries, and these patients are at particular risk of infection, and associated complications.

One of the most serious complications of infection is the encrustation and blockage of catheters, which is mostly caused by a bacterial species called Proteus mirabilis. Blockage, in turn, leads to the onset of serious complications such as kidney infection and septicaemia, one of the UK’s biggest killers.

A reliable system for patients or their carers to spot infection early and take action before blockage occurs would have considerable benefits to patients, and could considerably reduce NHS costs.

Dr Brian Jones

Dr Brian Jones

Leading the university’s research is Dr Brian Jones, Reader in Molecular and Medical Microbiology at the university’s College of Life, Health and Physical Sciences, and Head of Research Development at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead. This work is a collaboration with scientists at the University of Bath.

Continue reading

Boosting the fight against cancer

The university has been awarded £148,600 to find new ways to deliver anti-cancer properties from the spice turmeric to prevent or treat the disease.

Scientists will be working with collaborators in Vietnam where the climate and soil on higher ground is suitable to cultivate Curcuma longa from which turmeric, used in cooking in India and south Asia as well as in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, is derived. The funding has come from the Newton Institutional Links, part of the UK’s official development assistance programme and which provides grants for the development of research and innovation collaborations between the UK and partner countries.

Members of the University of Brighton’s drug delivery research group, Professor John Smart and Dr Ananth Pannala, will work with the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology on formulating curcumin preparations to be manufactured in Vietnam and marketed globally.

Professor Smart said: “Curcumin has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activities and has been used for the prevention and treatment of cancer, diabetes, neurodegeneration and cardiovascular disease.

“It is poorly absorbed when given as a tablet or capsule, its limited solubility being a major factor. This work will develop a curcumin-containing tablet or capsule using soluble carriers or dispersible oils that are acceptable, stable and optimise bioavailability.”

For more information on our research in this area visit

https://www.brighton.ac.uk/research/our-research/life-health-and-physical-sciences/research-groups/biomaterials-and-medical-devices/index.aspx

Top review award for article

Dr Brian JonesA review of alternatives to antiobiotics, co-authored by Dr Brian Jones, Reader in Molecular and Medical Microbiology in our school, has won one of the world’s most prestigious awards from the publisher Elsevier.

The Lancet Infectious Diseases article was selected for the Elsevier Atlas award, given to a single article every month from the thousands of papers published across Elsevier’s 1,800 journals. The award recognises research with the potential to impact people’s lives around the world.

Dr Jones, who is also Head of Research Development for Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, was a member of the joint Wellcome Trust and Department of Health working party set-up to review the current alternatives to antibiotics portfolio, and recommend priorities for future funding. Continue reading