AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: MRI scans

Cellular GPS: A New Cancer Treatment

In recent years, it is estimated that 40% of people will face cancer during their lifetime. Still, there exist few reliable treatments for cancer, whereby it has become one of the leading causes of death in the world. Ideally, if a tumor is confined to one area of the body and is easily accessible, doctors may simply try to remove it with surgery. However, tumors are usually widespread and not so easily identifiable, whereby doctors turn to treatments such as chemotherapy which causes mass death of both healthy and unhealthy cells throughout the body. Nonetheless, scientists have discovered a potentially more targeted treatment for cancer, involving guiding magnetic seeds to tumors and burning them.

Bodily cells undergo the cell cycle, a controlled series of stages referred to as interphase, mitosis, and cytokinesis. Interphase is comprised of the G1, S, and G2 phases where cells perform normal activities, grow, undergo DNA replication, and duplicate organelles. Next, mitosis marks the division of the nucleus while cytokinesis marks the division of the cytoplasm. During this process, there are “checkpoints” at the end of the G1 phase, G2 phase, and mitosis. For example, maturation-promoting factors may trigger a cell’s passage through the G2 checkpoint if it has successfully duplicated and grown or stop a cell’s passage through this gateway if it has incorrectly copied itself. Cancer is caused when mutations in certain genes cause uncontrollable cell growth; this unchecked and rapid division causes many cells to pack closely together into tumors which hijack bodily functions, ultimately proving fatal unless treated.

Recently, researchers have proposed a new method to treat cancer patients, especially those with tumors in hard-to-reach places like the cranium. This treatment would send a highly magnetic thermoseed into one’s body which would be remotely heated once at the site of the tumor. Here, like driving a car on a loopy road, a doctor would use an MRI scanner to carefully guide the magnetic seed through the patient’s body. MRI scanners are reliable tools in scanning the location of tumors, so they would accurately pinpoint where to target and where to avoid with the thermoseed. Thus, this controlled method of eradicating tumors poses less of a threat with regard to damaging the body as a whole or even damaging surrounding tissues.

Although the prospect of such innovative research for remedies fuels optimism, it surely raises the question of which patients should undergo the new thermoseed treatment rather than well-trusted treatments like chemotherapy or open surgery. According to the study, this method would be greatly influential in treating glioblastoma, a common brain cancer. With traditional open brain surgeries, patients merely survive a year to a year and a half on average. Moreover, side effects are always a large risk with many current cancer treatments. However, I believe that killing the tumor remotely with a thermoseed and MRI has the potential to be a breakthrough, successfully eliminating the tumor and posing fewer long-lasting effects. While this treatment is still an idea at the beginning stages of research, its projected benefits make me optimistic about its future.

What do you think? Will this proposed cancer treatment be the reliable cure scientists have been looking for or a futile treatment that only reminds us of the challenge we are up against?

Brain Scans Suggesting Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that usually starts between ages of 16 and 30. The symptoms vary from individual to individual, but common symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, and distorted perception. It is suspected usually in teens that have anxiety, depression, or sleep problems. However those symptoms do not always mean this teen has or will develop schizophrenia, usually only about ⅓ of these teens actually develop schizophrenia.

Researches now may have found a special “fingerprint” for the brain to determine if schizophrenia is likely before symptoms emerge. This “fingerprint” is really folds found within the brain. The method looks at MRI scans of the brain and the correlation between the amounts of folds in certain areas, reflecting the strength of connections in these areas. Researches composed an experiment to see how effective this method was at determining one’s likelihood of developing schizophrenia.

Photo Credit: Jurgitta (

The research team collected MRI scans from a group of people in Switzerland, averaging the age of 24. The participants in this study included 79 people with suggestive symptoms of developing schizophrenia and 44 healthy control individuals. The researchers followed all of the participants for four years and found that 16 people in the high-risk group developed schizophrenia. After looking back through the brain scans, the researchers found that 80% of the time, the relationship between the folding patterns of the brain and the individuals who developed schizophrenia correlated. The individuals that developed schizophrenia brain scans seemed to have a “disorganized brain network”, meaning the folds of their cortical regions didn’t go hand in hand as much as the folds in the controls and the high-risk people who didn’t develop the illness. (The cortical regions of the brain refer to the cerebral cortex).

Although not yet perfected, this technique could be very useful in determining out of the individuals who have schizophrenia symptoms, their likelihood of actually developing this disorder.

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