October 25 - 31, 2020: Issue 471

A promising new tool in the fight against melanoma

October 20, 2020
An Edith Cowan University (ECU) study has revealed that a key blood marker of cancer could be used to select the most effective treatment for melanoma.

The discovery, which has the potential to improve melanoma survival rates, was published today in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The research found that patients with high levels of circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) -- an important indicator of cancer in the blood -- could potentially benefit from receiving a more aggressive treatment as a first line of defence against melanoma.

The study's lead researcher Associate Professor Elin Gray said the finding could help clinicians home in on effective melanoma treatments.

"Selecting the right course of drugs and therapies to treat melanoma is extremely complex and relies on a number of factors, including the characteristics of the tumour and how it has spread throughout the body," Associate Professor Gray said.

"This biomarker could help clinicians to better determine which patients would have better outcomes if we hit the cancer with an aggressive combination immunotherapy first."

Taking aim
Associate Professor Gray said while the research findings require validation in future studies, they highlight the need to carefully consider how biomarkers are used in melanoma treatment decisions.

"It's important to know when we should be targeting the cancer with certain types of drugs and which patients would benefit the most as aggressive treatments often result in more serious side effects," she said.

"This research will help clinicians to deliver personalised therapy regimens based on specific disease characteristics and the patient."

More clues
The study, part of the thesis of ECU PhD student Gabriela Marsavela, examined levels of the ctDNA biomarker in the blood of 125 metastatic melanoma patients recruited at Fiona Stanley Hospital and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, Western Australia, prior to undergoing immunotherapy. Results were validated in 128 patients recruited in collaboration with the Melanoma Institute Australia and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

The research also found that the ctDNA biomarker cannot predict patient outcome in melanoma patients who received immunotherapy as a second line of treatment. Previous studies have shown that the marker is useful in predicting patient survival before the first line of treatment.

Associate Professor Gray said this finding is significant.

"While ctDNA can be used to indicate patient response to targeted first-round melanoma therapies, we now know that this biomarker cannot predict survival after second line treatment," she said.

"This means clinicians should use other ways of determining if a treatment will be successful or not."

Future of medicine
The new findings build on the ECU Melanoma Research Group's growing body of research investigating markers of cancer in the blood, also referred to as liquid biopsy. Study of these blood biomarkers is important in understanding how cancer spreads throughout the body.

According to Associate Professor Gray, further analysis of key biomarkers could hold the clues to unlocking future treatments.

"We have been battling to find new drugs and therapies to treat melanoma, but if we can find evidence that a particular drug can work for a tumour with particular characteristics, this could allow us to use existing drugs in a more targeted and precise way," she said.

Associate Professor Gray's team is now delving deeper into the characteristics of melanoma tumours that become resistant to therapy and why second-line treatments fail.

"This study really opened up a lot of questions and we now want to know what makes these tumours different, more aggressive and resistant to therapies," said Professor Gray.

'Circulating tumour DNA predicts outcome from the first but not second-line treatment and identifies melanoma patients who may benefit from combination immunotherapy' was published in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Gabriela Marsavela, Jenny Lee, Leslie Calapre, Stephen Q. Wong, Michelle R. Pereira, Ashleigh C. McEvoy, Anna L. Reid, Cleo Robinson, Lydia Warburton, Afaf Abed, Muhammad A. Khattak, Tarek M. Meniawy, Sarah-Jane Dawson, Shahneen Sandhu, Matteo S. Carlino, Alexander M. Menzies, Richard A. Scolyer, Georgina V. Long, Benhur Amanuel, Michael Millward, Melanie R. Ziman, Helen Rizos, Elin S. Gray. Circulating Tumor DNA Predicts Outcome from First-, but not Second-line Treatment and Identifies Melanoma Patients Who May Benefit from Combination Immunotherapy. Clinical Cancer Research, 2020; DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-20-2251

The 'goldilocks day': The perfect day for kids' bone health

October 19, 2020
Not too little, not too much -- Goldilocks' 'just right' approach can now assess children's daily activities as new research from the University of South Australia confirms the best make up of a child's day to maximise bone health and function in children.

Examining 804 Australian children aged between 11 and 13 years old, the world-first study found that children need more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, more sleep and less sedentary time to optimise bone health.

The study found the ideal balance of a child's activities across a 24-hour period comprises:
  • 1.5 hours of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (sports, running around)
  • 3.4 hours of light physical activity (walking, doing chores)
  • 8.2 hours of sedentary time (studying, sitting at school, reading)
  • 10.9 hours of sleep.
Lead researcher, UniSA's Dr Dot Dumuid say that the findings provide valuable insights for parents, caregivers and clinicians.

"Children's activities throughout the whole 24-hour day are important for their bone health, but until now, we haven't known the perfect combination of exercise, sleep and sedentary time," Dr Dumuid says.

"Higher levels of physical activity are known to be good for children's bone health, yet we can't just increase children's exercise without impacting their other activities.

"In this study, we looked at the interrelating factors of physical activity (both light, and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity), sedentary time and sleep, finding an ideal combination that delivers the best daily balance.

"The 'Goldilocks Day' tells us the durations of physical activity, sleep and sitting that are 'just right' for children's optimal bone health."

"Up to 90 per cent of peak bone mass is achieved by age 18-20, which makes this especially important during childhood and adolescence.

"Optimising bone health in children is a key protector against osteoporosis, the leading preventable cause of fracture in adults and a major public health problem with considerable economic and societal costs.

Osteoporosis is common in Australia, with 1.2 million people estimated to have the condition and a further 6.3 million with low bone density. Globally, osteoporosis affects 200 million people, with 75 million cases across Europe, USA and Japan.

In this study, participants were selected from the Child Health CheckPoint study within the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Activity data was collected through accelerometer readings (worn for 24 hours a day over an eight-day period), supplemented by self-recorded logs for bed and wake times. Bone measures were recorded via peripheral QCT scans of the leg (ankle and shin) to identify bone density and geometric parameters.

Dr Dumuid says the study also highlights the importance of sleep, especially for boys.

"We always talk about getting enough exercise to help build bones, but for children, it's vital that they also get enough sleep.

"Curiously, the study also showed that sleep is more important for boys' bone health than for girls, with boys needing an extra 2.4 hours of sleep a day. However, boys tended to be at earlier stages of pubertal development than girls, causing us to speculate that the need for longer sleep is related to rapidly changing hormonal processes rather than gender.

"By knowing the best balances and interrelations of sleep, exercise and rest, parents and caregivers can guide their child's daily activities to put them in good stead for future bone health."

Dorothea Dumuid, Peter Simm, Melissa Wake, David Burgner, Markus Juonala, Feitong Wu, Costan G Magnussen, Timothy Olds. The “Goldilocks Day” for Children's Skeletal Health: Compositional Data Analysis of 24‐Hour Activity Behaviors. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 2020; DOI: 10.1002/jbmr.4143

Nanogenerator 'scavenges' power from their surroundings

October 21, 2020
Imagine a mobile phone charger that doesn't need a wireless or mains power source. Or a pacemaker with inbuilt organic energy sources within the human body.

Australian researchers led by Flinders University are picking up the challenge of 'scavenging' invisible power from low-frequency vibrations in the surrounding environment, including wind, air or even contact-separation energy (static electricity).

"These so-called triboelectric nanogenerators (or 'TENGs') can be made at low cost in different configurations, making them suitable for driving small electronics such as personal electronics (mobile phones), biomechanics devices (pacemakers), sensors (temperature/pressure/chemical sensors), and more," says Professor Youhong Tang, from Flinders University's College of Science and Engineering.

Further research aims to further develop this renewable form of energy harvesting by designing simple fabrication from cheap and sustainable materials, with high efficiency.

"They can use non-invasive materials, so could one day be used for implantable and wearable energy harvesting aims," says PhD candidate Mohammad Khorsand, co-lead author on recent papers in international journal Nano Energy.

The latest paper uses AI-enhanced mathematical modelling to compare the function of the number of segments, rotational speed and tribo-surface spacing of an advanced TENG prototype to optimise the storage and performance.

The researchers, with colleagues at the University of Technology Sydney and elsewhere, are working to improve power generation of TENGs and store the generated power on supercapacitor or battery.

"We have been able to effectively harvest power from sliding movement and rotary motion which are abundantly available in our living environment," says Professor Tang.

Mohammad Khorsand, Javad Tavakoli, Haowen Guan, Youhong Tang. Artificial intelligence enhanced mathematical modeling on rotary triboelectric nanogenerators under various kinematic and geometric conditions. Nano Energy, 2020; 75: 104993 DOI: 10.1016/j.nanoen.2020.104993

$200,000 revamp for Norah Head Lighthouse

October 19, 2020
The heritage-listed Norah Head Lighthouse reserve will undergo an upgrade with $200,000 in NSW Government COVID-19 stimulus funding.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast and Member for Terrigal Adam Crouch said the funding would boost the functionality and appeal of one of the Central Coast’s heritage and tourism icons.

“Norah Head Lighthouse was built between 1901 and 1903 and is one of the Central Coast's most spectacular icons perched on the headland and taking in beautiful ocean views,” Mr Crouch said.

“The Lighthouse celebrated its centenary in 2003, and other than an upgrade of its light from kerosene to electricity in 1961, it has seen few major changes since being first built.

“This COVID-19 stimulus funding will allow for construction of a new Workshop for the reserve’s volunteers, to be located adjacent to the former Stables Building.

“The addition of the Workshop will free up the former Stables Building and allow it to be considered for potential adaptive reuse, to improve facilities and the experience of visitors to the reserve.

“The $200,000 in funding will also allow for upgrades to access roads on the reserve, which are in need of maintenance and help to prevent coastal erosion near the Lighthouse itself.”

Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey said the COVID-19 stimulus program was upgrading important community infrastructure while supporting jobs and local economies.

“The reserve is a popular visit spot for Central Coast residents and tourists and a location of both heritage and environmental significance, so this funding is an important investment in its future,” Mrs Pavey said.

Other buildings on the reserve include three Keepers Quarters which offer heritage accommodation on-site, as well as a Flag Locker Building.


Seeing no longer believing: the manipulation of online images

October 21, 2020
A peace sign from Martin Luther King, Jr, becomes a rude gesture; President Donald Trump's inauguration crowd scenes inflated; dolphins in Venice's Grand Canal; and crocodiles on the streets of flooded Townsville -- all manipulated images posted as truth.

Image editing software is so ubiquitous and easy to use, according to researchers from QUT's Digital Media Research Centre, it has the power to re-imagine history.

And, they say, deadline-driven journalists lack the tools to tell the difference, especially when the images come through from social media.

Their study, Visual mis/disinformation in journalism and public communications, has been published in Journalism Practice. It was driven by the increased prevalence of fake news and how social media platforms and news organisations are struggling to identify and combat visual mis/disinformation presented to their audiences.

"When Donald Trump's staff posted an image to his official Facebook page in 2019, journalists were able to spot the photoshopped edits to the president's skin and physique because an unedited version exists on the White House's official Flickr feed," said lead author Dr T.J. Thomson.

"But what about when unedited versions aren't available online and journalists can't rely on simple reverse-image searches to verify whether an image is real or has been manipulated?

"When it is possible to alter past and present images, by methods like cloning, splicing, cropping, re-touching or re-sampling, we face the danger of a re-written history -- a very Orwellian scenario."

Examples highlighted in the report include photos shared by news outlets last year of crocodiles on Townsville streets during a flood which were later shown to be images of alligators in Florida from 2014. It also quotes a Reuters employee on their discovery that a harrowing video shared during Cyclone Idai, which devastated parts of Africa in 2019, had been shot in Libya five years earlier.

An image of Dr Martin Luther King Jr's reaction to the US Senate's passing of the civil rights bill in 1964, was manipulated to make it appear that he was flipping the bird to the camera. This edited version was shared widely on Twitter, Reddit, and white supremacist website The Daily Stormer.

Dr Thomson, Associate Professor Daniel Angus, Dr Paula Dootson, Dr Edward Hurcombe, and Adam Smith have mapped journalists' current social media verification techniques and suggest which tools are most effective for which circumstances.

"Detection of false images is made harder by the number of visuals created daily -- in excess of 3.2 billion photos and 720,000 hours of video -- along with the speed at which they are produced, published, and shared," said Dr Thomson.

"Other considerations include the digital and visual literacy of those who see them. Yet being able to detect fraudulent edits masquerading as reality is critically important.

"While journalists who create visual media are not immune to ethical breaches, the practice of incorporating more user-generated and crowd-sourced visual content into news reports is growing. Verification on social media will have to increase commensurately if we wish to improve trust in institutions and strengthen our democracy."

Dr Thomson said a recent quantitative study performed by the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) found a very low usage of social media verification tools in newsrooms.

"The ICFJ surveyed over 2,700 journalists and newsroom managers in more than 130 countries and found only 11% of those surveyed used social media verification tools," he said.

"The lack of user-friendly forensic tools available and low levels of digital media literacy, combined, are chief barriers to those seeking to stem the tide of visual mis/disinformation online."

Associate Professor Angus said the study demonstrated an urgent need for better tools, developed with journalists, to provide greater clarity around the provenance and authenticity of images and other media.

"Despite knowing little about the provenance and veracity of the visual content they encounter, journalists have to quickly determine whether to re-publish or amplify this content," he said.

"The many examples of misattributed, doctored, and faked imagery attest to the importance of accuracy, transparency, and trust in the arena of public discourse. People generally vote and make decisions based on information they receive via friends and family, politicians, organisations, and journalists."

The researchers cite current manual detection strategies -- using a reverse image search, examining image metadata, examining light and shadows; and using image editing software -- but say more tools need to be developed, including more advanced machine learning methods, to verify visuals on social media.

T.J. Thomson, Daniel Angus, Paula Dootson, Edward Hurcombe, Adam Smith. Visual Mis/disinformation in Journalism and Public Communications: Current Verification Practices, Challenges, and Future Opportunities. Journalism Practice, 2020; 1 DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2020.1832139

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.