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New Shot Could Relieve Migraines for Up to Three Months

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Migraines are the third most common illness in the word, but their underlying causes and how to treat them are still largely a mystery to doctors. Now, NPR reports that an alternative therapy may be on the way for migraine sufferers dissatisfied with pills that only mask the symptoms. A new type of shot has the potential to relieve migraines for up to three months while causing hardly any side effects.

Since the 1980s, scientists have studied how a protein called calcitonin gene–related peptide (CGRP) relates to migraine episodes. Research shows that people experiencing the throbbing head pain, vertigo, and light sensitivity that come with migraines have high levels of this protein in their blood.

When CGRP is injected into the bloodstream of someone who's susceptible to migraines, it triggers these intense symptoms, researchers found. But when people who don't normally get migraines receive a shot of it, their side effects are mild pain at worst. Further studies in mice demonstrated that by blocking CGRP in the brain, researchers could stop their migraine-like symptoms from developing.

The first CGRP-blocking treatment for humans came in the form of a pill in 2011. Though the clinical trials seemed promising, the medication never made it into pharmacies due to its possible effects on the liver. The latest version of the therapy doesn't interact with the liver at all. Instead, monoclonal antibodies, the same immune molecules often used in cancer treatments, are injected directly into the blood. They bypass the organ to block CGRP in the brain.

Four pharmaceutical companies have developed CGRP-blocking medicine for migraines, and based on their clinical trials, the shots relieve pain for periods ranging from one to two days to three months at a time. And unlike current treatments on the market, which include antidepressants and epilepsy medication as well as prescription pain relievers, the most noticeable side effect is pain at the injection site.

Two of the companies developing the drug, Amgen (in collaboration with Novartis) and Teva Pharmaceuticals, will know in June whether the drug has been approved by the FDA, while Eli Lilly and Alder Biopharmaceuticals plan to submit their medications for approval later in 2018. If they are made available to the public, the treatments will likely be pricey, falling in the range of $8000 to $18,000 a year for patients who get the shots once a month. And though there are hardly any side effects in the short term, the drugs haven't been studied enough for long-term side effects to emerge. For those reasons, the shots may work best as a last resort for migraine sufferers for whom all other treatments have failed.

[h/t NPR]

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New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
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Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

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New Peanut Allergy Patch Could Be Coming to Pharmacies This Year
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About 6 million people in the U.S. and Europe have severe peanut allergies, including more than 2 million children. Now, French biotechnology company DBV Technologies SA has secured an FDA review for its peanut allergy patch, Bloomberg reports.

If approved, the company aims to start selling the Viaskin patch to children afflicted with peanut allergies in the second half of 2018. The FDA's decision comes in spite of the patch's disappointing study results last year, which found the product to be less effective than DBV hoped (though it did receive high marks for safety). The FDA has also granted Viaskin breakthrough-therapy and fast-track designations, which means a faster review process.

DBV's potentially life-saving product is a small disc that is placed on the arm or between the shoulder blades. It works like a vaccine, exposing the wearer's immune system to micro-doses of peanut protein to increase tolerance. It's intended to reduce the chances of having a severe allergic reaction to accidental exposure.

The patch might have competition: Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., which specializes in food allergy treatments, and the drug company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are working together to develop a cure for peanut allergies.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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