Cancer follow-up plummeted in Wuhan after onset of COVID-19 pandemic

The volume of medical procedures and services affected by the COVID-19 pandemic defies calculation, but researchers at the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, China, noticed a sharp drop in cancer patients’ visits in the months following the outbreak there. The radiotherapy caseload at the hospital dropped by a factor of 10 after the lockdown was imposed by authorities there, a change the researchers fear will drastically affect outcomes. This analysis included all radiotherapy patients treated between Jan. 20 and March 5, which includes 209 patients that are statistically evenly split between men and women. Head and neck cancers accounted for roughly one in four of this group, while the largest group of “thoracic” cancers made up 38%. This category includes lung, breast and esophageal cancers, and approximately 82% of the 209 patients had been admitted for their therapy. Radiotherapy as a solo treatment was administered to 68%, while the balance had been treated with both radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The authors said more than 112 (53%) of the patients were unable to return to the clinic after the lockdown commenced, although three of the 67 patients who were receiving combination therapy had completed their regimens. Another 62 in the combination therapy group discontinued treatment, but of that group, only four ceased treatment on the basis of the physician’s recommendation. Prior to the lockdown in Wuhan, average daily visits numbered 188, but that number cratered to 12 per day after the lockdown. Interestingly, the authors said they had recorded only one confirmed case of COVID-19 infection during the term of the study, although none of the 70 other patients in this group who had experienced any contact with the one COVID-19 diagnosis ever demonstrated any symptoms of the disease. Nonetheless, roughly three in four of these 70 patients had to discontinue therapy, although all were alive as of March 12. While the authors said physicians were conservative in resuming chemoradiotherapy, they are concerned that long-term follow-up of these patients may demonstrate a lethal effect of the lost treatments. These results appear July 30, 2020, in JAMA Oncology.

T-cell receptor sequencing proves useful for tracking thyroid cancer

The science on metastatic behavior is still evolving, and scientists at Zhejiang Cancer Hospital in Hangzhou, China, sought to determine whether T-cell receptor sequencing (TCR-seq) could shed any light on the metastatic behavior of thyroid cancer, particularly if an early diagnosis can be had. This study was a retrospective analysis of patient samples collected between 2012 and 2018 that employed (TCR-seq) in an exploratory fashion. This study evaluated samples from 68 patients with papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) who demonstrated a “distinct metastatic status” along with another 21 patients with benign nodules. All the enrolled patients were treatment-naïve prior to surgical excision, and the sequencing was handled on high-throughput equipment. The authors said the T-cell clonality of malignant tumors “is significantly higher than benign nodules both in blood and tumor samples,” although malignant tumors with distant metastasis or invasiveness demonstrated lower diversity of T-cell clonality than non-metastatic malignant tumors. The tumors that metastasized were also less diverse than malignant tumors that were non-invasive as well, however. The researchers said the availability and reliability of TCR-sequencing suggests that this approach could be translated fairly readily into clinical practice for monitoring distant metastasis in these patients. The authors reported their results in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Silver nanowires take their place in brain cancer therapy

It may seem to the casual observer that the range of nano-things in medical science is growing every day, but a new study does little to dissuade observers of that view with a discussion of silver nanowires. Researchers at two institutes in the Republic of Korea took their cue from the role played by electrical stimuli in regulating the delivery of plasmonic nanomaterials with cancer-targeting peptides, and developed an “electro-responsive hydrogel-based” microfluidic actuator platform. The hydrogels incorporate highly conductive silver nanowires to go along with the biocompatible collagen I gels, and the scientists applied an electrical signal to this combination when situated in the microfluidic platform. Using targetable gold nanorods conjugated with arginylglycyclaspartic acid, they established that photothermal therapy could be achieved with this platform as a delivery mechanism that may ultimately provide “electro-responsive intelligent nanomaterial delivery and [photothermal therapy] applications.” These results are described in the July 27, 2020, online issue of Lab on a Chip.

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