Doping: Not worth the risk

ciclista_y_doping_226215Elite tennis player Maria Sharapova’s fall out over banned substance Meldonium has been all over the news the past couple of weeks. This drug was added to the list of prohibited substances only in January 2016 and as of the 15th of March 2016 it has already been reported in 100 athletes.

Meldonium is used in Eastern Europe to treat angina and heart stroke: severe cardiovascular problems related to lack of blood supply to vital muscles. It is unlikely that any of those elite athletes actually suffered from those diseases. Most of them were taking the drug with the aim of enhancing
their performance-  and they were getting away with it.

Ironically, the performance enhancing properties of this drug- and of many of the other doping substances- have never been conclusively proved. Continue reading

The very real problem of resistance to antibiotics

IimgID17378541_jpg-pwrt3n 1929 Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic power of penicillin, changing our medicine and life expectancy by rendering often fatal bacterial infections into treatable (even trivial!) conditions. However, nowadays infectious diseases are on the rise: it is estimated that 70000 deaths have been caused by antibiotic-resistant infections this year, and it could hit 10 million in 2050- overtaking cancer’s fatal toll. The latest bad news in this domain were published yesterday by BBC, reporting that “Bacteria that resist ‘last antibiotic’ found in the UK“.  This antibiotic, Colistin, was one of the few still considered to be globally effective. That is, until the recent discovery of resistant strains in China- and now in the UK.

But, what are these resistant bacterial strains? why are our antibiotic therapies failing?

Continue reading


fig15_killertSometimes it pays to think differently about a problem. Who would think that treating a cancer without actually targeting the cancer could be a viable strategy? But this is exactly what the latest major breakthrough in cancer therapy has shown.

The breakthrough is in a group of drugs called “Immune checkpoint blockers”. They have already provided remarkable results in the treatment of two of the most common and dangerous cancer types (melanoma skin cancer and lung cancer), and they are being tested in other tumour types with promising results so far. Interestingly, these efficient and powerful chemotherapies do not kill tumour cells directly. Instead, they are cleverly designed to boost the body’s own defences against the tumours. Continue reading

Ebola, that’s enough!

140730092338-eitm-gupta-ebola-symptoms-origins-00011224-story-topThe most recent and tragic documented outbreak of Ebola has affected over 20000 people and caused over 11000 deaths since March 2015. The magnitude of the outbreak has triggered an international response led by Medecins Sans Frontiers, who have placed 100 international and 1700 local staff in endemic areas and taken care of more than 5000 patients. However, Ebola is deadly and contagious, and there is no treatment or vaccine. Until now, that is: the first ever Ebola vaccine has Continue reading

Gene therapy for cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a terrible disease, which often results in fatal lung failure by the age of 30. It is the most common genetic life-shortening disease in the Caucasian population, and it is caused by mutations in one single gene. The first gene therapies were tested in clinical trials in the early nineties. It felt like the cure was round the corner. However, more than 20 years later, we are still trying to find the best way of restoring the function of the damaged gene. Last month, the scientific journal Lancet respiratory Medicine published a study where a new gene therapy was tested on cystic fibrosis patients. This therapy was reported by several news outlets as a potential cure for cystic fibrosis by 2020. However, the truth is that the therapy failed to detect a relevant clinical benefit for the patients.

Why the lack of progress?

Read more about where we stand with gene therapy for cystic fibrosis in the blog post I wrote as a guest author for !

Using viruses as cancer treatment

Last month the Journal of Clnical Oncology published some very exciting news. T-Vec, a virus-based therapy, proved to be effective in some melanoma (skin cancer) patients. It is the first time a virus-based therapy has been successful in a big clinical trial. The concept of virus-based therapy is an amazing one, as viruses are parasites that cause some severe and even fatal diseases. Continue reading

The latest myth of eternal youth

fountain of youth cartoonBetween 2013 and 2014 two of the most prestigious scientific journals, Science and Cell, published a pair of studies from the same lab reporting that the protein Growth Differentiation Factor 11 (GDF11) was able to bring back youth to older heart and muscle cells. This discovery was highlighted by Science as one of the top scientific breakthroughs in 2014. It caused a deep impact on public opinion (for articles about “the secret to eternal youth” check here and here) and also on the scientific community, which quickly launched studies and clinical trials to test the potential of GDF11 in other areas of regenerative medicine such as Alzheimer. Sadly this is as far as the fairy tale goes. A study has been published in the last issue of Cell Metabolism (another very prestigious journal) repeating the experiments and disproving most of the claims.

The original studies were based on the seminal discovery that when older mice were exposed to younger blood their heart (2013) and muscle cells (2014) recovered some features of their youth. Continue reading