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Health Highlights: March 4, 2016

Major Cancer Discovery Could Lead to New Therapies Psychology Research Controversy Highlights Rifts in Field Bacterial Bloodstream Infection Outbreak in Wisconsin Linked to 18 Deaths

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Major Cancer Discovery Could Lead to New Therapies

A major cancer discovery could lead to new immune system-based treatments specifically designed for individual patients, according to researchers.

They found that while cancer cells have an extremely wide range of mutations, they also have some common mutations that could be targeted by certain immune cells, CNN reported.

One of the researchers compared the disease to a tree, saying that cancer cells all begin with the same trunk, but then sprout different types of branches.

These findings suggest that certain immune cells can "chop the tree at the trunk rather than just pruning the branches," study co-author Dr. Sergio Quezada, Cancer Institute, University College London, U.K., told CNN.

The study was conducted by a team of 36 international researchers from the U.K., the United States, Denmark and Germany. It appears in Science magazine.

The fact that a tumor's cells are not all the same has been a major obstacle in efforts to fight cancer.

"The tumor is an evolving mass. Mutations change here and there. Mutations in one area of the tumor are usually different from mutations in other parts of the tumors," Quezada said, CNN reported.

He said the study findings could lead to two kinds of cancer treatments. One is analyzing tumors and then creating a customized vaccine that targets the core cancer mutations in each patient.

The other is identifying which immune cells attack these core mutations, multiplying them in the lab, and then injecting them into a patient.

Quezada said he hopes human trials of such treatments will begin within five years, CNN reported.


Psychology Research Controversy Highlights Rifts in Field

A 2015 report that challenged the findings of dozens of psychology studies was statistically flawed and therefore wrong, four researchers say in a new critique.

The first report looked at 100 psychology papers published in leading journals and concluded that the findings of less than 40 were valid when retested by an independent team, The New York Times reported.

However, the authors of the critique released Thursday said when the statistical methodology used in the original report was adjusted, nearly all of the studies held up.

Both papers were published in the journal Science. Neither of them found evidence of fraud or manipulation of data, according to The Times.

The conflicting reports highlight deep divisions within the field of psychology, in which younger researchers are starting to release their data and study designs before publishing findings in order to improve transparency.

The first "study got so much press, and the wrong conclusions were drawn from it," Timothy Wilson, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and a co-author of the new critique, told The Times.

"It's a mistake to make generalizations from something that was done poorly, and this we think was done poorly," he added.

But the researcher who coordinated the original study said the critique is highly biased.

"They are making assumptions based on selectively interpreting data and ignoring data that's antagonistic to their point of view," Brian Nosek, also of the University of Virginia, told The Times.

He plans to rerun the replications of 11 of the disputed studies to determine whether design differences explained the conflicting findings.

Both papers use statistical approaches that are "predictably imperfect" for this kind of analysis, according to Uri Simonsohn, a University of Pennsylvania researchers who has blogged about these issues, including this clash.

In simple terms, the first report concluded the glass was about 40 percent full, while the critique counters that it could be 100 percent full, he explained.

"State-of-the-art techniques designed to evaluate replications say it is 40 percent full, 30 percent empty, and the remaining 30 percent could be full or empty, we can't tell till we get more data," Simohnson said in an email to The Times.


Bacterial Bloodstream Infection Outbreak in Wisconsin Linked to 18 Deaths

The source of a bacterial bloodstream infection linked with the deaths of 18 people in Wisconsin is being sought by federal, state and local health officials.

Elizabethkingia bacteria has infected 44 people in the state. Most of them are older than 65 and all have serious underlying health conditions, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the Associated Press reported.

All 18 people who died tested positive for the bacteria, but it is not known if they died due to the infection, their pre-existing health problems, or both, state health officer Karen McKeown said.

Infection symptoms include fever, chills, shortness of breath or a bacterial skin infection, health officials said, the AP reported.

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