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Nov. 5, 2010 at 6:05 PM
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Cancer vaccine moves a step closer

CAMBRIDGE, England, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- A cancer-fighting vaccine that may help the body's immune system attack tumors could be developed in the future, U.K. researchers say.

Researchers at Cambridge University have discovered the mechanism tumor cells use to protect themselves from the body's immune system, and they say by turning off the mechanism the body might cure itself of the disease, The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.

The team found a protein known as fibroblast activation protein alpha stops the body's immune system from attacking cancer cells.

FAP is found in stromal cells, a kind of cells in the immune system that normally rush to the scene of a wound to aid healing.

The cancer tricks the body into thinking it is an injury, and instead of destroying the tumors it actually nurtures them.

The researchers have discovered turning off FAP in the body allows the immune system to naturally destroy the tumors.

The process has been demonstrated in mice but the researchers say that it should be transferable to humans.

"The research is at an early stage but it is not too far-fetched to suppose that what has been seen in mouse tumors will also be found in human versions of the disease," said Douglas Fearon, the immunologist who led the study.

"It is possible we have found a very big piece of the jigsaw," he said.

The findings could lead to a vaccine to turn off FAP that would not be administered as a prevention in advance but only when cancer is identified in a patient, researchers say.

Study: Obese friends not the best to have

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Gaining weight may be socially contagious and the more obese friends you have the more likely you are to become obese, a study suggests.

Health experts say about a third of Americans are obese and at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer, USA Today reported.

Harvard scientists studying the obesity epidemic have applied an infectious-disease mathematical model to data from recent obesity studies.

"We find that having four obese friends doubled people's chance of becoming obese compared to people with no obese friends," researcher Alison Hill, the study's lead author, says.

The more obese people you come in contact with, the greater the chance of your becoming obese, Harvard researcher David Rand says.

Researchers say they aren't sure why this is so, but it may be that if you have many acquaintances with unhealthy eating habits, you wind up with similar eating habits, Rand says.

Other lifestyle factors such as diet and physical activity have a huge impact on weight, Rand says, but the lesson of this research is "it's in your best interest to help your friends lose weight."

Dead, dying coral at gulf oil spill site

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., Nov. 5 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've discovered dying corals and other sea creatures in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Biologists on a research ship made the discovery Tuesday of a community of corals with numbers of recently dead colonies and others that are clearly dying, a Penn State University release said Friday.

"We discovered a community of coral that has been impacted fairly recently by something very toxic," Charles Fisher, a professor of biology at Penn State who is chief scientist on the cruise, said.

Fisher said a colony of the hard coral species Madrepora at a depth of 4,500 feet appeared to be unhealthy.

"Within minutes of our arrival at this site, it was evident to the biologists on board that this site was unlike any others that we have seen over the course of hundreds of hours of studying the deep corals in the Gulf of Mexico over the last decade with remotely operated vehicles and submersibles," Fisher said.

"We found that extensive portions of most of the coral colonies were either recently dead or were dying," he said.

Many of the brittle stars that are symbiotic partners of these types of corals also appeared to be very unhealthy, the researchers said.

Further analysis will have to be done on samples for the presence of hydrocarbons and for molecular evidence of genetic damage that could give direct evidence of exposure to oil or dispersants from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Fisher said.

However, "The compelling evidence that we collected constitutes a smoking gun," Fisher said. "The circumstantial evidence is extremely strong and compelling because we have never seen anything like this."

Space shuttle launch pushed back

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Space shuttle Discovery's six astronauts are returning to Houston after Friday's Florida liftoff was scrubbed because of a hydrogen leak, NASA said.

Discovery's crew left for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston shortly after 3 p.m. EDT.

Discovery's next possible launch opportunity will be Nov. 30 at 4:05 a.m. EST, NASA said.

The launch was canceled at 8:11 a.m. Friday when a gaseous hydrogen leak at an attachment point on the shuttle's external fuel tank was discovered.

The leak was "significant" and similar to what was seen on two earlier missions, although the latest leak was greater and occurred earlier in the fueling process, Launch Director Mike Leinbach said.

The tank was being drained and technicians would have to wait until Saturday to inspect it, NASA said.

Mission managers said they also will look at a crack in the external tank foam that developed as supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen were being drained from the tank, although the crack did not develop until after the launch attempt was called off.

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