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By John Schieszer
Medical Minutes 

The science behind age, dancing and cancer vaccines

Medical Minutes


February 1, 2019

Dancing your way to a better life

Grab your dancing shoes and put them on daily. A new study published in The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports examined the potential effects of 16 different exercise types for reducing disability for activities of daily living (ADL) in older women and found that dancing may be just the right ticket.

The prospective study enrolled 1,003 women without ADL disability. All participants were asked in person whether they performed any of 16 exercise types. ADL disability during eight years of follow-up was defined as dependence in at least one ADL task (walking, eating, bathing, dressing or toileting).

ADL disability was noted in 130 participants (13 percent) during follow-up. After adjusting for confounders, participation in dancing, compared with non-participation, was associated with a 73 percent significantly lower likelihood for developing ADL disability. There were no significant associations between other exercise types and ADL disability.

“Although it is unclear why dancing alone reduced the risk of ADL disability, dancing requires not only balance, strength, and endurance ability, but also cognitive ability, adaptability and concentration to move,” said lead author Dr. Yosuke Osuka, of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology. “We think that these various elements may contribute to the superiority of dancing in maintaining a higher ADL capacity.”

Personalized cancer vaccines showing promise

Anticancer vaccines are showing promise now and some investigators report that we may be moving into a new era. Cutting edge developments in this re-energized field recently were presented at the 2018 ESMO Immuno-Oncology Congress in Geneva, Switzerland.

The original anticancer vaccines, launched in the late 1990s, were based on shared tumor antigens and failed to induce a potent immune response. After decades of disappointing results, a number of advances have sparked a renewed interest in the field. These include new technologies and prediction algorithms to personalize vaccines, and the introduction of checkpoint inhibitors for combination therapy.

“There is again a flurry of activity around anticancer vaccines. We can now customize vaccines for each patient based on the genomic information in their tumor, and the early results are promising,” said Dr. Michal Bassani-Sternberg, Group Leader, who is with the Department of Oncology, University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

Personalization has been made possible with high-throughput next generation sequencing. This technology identifies mutations that are unique to a patient’s tumor and are not found elsewhere in the body, allowing a vaccine to mount a cancer-specific immune response. Algorithms can predict which neoantigens should be targeted for vaccination.

“We have a good way to fish out and propose targets for vaccination. The first trials were published last year and showed that the selected targets were immunogenic, meaning that vaccination induced immune responses or amplified existing immune responses against these neoantigens. In addition, the vaccines worked well with checkpoint inhibitors,” said Dr. Bassani-Sternberg.

Numerous questions remain unanswered, such as when to vaccinate patients. Should this be immediately after surgery, when there are few tumor cells left, or beforehand? Despite these questions, vaccination appears feasible. The technology to develop vaccines is available and getting better, the vaccines are safe and immunogenic, and clinical trial testing is beginning. “We are counting on new technologies that have now matured. Next generation sequencing has made identification of vaccine targets more efficient, reliable and cheaper,” said Dr. Bassani-Sternberg.

But how old are you really?

Researchers have long observed that biological age and chronological age are not always one and the same. A 55-year-old may exhibit many signs of old age and have numerous age-related diseases, whereas an 80-year-old may be healthy and robust. While diet, physical activity and other factors play a role, there are many contributors as to why and how some people age better than others. Those contributors remain poorly understood.

In a study published in Genome Biology, a collaborative team at the Salk Institute analyzed skin

cells ranging from the very young to the very old and looked for molecular signatures that can be predictive of age. Developing a better understanding of the biological processes of aging could eventually help to address health conditions that are more common in old age, such as heart disease and dementia.

“This experiment was designed to determine whether there are molecular signatures of aging across the entire range of the human life span,” says co-senior author Saket Navlakha, an assistant professor in Salk’s Integrative Biology Laboratory, La Jolla, Calif. “We want to develop algorithms that can predict healthy aging and non-healthy aging, and try to find the differences.”

The researchers focused on a type of skin cell called dermal fibroblasts, which generate connective tissue and help the skin to heal after injury. The investigators analyzed fibroblasts taken from 133 healthy individuals ranging in age from 1 to 94. To get a representative sample, the team studied an average of 13 people for each decade of age. The lab cultured the cells to multiply, then used a method called RNA sequencing to look for biomarkers in the cells that change as people get older.

If the findings from this study are validated, doctors could use this type of analysis to determine when to begin screening each individual patient for age-related conditions and to advise them about healthy lifestyle choices. More research needs to be done before any preventive treatments could be developed. One of the next steps of this research will be look for these signatures in other types of cells.

“Aging is a driver of so many diseases, including Alzheimer’s and other neurologic problems,” said Dr. Navlakha. “If we are able to show that the changes we’ve seen in fibroblasts are connected with aging in other types of cells, we may eventually be able to use these signatures to develop targeted interventions.”

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

Author Bio

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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