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Hank shares some developments in cancer research, from new insights into the behavior of zombie cancer cells, to a new method that uses nanotechnology to kill cancer from within.
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Some people go around saying stuff like "Hey Science! Why don't you quit screwing around making rats that glow in the dark and give us a freaking cure for cancer?"

First of all, rats that glow in the dark are actually part of getting to a cure to cancer, in some cases. And second, curing cancer is really hard, okay! They're working on it! And this week on the front lines of cancer research there was bad news, there was good news, and there was some just, unexpected news.

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Let's start out with the bad news: a study from the University of Chicago has shown that cancer cells that have been killed by chemotherapy can actually return from the dead by cannibalizing part of themselves. At the cellular level, death is kind of complicated - it's not just an on/off switch. A cell can die in two different ways: by necrosis or apoptosis. Necrosis is what happens when a cell is damaged, like in an injury or from an infection. Apoptosis is when a cell self-destructs. It's also called programmed cell death, and it's how chemotherapy kills cancer. It orders cancerous cells to commit suicide. Typically, a cell undergoing apoptosis will release a bunch of proteins to liquefy it from the inside out. It's like cellular decomposition. But instead of letting these proteins do their messy, juicy job, some zombie cancer cells use special ravenous organelles called lysosomes to eat the self-destructive proteins and use that energy to re-animate themselves. This process, where a dying cell eats part of itself for fuel, is called autophagy, and we now know it's one of the reasons that tumors can come back after chemotherapy. Like cancer wasn't scary enough, now there's cannibal, undead cancer.

But there's also some good news: we might be able to get cancer to kill itself by using magnetically-controlled nanoparticles. In a new process developed at Sweden's University of Lund, biologists take tiny grains of iron, and I mean tiny like 10 nanometers across, and camouflage them with special molecules called ligands. The ligands hide the particles from your body's immune system and allow them to bond to cancer cells, being all like "Hey! Let me in, I bought beer and Fritos! Let's have a cancer cell house party!" But once the iron makes it inside the cancerous cell, it heads straight for those hungry, hungry lysosomes, and binds to them. Although the lysosomes try and digest the particles, they're made for eating organic matter and not, you know, basically tiny tanks. So then, scientists fire a laser at the cancer cell that creates a strong magnetic field. This makes the iron particles start to spin rapidly, generating lots of heat and turning the lysosomes into crazy, spiralling messes until they explode. That heat not only totally ruins the house party, it also triggers the cell's self-destruct mechanism, and with the lysosomes out of commission there's nothing to stop those suicidal proteins from being released and destroying the cell from the inside out. It'll probably take several years for this treatment to become available to humans, but scientists say it works and they're trying to patent the procedure.

Lastly, there's news from cancer research that's just unexpected, and so far, inexplicable. The American Academy of Neurology recently published a study which shows that older people with Alzheimer's are less likely to die from cancer. Their study followed more than 2600 people aged 65 or older for an average of 13 years, and the participants who experienced the onset of dementia during the course of the study were 30% less likely to die from cancer. What? And we have no idea why. Cancer causes abnormal cell growth and dementia causes abnormal cell death, but it still doesn't seem like they should interact like that. But now that we have this information, hopefully scientists will be able to figure out more effective ways of treating both.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow News. To find out how you can become president of space, an honorary associate producer, or even pick the topic of one of our episodes, go to And as always, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter, and down in the comments below. And if you want to keep getting smarter with us, you can go to and subscribe. 

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