Research Roundup: Fighting Lyme disease, ‘neuroforecasting,’ breast cancer genetic testing

March 16, 2020, 11:04 p.m.

Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of March 8 – March 14.

Antibiotic shows promise in treating Lyme disease in mice

The antibiotic azlocillin might fight against the bacteria causing Lyme disease in mice models, according to a study published on March 2 in “Scientific Reports.”

“This compound is just amazing,” assistant professor of medicine Jayakumar Rajadas told Stanford Medicine News. “It clears the infection without a lot of side effects. We are hoping to repurpose it as an oral treatment for Lyme disease.”

The antibiotic was tested in mice models at intervals of seven, 14 and 21 days. The drug eliminated the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease and is spread by ticks. 

The researchers previously published a study in 2016 that listed 20 drug compounds approved by the FDA that were most effective in treating Lyme disease. Azlocillin was a part of that list.

“We have been screening potential drugs for six years,” research associate Venkata Raveendra Pothineni told Stanford Medicine News. “We’ve screened almost 8,000 chemical compounds. We have tested 50 molecules in the dish. The most effective and safest molecules were tested in animal models.”

“Along the way, I’ve met many people suffering with this horrible, lingering disease,” Pothineni added. “Our main goal is to find the best compound for treating patients and stop this disease.”

Forecasting group responses from individual brain data

An approach dubbed “neuroforecasting” uses brain scans and behavioral questionnaire responses from individuals watching videos to predict how long other unrelated people will watch the same video on the internet, according to a study published on March 9 in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

“Here, we have a case where there is information contained in subjects’ brain activity that allows us to forecast the behavior of other, unrelated people — but it’s not necessarily reflected in their self-reports or behavior,” Lester Tong, a fifth-year graduate student in psychology, told Stanford News. “One of the key takeaways here is that brain activity matters, and can even reveal hidden information.”

The findings suggest that study participants who watched longer videos likely had more activity in the brain’s reward center, while shorter videos correlated with activity in the brain’s arousal or punishment center.

“In many of our lives, every day, there is often a gap between what we actually do and what we intend to do,” psychology professor Brian Knutson told Stanford News. “We want to understand how and why people’s choices lead to unintended consequences — like wasting money or even time — and also whether processes that generate individual choice can tell us something about choices made by large groups of people.”

Older women may benefit from breast cancer genetic testing

Postmenopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer are likely to carry inherited breast cancer mutations and may benefit from genetic testing, according to a study published on March 10 in “JAMA.” Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

“There’s been a lot of controversy in the field as to whether every woman with breast cancer should receive genetic testing,” medicine and health research policy associate professor Allison Kurian told Stanford Medicine News, “in part because we didn’t know how prevalent cancer-associated mutations are in this largest subgroup of newly diagnosed people — that is, women who develop breast cancer after menopause without the presence of any known hereditary risk factors.”

The study compared 2,195 women diagnosed with breast cancer at averaged age 73 with 2,322 women without breast cancer. The researchers found that 2.2% of the women studied with breast cancer and 1.1% of the women without cancer had mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The findings suggest under the current National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines, only 31% of women with cancer and 20% of women without cancer would be recommended for genetic testing, even though both had mutations.

The incidence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in postmenopausal women is similar to that in another population, Ashkenazi Jewish women.

“Now we know that the prevalence of cancer-associated BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in women diagnosed with breast cancer after menopause rivals that in women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent — a population that is currently encouraged to discuss genetic testing with their doctors,” Kurian told Stanford Medicine News. “We finally have a read on the likely benefit of testing this most common subgroup of breast cancer patients.”

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’

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