You might have missed: improving bowel cancer treatment; robot inspectors; the first continents; and fledgling planets

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

Testing on mini tumours to improve bowel cancer treatment

Australian researchers have shown a way to use a patient’s own cells to test which drugs will be effective for bowel cancer patients before they start treatment, according to new paper in Cell Reports Medicine.

The team grew tumour organoids – miniature 3D cancer models about the size of a grain of sand – made from patient’s own tissues. By testing drugs on these organoids, they were able to predict patients’ responses to treatment with 83% accuracy. They also found 2 patient organoids that were sensitive to a drug that is often used for breast and bladder cancers.

The finding could end the current trial-and-error process that goes into selecting a cancer treatment and improve patients’ quality of life.

“Each time you give a patient an ineffective treatment, you lose 2-3 months on something that won’t work,” says co-lead author Peter Gibbs, a medical oncologist and laboratory head at WEHI.

“Many patients with advanced bowel cancer only get one or two chances at treatment. Knowing what is most likely to work before they start treatment would make a significant difference to their survival outcomes and quality of life.”

Tumour organoid structure 850
A 3D structure of an organoid formed from human bowel cancer cells. Blue marks the nucleus of the individual cell, green is a protein that sticks each cell together and red shows the cancer cells’ orientation. Credit: WEHI

Robots could be inspecting our buildings one day

Engineers have combined computer vision with a deep-learning AI algorithm to create a new robotic system that could help with early detection of structural failures in construction.

Reported in the journal Automation in Construction, the system pinpoints problem areas of cracking before directing a series of laser scans to create a “digital twin” computer model that can be used to assess and monitor damage.

“Civil infrastructures include large-scale structures and bridges, but their defects are often small in scale,” says Dr Arvin Ebrahimkhanlou, a professor in civil, architectural, and environmental engineering at Drexel University in the US.

“We believe taking a multi-scale robotic approach will enable efficient pre-screening of problem areas via computer vision and precise robotic scanning of defects using non-destructive, laser-based scans.”

Researchers at Drexel University have created an AI-driven system that can guide robotic scanning of cracks in concrete for assessment and monitoring. Credit: Drexel University

The source rocks of the first real continents

Geoscientists have uncovered a missing link in our understanding of how Earth’s continents were created, according to a new study in Nature Communications.

The continents formed during the Archaen Eon 4-2.5 billion years ago and during this period much of it was comprised of a mixture of three types of granitoid rocks: tonalite, trondhjemite and granodiorite (TTG).

In the paper detailing their work, the researchers show how they tracked a specific set of trace elements to better understand exactly what went into making TTGs and the magmas which formed them.

Photo of a rock with dark and light grey swirls
The building blocks of the first continents are comprised of three types of granitoid rocks—tonalite, trondhjemite and granodiorite (TTG). Credit: Jaana Halla

“These elements allowed us to look back through the chemical changes that TTG magmas go through and trace the melt compositions back to their initial state and source – most likely a sort of gabbro,” says Dr Matthijs Smit of the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Canada.“Funnily enough, many people have varieties of this type of rock as a kitchen countertop. In a way, many people are preparing their dinner on the type of rock that was responsible for making our modern continents.”

Fledgling planets discovered around a newly formed star

Astronomers have found a multi-planet star system that gives us a rare insight into the way planets form and behave around a very young star.

TOI-1136 is a dwarf star in the Milky Way galaxy more than 270 light years from Earth. It has 6 confirmed orbiting planets, though scientists strongly suspect a 7th one exists.

Illustration of a yellow-orange star with dark planets floating in orbit around it
Artist rendering of the TOI-1136 system and its young star flaring. Credit: Rae Holcomb/Paul Robertson/UCI

At only 700 million years old it is very young compared to our own solar system, which is 4.5 billion years old. The star system is described in a new paper in The Astronomical Journal.

“This gives us a look at planets right after they’ve formed, and solar system formation is a hot topic. Any time we find a multi-planet system it gives us more information to inform our theories about how systems come to be and how our system got here,” says co-author Tara Fetherolf, visiting assistant professor at California State University, San Marcos, in the US.

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