Science Friday: Close Comet Flyby Threw Mars’ Magnetic Field Into Chaos | Breast Cancer breakthrough? Drug combo eradicated breast cancer tumors in 11 days


Just weeks before the historic encounter of comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) with Mars in October 2014, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft entered orbit around the Red Planet. To protect sensitive equipment aboard MAVEN from possible harm, some instruments were turned off during the flyby; the same was done for other Mars orbiters. But a few instruments, including MAVEN’s magnetometer, remained on, conducting observations from a front-row seat during the comet’s remarkably close flyby.

The one-of-a-kind opportunity gave scientists an intimate view of the havoc that the comet’s passing wreaked on the magnetic environment, or magnetosphere, around Mars. The effect was temporary but profound.

“Comet Siding Spring plunged the magnetic field around Mars into chaos,” said Jared Espley, a MAVEN science team member at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We think the encounter blew away part of Mars’ upper atmosphere, much like a strong solar storm would.”


Cancer breakthrough? Drug combo eradicated breast cancer tumors in 11 days

A cancer drug duo could one day eliminate the need for chemotherapy for women with HER2-positive breast cancer; in a new study, a combination of two drugs was found to completely eradicate or significantly shrink breast cancer tumors within 11 days of diagnosis.

Lead researcher Prof. Judith Bliss, of the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in the UK, and colleagues recently presented the results of their EPHOS B Trial at 10th European Breast Cancer Conference (EBCC-10) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the US. It is estimated that 1 in 8 American women will be diagnosed with an invasive form of the disease at some point in their lives.

According to the American Cancer Society, around 1 in 5 breast cancers are human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-positive, or HER2-positive. This means the cancer tumors have too many copies of the HER2 gene, resulting in excess production of the HER2 protein.

Compared with other breast cancers, HER2-positive breast cancers tend to spread faster and more aggressively, and patients with this type of cancer are more likely to experience recurrence following treatment.


Findings have ‘groundbreaking potential’

Based on their findings, the researchers suggest that therapy involving a combination of trastuzumab and lapatinib prior to surgery could be an effective treatment option for women with HER2-positive breast cancer, potentially eliminating the need for chemotherapy.

Commenting on the results, study coauthor Prof. Nigel Bundred, of the UK’s University of Manchester and the University Hospital of South Manchester National Health Service (NHS) Trust, says:

“This has groundbreaking potential because it allows us to identify a group of patients who, within 11 days, have had their tumors disappear with anti-HER2 therapy alone and who potentially may not require subsequent chemotherapy. This offers the opportunity to tailor treatment for each individual woman.”

Writing about their findings in The Telegraph, Prof. Bliss says the possibility that they can eradicate a tumor in just 11 days is “remarkable.”





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