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Google Stadia announcement at GDC

Google showcases its cloud based gaming platform Stadia

During the school days, we have always have played games on our play stations during the summer vacations or on holidays. As technology advances, now there are various other gaming boxes which are available in the market. But gaming boxes also have their own limitations. A technology has been showcased by Google called “Google Stadia”.

This new product was unveiled by Google at the Game Developers Conference (GDC). However not much is known about the product since it is still in the development stage.

There are certain details that are provided to us for example- The game is available on YouTube and Chrome. YouTube is one of the major platforms through which “Google Stadia” will get publicized. The various gaming experts can recommend their viewers to search for this new product and the viewers would be able to find the various games on YouTube. As YouTube and Chrome are to be used for gaming and streaming, it clearly indicates that this product has been developed for the YouTube generation.

Chrome as well plays a very important role in order to promote this new member of the Google family. “Stadia” would be available to play on Google Chrome, Chromecast and on all Android devices. Google has already demonstrated this service on their devices during the keynote. However, it is pretty unclear as to on how many browsers would this be available.

Google is using Linux as its operating system and the disadvantage that it provides is that game creators will have to upload new games on “Stadia” for Linux platform, and not any game that you own on different gaming portal. In the GDC, Google only showed certain games, it failed to answer certain questions like when it will be launched, will this be subscription based and many more.

The biggest question that Google has to answer is the internet connectivity that “Stadia” requires to play different games. Currently, Google is using its own compression technology to stream games in 1080p or 4K to devices. However, in order to access “Stadia” the most active and reliable internet connection would be required. According to Google, a connection of  “approximately 25 Mbps” for 1080p resolution at 60 fps will be required.

In an interview with Kotaku, Google Stadia boss Phil Harrison said, “We will be able to get to 4K, only if we raise the bandwidth to about 30 Mbps.” However, we don’t know the exact bitrates of Stadia just yet, but watching a regular HD Netflix stream uses around 3GB per hour, and this more than doubles for 4K streams.

Google Stadia Controller

Google Stadia Controller (Source: 9to5google.com)

The biggest advantage that Google has is due to its cloud infrastructure, but if you are not present in the area where the data center is located, then you’ll not get the most ideal experience. In order to play these games, Google is launching its own “Stadia Controller” which will be connected directly to the server you’re playing on over Wi-Fi, but it has no control over the thousands of ISPs and how they route this traffic to its data centers.

All of this makes Stadia look like an early beta for what will be a part of the future of gaming. Google has hired a lot of industry talents for this ambitious project. Phil Harrison, a former Sony and Microsoft executive, is leading the Stadia project, and Jade Raymond, who has previously worked at Sony, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft, is heading up the company’s first-party games. Xbox Live Arcade creator Greg Canessa is also working on Stadia, alongside former Xbox gaming partnerships lead Nate Ahearn. All of this experience should help Google in its cloud gaming fight.

Simple Qubits

Scientists reversed time using quantum computer

Have you ever imagined the infused tea flowing back into the tea bag or a volcano from “erupting” in reverse? We cannot imagine about these things because we have learned about the second law of thermodynamics which states that the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time. A group of researcher scientist from Russia teamed up with the scientist from the U.S. and Switzerland in order to challenge this fundamental law of energy.

The study’s lead author Gordey Lesovik who heads the Laboratory of the Physics of Quantum Information Technology at MIPT states that “This research is one of the series which adds up to violating the second law of thermodynamics which is closely associated with the notion of arrow of time that puts in position the one way direction of time from past to future.”

The physicists tried to understand if time could reverse itself for a tiny fraction of a second for a particle. They tried to do this by two methods – first by experimenting the electron in empty interstellar space.

Andrey Lebedev co-author from MIPT and ETH Zurich stated that “If we consider an electron in space and we begin to observe it, we can come to know the position of it. If not the position but at least the area can be decided since the laws of quantum mechanics don’t allow us to understand the exact position of the electron.”

The physicist then adds “The evolution of electron can be explained by Schrödinger’s equation. However, it makes no distinction between the past and the future, the region of space containing the electron will spread out very quickly. The uncertainty of the electron’s position is growing.”

Quantum mechanics travelling wavefunctions

Quantum mechanics travelling wavefunctions (Credit: Maschen/ wikimedia)

Valerii Vinokur, a co-author of the paper, from the Argonne National Laboratory, U.S. adds to the discussion that “Mathematically, it means that under a certain condition of transformation called complex conjugation, the equation will describe a smeared electron localizing back into a small region of space over the same time period. However, this is only possible theoretically and not practically.”

The second method of experimentation was done with the help of quantum computing instead of electrons, made out of two or three basic elements called superconducting qubits. They have four stages of the experiment.

The four stages are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Order
    In the first stage, like the electron was imagined to be localized in space, here, the qubit is initialized in a stage called the zero stage.
  • Stage 2: Degradation
    Similar to the electron being smeared out over an increasingly large region of space, the qubits leave the zero stage and become a complex pattern of zeros and ones.
  • Stage 3: Time Reversal
    In this stage similar to the electron being induced to fluctuation by microwave, here, a special program modifies the state of the quantum computer in such a way that it would then evolve “backward”, from chaos toward order.
  • Stage 4: Regeneration
    Again the evolution program starts from stage 2. Provided that the “kick “ has been launched successfully. The program reverses the state of qubits back into the past.
    It was observed that where two qubits were involved, the success rate was around 85 percent, but where 3 qubits or more than 3 qubits were involved more errors happened and it resulted in only 50 percent of the success rate.

Published Researchhttps://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-40765-6

Artist rendering ULASJ1120+0641 Quasar

Astronomers discover Quasars powered by Supermassive Black Holes

During school days we were all very inquisitive about how the universe was formed. Now we all know and it is widely accepted that the hydrogen in the universe was once neutral but was “reionized” — split into its component protons and electrons. It was around this time when the first generation of stars, galaxies and supermassive black holes were born, in the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang.

Experiments have been going on in order to understand the evolution of the universe that is to know, how many billion years back the first black hole was created which lead to the formation of the universe and also to understand if there would be any other universe like us and what was the energy that lead to the cause of reionization.

Big Bang Timeline

Timeline of the universe. A representation of the evolution of the universe over 13.77 billion years. (Credit:NASA/WMAP Science Team)

A group of Astronomers from Japan, Taiwan and Princeton University has discovered that there are about 83 quasars that are powered by supermassive black holes in the distant universe along with 17 quasars already known in the survey region. Supermassive black holes are ones that are found at the centers of the galaxies and have masses millions or even billions of times that of the Sun.

Michael Strauss professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University, who is one of the co-authors of the study said, “It is remarkable that such massive dense objects were able to form soon after the big bang”. The most distant quasar observed so far by the team is 13.05 billion light years away.

We cannot observe black holes directly, but when a large quantity of matter falls into an SMBH (Supermassive Black Holes), it releases energy as a bright light that can be seen across the Universe. Therefore initially the research team has taken data from the used data taken with a cutting-edge instrument, “Hyper Suprime-Cam” (HSC) mounted on the Subaru Telescope of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, which is located on the summit of Maunakea in Hawaii. This research reveals that the occurrence of a black hole is not a rare phenomenon but how common they really are in the universe.

Subaru Telescope Mauna Kea Summit

Subaru Telescope. Mauna Kea Summit, Big Island, Hawaii, United States (Credit: Robert Linsdell from St. Andrews, Canada)

The team selected distant quasar candidates from the sensitive HSC survey data. They then carried out an intensive observational campaign to obtain spectra of those candidates, using three telescopes: the Subaru Telescope; the Gran Telescopio Canarias on the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain; and the Gemini South Telescope in Chile.

Robert Lupton a 1985 Princeton Ph.D. alumnus who is a senior research scientist in astrophysical sciences states that “The number of quasars seen is significantly less than needed to explain the reionization.”

Yoshiki Matsuoka, a former Princeton postdoctoral researcher now at Ehime University in Japan, adds to the discovery that “The quasars we discovered will be an interesting subject for further follow-up observations with current and future facilities. We will also learn about the formation and early evolution of SMBHs by comparing the measured number density and luminosity distribution with predictions from theoretical models.”

Based on the results achieved so far, the team is looking forward to finding yet more distant black holes and discovering when the first supermassive black hole appeared in the universe.

JILA 3D Strontium Atomic Clock

Breakthrough: Researchers developing atomic clocks to replace GPS and Galileo

Recently, scientists in the Emergent Photonics Lab (EPic Lab) at the University of Sussex, have made a discovery of an important element of atomic clock devices which could reduce reliance on satellite mapping in the future using cutting-edge laser beam technology.

Dr. Alessia Pasquazi from the EPic Lab in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex said, “With a portable atomic clock, an ambulance, for example, will be able to still access their mapping whilst in a tunnel, and a commuter will be able to plan their route whilst on the underground or without mobile phone signal in the countryside. Portable atomic clocks would work on an extremely accurate form of geo-mapping, enabling access to your location and planned route without the need for satellite signal.

Our breakthrough improves the efficiency of the part of the clock responsible for counting by 80%. This takes us one step closer to seeing portable atomic clocks replacing satellite mapping, like GPS, which could happen within 20 years.

This technology will change people’s everyday lives as well as potentially being applicable in driverless cars, drones and the aerospace industry. It’s exciting that this development has happened here at Sussex.”

Their invention will greatly improve the efficiency of the lancet (which in a traditional clock is responsible for counting), by 80%. And in the future, portable atomic clocks will completely replace satellite mapping within 20 years.

GPS working

Components involved when updating the GPS almanach using A-GPS and a GSM network (Source: Wikimedia/ Adlerweb)

Professor Marco Peccianti from the University of Sussex EPic Labs said, “We are moving towards the integration of our device with that of the ultra-compact atomic reference (or pendulum) developed by Professor Matthias Keller’s research group here at the University of Sussex. Working together, we plan to develop a portable atomic clock that could revolutionize the way we count time in the future.

Our development represents a significant step forward in the production of practical atomic clocks,and we’re extremely excited by our plans, which range from partnerships with the UK aerospace industry – which could come to fruition within five years –  through to portable atomic clocks that could be housed in your phone and within driverless cars and drones within 20 years.”

According to researchers, the compact laser-based atomic clock developed by the University of Sussex team could revolutionize the way we count time in the future.

More Infohttps://www.nature.com/articles/s41566-019-0379-5

Yuka Woolly Mammoth

Japanese scientists revived cell parts of extinct Woolly Mammoth

A team of Japanese scientists has woken up cells of Woolly Mammoth, that walked on earth 28,000 years ago. Researchers extracted bone marrow and muscle tissue from the carcass of a mammoth named Yuka, about 3.5-meter-long female who was lain frozen in Siberian permafrost in 2010.

The team includes researchers from Japanese and Russian universities. They have been working for 20 years on a project to use cloning to revive extinct mammoths using a technique called ‘somatic cell nuclear transfer‘.

“Our work provides a platform to evaluate the biological activities of nuclei in extinct animal species. Ancient species carry invaluable information about the genetic basis of adaptive evolution and factors related to extinction.”, the report read.

Scientists injected cell nuclei from the extinct woolly mammoth’s muscle tissue into mouse ova, in which five out of 43 nuclei were observed to develop signs of biological activities. The biological activities detected in the mouse eggs cells included a type of structural formation that is seen prior to cell division. But the pre-division development stopped before completion in all the ova.

Woolly Mammoth Cell Activity

Red and green dyed proteins around a mammoth cell nucleus (upper right) in a mouse oocyte (Kindai University)

“Yuka’s cell nuclei were more damaged than we thought, and it would be difficult to resurrect a mammoth as things stand. There’s a chance if we can obtain better-preserved nuclei.”, said team member Kei Miyamoto, a lecturer in developmental biology at Kindai University.

Teruhiko Wakayama, a professor in reproductive biology at the University of Yamanashi’s Advanced Biotechnology Center, said: “This can be praised as the first step in research toward the dream of resurrecting extinct ancient animals. I hope they can determine to what extent the DNA was repaired and how much activity there was.”

This finding might not help to resurrect animals of the ice age but might give us a way to understand the species that roamed on earth 28,000 years ago.

Moon Water LRO Image

Water molecules found hopping on the moon’s surface by NASA

NASA has recently spotted layers of water molecules on the moon’s surface by the spacecraft Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The LRO has observed water molecules moving around during dayside on Moon. It was astonishing as scientists thought that the Moon was dry and arid, water only exists in the form of shaded craters near the poles.

According to the paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, The instrument Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) was responsible for measuring sparse layer of molecules temporarily stuck to the Moon’s surface, which helped to measure lunar hydration, changes over the course of a day.

Scientists have discovered surface water in sparse populations of molecules bound to the lunar soil, or regolith. But, the amount and locations were found to vary based on the time of day. The lunar water is more common at higher latitudes and tends to bounce around when the temperature of surface soars up.

Earlier the scientists had assumed that hydrogen ions in the solar wind may be the source of most of the Moon’s surface water. But when the Moon passes behind the Earth and is shielded from the solar wind, the “water spigot” should necessarily turn off.

Surprisingly, the water identified by LAMP does not decrease when the Moon is shielded by the Earth and the region influenced by its magnetic field, suggesting water builds up over time, rather than “raining” down directly from the solar wind.

John Keller, LRO deputy project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland said, “The study is an important step in advancing the water story on the Moon and is a result of years of accumulated data from the LRO mission”.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LRO

Artist concept of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. (Credit: NASA)

Dr. Kurt Retherford, the principal investigator of the LAMP instrument from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas addressed, “This is an important new result about lunar water, a hot topic as our nation’s space program returns to a focus on lunar exploration. We recently converted the LAMP’s light collection mode to measure reflected signals on the lunar dayside with more precision, allowing us to track more accurately where the water is and how much is present.”

“These results aid in understanding the lunar water cycle and will ultimately help us learn about the accessibility of water that can be used by humans in future missions to the Moon,” said lead author Amanda Hendrix, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute and lead author of the paper.

“Lunar water can potentially be used by humans to make fuel or to use for radiation shielding or thermal management; if these materials do not need to be launched from Earth, that makes these future missions more affordable,” she added.

Published Researchhttps://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1029/2018GL081821

Pregnant Woman

Pregnancy infection may lead to autism and depression in kids

According to a recent study, there is an elevated risk for autism, depression and suicide in children, whose mothers were hospitalized during pregnancy due to infections.

Earlier research has indicated that infections caused by specific pathogens, such as cytomegalovirus and the herpes virus, can cause serious fetal brain injury, abnormal brain development and an even increased risk for certain psychiatric disorders.

The researchers studied the hospital records of nearly 1.8 million people, born in Sweden (1973 -2014), from birth to age 41. Those people whose mothers had been hospitalized for any infection during pregnancy had a 79% higher risk of being diagnosed with autism while a 24% increased risk of being diagnosed with depression. No increased risk was detected for two other disorders like psychosis, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

The study was performed by researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Washington, and the Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg, Sweden, co-led by Kristina Adams Waldorf, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UW School of Medicine, and Verena Sengpiel, an associate professor in obstetrics and gynecology at Sahlgrenska Academy.

“It is unclear how an infection by a microbe that does not directly attack the fetal brain could nevertheless affect its development,” said lead author Benjamin al-Haddad, a pediatric resident at the UW School of Medicine.

“Research has shown that exposure to inflammatory proteins released by the mother’s immune system to fight off infection may affect gene expression in fetal brain cells.
Other research suggests that inflammation may increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, by the placenta, which may alter fetal brain development”, he added.

“Parts of the fetal brain are exquisitely vulnerable to damage from infection and inflammation, especially areas involving social and emotional function. I think we need to take a broader view of how infection and inflammation can harm the fetal brain, beyond the effects of direct infection of the brain, in the meantime, we should aggressively act to prevent and treat infections during pregnancy when we can”, Kristina Adams Waldorf said.

Waldorf said women should be more concerned about vaccines during pregnancy especially influenza vaccine because women are not only putting themselves at risk for serious and even fatal infections, but they may be putting their infants at risk for neuropsychiatric disorders later in life.

The researchers are hopeful that these findings would be fruitful for them for future research, would also make aware pregnant women to take the influenza vaccine to prevent their child from fatal diseases.

Published Researchhttps://ja.ma/2F3gqCu

Urine cultured on Oxoid Brilliance UTI Agar plate

Harnessing Zinc would help to cure UTI without antibiotics

UTIs are one of the prominent bacterial infections across the globe, with about 150 million cases each year, and can lead to serious health problems like chronic kidney infection (pyelonephritis) and sepsis.

Recently in a study, it was found that zinc can play a vital role in the development of new non-antibiotic treatment strategies for UTIs using our immune system.

The study was done by the researchers, including members of the IMB (Institute for Molecular Bioscience) – Professor Matt Sweet, Dr. Ronan Kapetanovic and Claudia Stocks, and members of UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences  – including Professor Mark Schembri and Dr. Minh-Duy Phan, examined how our immune system uses zinc to fight against bacterial infections.

“We confirmed by direct visualization that cells in our immune system known as macrophages deploy zinc to clear bacterial infections,” said Dr. Minh Duy from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.

“We found that, compared to non-pathogenic bacteria, UPEC can evade the zinc toxicity response of macrophages, but these bacteria also show enhanced resistance to the toxic effects of the zinc.
These findings give us clues to how our immune system battles infections, and also potential avenues to develop treatments, such as blocking UPEC’s escape from zinc to make it more sensitive to this metal.”

The team developed new systems to track and analyze the insertion of zinc in macrophages, with this work just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS USA).

They found that, compared to non-pathogenic E. coli, UPEC has a two-pronged strategy to survive the body’s immune response. It can prevent the delivery of zinc by hiding within the macrophage itself.

E Coli Bacteria

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli, grown in culture and adhered to a cover slip. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/niaid/16578744517/

“We knew that UPEC can escape from the normal digestion pathway of the macrophage.
Our latest results show that UPEC can also avoid the delivery of zinc by hiding in different niches in these cells,” Dr. Kapetanovic said.
“It’s now clear that UPEC’s ability to occupy these specific compartments is an important factor in allowing it to spread through the body to cause severe disease.”

But evasion isn’t UPEC’s only trick. The team also found that UPEC has an enhanced ability to resist zinc toxicity.

“When we looked at UPEC, we found that they can also resist the toxic effects of zinc better than other bacteria,” Dr. Kapetanovic said.
“Taken together, these results may provide some potential avenues to develop treatments to combat UPEC and the diseases it causes, such as UTIs and sepsis. For example, blocking UPEC’s escape from zinc to make it more sensitive to this metal could help the body fight back.”

Professor Schembri and Dr. Phan used a technology called TraDIS to identify the full suite of UPEC genes involved in zinc resistance. Some of these genes had previously been explored, but a large number of others had not been explored for their involvement in protecting against zinc pressure.

Dr. Phan said, “The TraDIS analysis had given the researchers a map of which genes they could potentially target to make them more sensitive to zinc”. The team particularly focused on a type of cell called macrophage.

“Macrophages are key immune cells in the body. They digest and destroy a variety of different pathogens, have many strategies to do this, some of which are very well known and some that we’re really only discovering now.

One such recently discovered macrophage antimicrobial response uses zinc poisoning to kill bacteria, so we investigated how macrophages deploy zinc against UPEC.” said Miss Stocks.

“In creating this tool, we’ve not just found out more about E. coli, but have also created a model to study different types of bacteria, bringing us closer to not only understanding our immune system better but also to creating therapies for a range of infectious diseases.

Macrophages deploy zinc against persistent bacteria that aren’t necessarily being cleared by normal mechanisms, for example, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Salmonella and Streptococcus; all bacteria that can cause chronic infections,” Miss Stocks said.

The new research doesn’t just have after effects for UPEC and  UTIs they cause. The team has also developed zinc sensors that could be used to study a variety of disease-causing bacteria.

Algae Curtain Architects with the System

Algae curtains designed to curb urban pollution

Recently, two European architects Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto, have developed plant-filled plastic curtains called “living walls” that help purify dirty and smokey air.

The curtains contain a mazelike network of tubes filled with microscopic algae, which remove carbon dioxide from the air, pumping out oxygen via the carbon-sequestering process known as photosynthesis. Air flows into the bottom of the curtains and rises through the tubes, feeding the microalgae along the way.

Algae curtains and cladding can capture and store up to one kilogram of carbon dioxide per day.
“Microalgae have unique properties that have been discovered by the biologists that allow them to re-metabolize some of the waste that our city generates. What we’ve done is try to understand how we can integrate microalgae in the urban environment,”  said Claudia Pasquero, an architect with the London-based firm EcoLogicStudio.

Marco Poletto said that they foresee a strong market for the eco-friendly curtains, especially for use on warehouses and other large buildings valued more for their function than their appearance. They said the curtains might sell for $350 a square meter.

Poletto said that they were inspired to develop the eco-friendly curtains after noticing an abundance of algae in ponds near their office.

Last month, the architects displayed an early demo of the curtains in Ireland, covering the first and second floors of Dublin Castle with more than a dozen of the drapes.

Algae Curtain Building Wall

These algae-filled curtains are designed to cover the facades of buildings to help cut down on harmful greenhouse gas emissions. (Credit: NAARO)

The curtains used to cover the castle can suck more than two pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each day, according to the architects. That’s roughly the amount removed each day by 20 large trees, they said.

According to the design team, this particular module “is particularly suitable for retrofit as it is very lightweight, soft, adaptable, and does not require heavy substructures to be installed.”

“As we collaborated with microbiologists and learned more and more about the algae’s potential, it became kind of an obsession,” Poletto said. “For us, the aspect of design is really essential,” Pasquero said, “so it’s not simply a technological innovation — it’s a design solution.”

Smart cities, smart homes, autonomous vehicles, robotic factories, etcetera dominate the current panorama of popular futuristic scenarios, but they all desperately need spatial and architectural re-framing to engender beneficial societal transitions,” said EcoLogicStudio.

Designers such as Nicolas Roope answered to the UN report, by calling the need to avert climate change “the greatest design challenge in history”.

Presently, the firm is researching a mass-market prototype that will aim the large shed or warehouse typology, with a goal to cover the large surfaces of malls, distribution centers, and data centers.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

MCC patients responds better to immunotherapy than chemotherapy

In a recent study, it was proved that immunotherapy drug ‘pembrolizumab‘ responds better than conventional chemotherapy, in case of skin cancer ‘Markel cell carcinoma’, a type of skin cancer.

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), is a rare and aggressive type of skin cancer, can be treatable if caught early. Tumors often respond to chemotherapy by shrinking, but only for a short time after which they start growing again.

Merkel cells are located in the outermost layer of the skin and are primarily known as touch receptors. Merkel cell tumors majorly begin on sun-exposed parts of the body, such as face and neck. Their shape and color are less distinctive than other skin cancers, so people usually only notice them after a long time because of rapid growth. It occurs in older people and those who have weak immune systems.

Nearly 80 percent of Merkel cell carcinomas are caused by a virus called the ‘Merkel cell polyomavirus‘. The disease is diagnosed in 1,500 people each year in the United States, and in about 10% of those people, it has already spread.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma Stain

Photomicrograph of Merkel cell carcinoma infiltrating the skin (arrow). Tumor cell nuclei are stained brown by an antibody to the Merkel cell polyomavirus large T antigen. (Image: Patrick S. Moore/ Wikipedia)

For initiating this study, investigators from the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute joined hands with researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, along with 11 other U.S. medical centers. The Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute team comprise Topalian, William Sharfman, M.D., Evan Lipson, M.D., Abha Soni, D.O., M.P.H., and Janis Taube, M.D., M.Sc.

The study, initiated by Suzanne Topalian, M.D., associate director of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, is the longest observation to date of Merkel cell carcinoma patients treated with any anti-PD-1 immunotherapy drug used in the primary treatment.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, supported the recent (Dec. 19, 2018) U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved of pembrolizumab, marketed as Keytruda, as a primary treatment for adult and pediatric patients with advanced ‘Merkel cell carcinoma’.

The study was conducted over 50 patients with pembrolizumab who had recurrent, locally advanced or metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma. More than half of the patients i.e 28 patients (56 percent) had long-lasting responses to the treatment, 12 people (24 percent) experienced a complete disappearance of their tumors. About 70 percent of patients were alive for two years after starting the treatment.

“This has been such an encouraging development for this disease. When I first started treating people with Merkel cell carcinoma at MSK, the only thing I had to offer them was chemotherapy, and I knew how limited the benefit would be. It is great to have immunotherapy that’s available to block tumor growth and potentially allow people to live longer.”, said Memorial Sloan Kettering medical oncologist Sandra D’Angelo.

Researchers said treatment with pembrolizumab worked well against both virus-positive and virus-negative Merkel cell carcinomas, resulting in high response rates and durable progression-free survival in both subtypes. The research showed that tumors expressing a PD-1-related protein called PD-L1 were likely to respond longer and better to the treatment, although patients whose tumors did not express PD-L1 also responded.

Study says that patients who respond to immune therapy tend to continue their responses for longer time span. Unfortunately, 28 percent of patients experienced serious side effects, including death.