Monthly Archives: August 2018

Hundreds of Researchers From Harvard, Yale and Stanford Were Published in Fake Academic Journals

Source: motherboard.vice.com
Author: Daniel Oberhaus

In the so-called “post-truth era,” science seems like one of the last bastions of objective knowledge, but what if science itself were to succumb to fake news? Over the past year, German journalist Svea Eckert and a small team of journalists went undercover to investigate a massive underground network of fake science journals and conferences.

In the course of the investigation, which was chronicled in the documentary “Inside the Fake Science Factory,” the team analyzed over 175,000 articles published in predatory journals and found hundreds of papers from academics at leading institutions, as well as substantial amounts of research pushed by pharmaceutical corporations, tobacco companies, and others. Last year, one fake science institution run by a Turkish family was estimated to have earned over $4 million in revenue through conferences and journals.

The story begins with Chris Sumner, a co-founder of the nonprofit Online Privacy Foundation, who unwittingly attended a conference organized by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology (WASET) last October. At first glance, WASET seems to be a legitimate organization. Its website lists thousands of conferences around the world in pretty much every conceivable academic discipline, with dates scheduled all the way out to 2031. It has also published over ten thousand papers in an “open science, peer reviewed, interdisciplinary, monthly and fully referred [sic] international research journal” that covers everything from aerospace engineering to nutrition. To any scientist familiar with the peer review process, however, WASET’s site has a number of red flags, such as spelling errors and the sheer scope of the disciplines it publishes.

Sumner attended the WASET conference to get feedback on his research, but after attending it became obvious that the conference was a scam. After digging into WASET’s background, Sumner partnered with Eckert and her colleague Till Krause, who adopted fictitious academic personas and began submitting papers to WASET’s journal. The first paper to get accepted was titled “Highly-Available, Collaborative, Trainable Communication-a policy neutral approach,” which claims to be about a type of cryptoanalysis based on “unified scalable theory.” The paper was accepted by the WASET journal with minimal notes and praise for the authors’ contribution to this field of research.

There was just one problem: The paper was pure nonsense that had been written by a joke software program designed by some MIT students to algorithmically generate computer science papers. It was, in a word, total bullshit.

As detailed in a talk this year at Def Con, last year Eckert and Krause attended a conference organized by WASET in London to present their bullshit paper. The two journalists went in disguise as the fictitious academics Dr. Cindy Poppins and Dr. Edgar Munchhausen. When they arrived, they discovered the two-hour “conference” was actually just a half-dozen people in a room with a projector, all of whom had paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege. When Eckert and Krause approached Bora Ardil, the conference organizer, to learn more about WASET, they said he was cagey and declined to give straight answers about his affiliation with the conference. According to Eckert, he claimed he was just a doctoral student working with WASET.

After this initial foray into the world of predatory publishing, Eckert and Munchhausen partnered with Sumner to dig deeper into WASET. By analyzing 83 domain names affiliated with WASET and its conferences, Eckert and her colleagues discovered that the predatory journal network was a family con run by Cemal Ardil, his daughter Ebru and son Bora. Based on the WASET website, the Ardils have been running this con since 2007.

According to Eckert and her colleagues, WASET is just a single predatory publishing platform,but it hosts over 5,000 events around the world annually and publishes hundreds of papers in its online “journals.” WASET charges hundreds of dollars to publish in its journals and attend its conferences, which netted the Ardils an estimated $4.1 million in 2017 alone.

Yet WASET doesn’t hold a candle to OMICS Publishing Group, which is likely the largest predatory publisher in the world. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission filed a suit against OMICS for “deceiving academics and researchers about the nature of its publications and hiding publication fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.” Last November, the FTC granted a preliminary injunction against OMICS that prohibits the company from “falsely representing that their journals engage in peer review, that their journals are included in any academic journal indexing service, or any measurement of the extent to which their journals are cited.”

By scraping the OMICS and WASET websites, Eckert and her colleagues discovered tens of thousand of abstracts for fake scientific papers. India accounted for nearly 15,000 of these abstracts alone, but researchers from the United States accounted for the second highest submission rate—approximately 10,000 American papers were submitted to OMICS journals and another 3,000 to WASET journals.

So who are the people submitting to these conferences? According to Eckert, these range from academics trying to boost their publishing profile to scientists affiliated with companies who want to boost their scientific cred by having some publications under their belt. A distressing number of these academics come from elite American universities, as well. Eckert and her colleagues discovered 162 papers submitted to WASET and OMICS journals from Stanford, 153 papers from Yale, 96 from Columbia, and 94 from Harvard in the last decade. Yet according to Krause, “this goes way beyond academia.”

“It’s one thing for professors to try to polish their publication list and get more money or reputation, but it can be used for many other purposes,” Krause said last weekend during a talk at Def Con. “We as a society have this feeling that if something is scientifically proven and published, it has value. Usually science does just that, but in the case of the predatory journals it is quite different.”

The danger of these journals is that they can be used by companies to provide scientific justification for unproven treatments. One notable example of this is the case of the company First Immune, which had published dozens of “scientific” papers in these predatory journals lauding the effectiveness of an unproven cancer treatment called GcMAF. GcMAF is a protein that was marketed First Immune starting in 2010, but came under investigation shortly thereafter for running an unlicensed medical facility. The CEO of First Immune, David Noakes, will stand trial in the UK later this year for conspiracy to manufacture a medical product without a license.

The problem is that these predatory journals gave First Immune an air of legitimacy for desperate patients with cancer. This predicament is illustrated in the autobiography of a famous German media personality Miriam Pielhau, who died of breast cancer in 2016. In Dr. Hope, Pielhau describes her battle with cancer and how she settled on GcMAF as a last resort and cited medical studies published in predatory journals as the basis of her decision.

The ease with which people can be duped into taking false medical advice was driven home by Eckert and co, who submitted a research paper to the WASET Journal of Integrative Oncology that claimed that bees wax was a more effective cancer treatment than chemotherapy. The paper was accepted and published in the journal with minimal revisions.

As detailed by Eckert and her colleagues, similar tactics are used to publish studies and host conferences funded by major corporations as well, including the tobacco company Philip Morris, the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and the nuclear safety company Framatone. When the predatory journals publish these companies’ research, they can claim it is “peer reviewed” and thereby grant it an air of legitimacy.

Taken together, the predatory publishers investigated by Eckert and her colleagues only represent about 5 percent of the total research published every year. While this doesn’t pose an existential threat to science as a truth-seeking process, it does work to erode public trust in legitimate research.

Eckert, Krause, and Sumner argue that that the rise of predatory journals makes it imperative that the general public, researchers, and academics stay on their guard to combat the proliferation of bogus research. Science, like democratic politics, has been responsible for some of the greatest advances in the wellbeing of humanity, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to being undermined by a small group of persistent bad faith actors.

August, 2018|Oral Cancer News|

How ablation destroys cancer to prolong lives

Source: The Guardian
Author: David Cox

Seven years ago, when Heather Hall was informed by her oncologist that her kidney cancer had spread to the liver, she initially assumed she had just months to live. “I’d been on chemotherapy for a while, but they’d done a CT scan and found three new tumours,” she says. “But they then said that, because the tumours were relatively small, they could try to lengthen my prognosis by removing them with ablation.”

Hall underwent a course of microwave ablation, a minimally invasive treatment where surgeons use hollow needles to deliver intense, focused doses of radiation to heat each tumour until it is destroyed. While ablation technologies – they also commonly include radiofrequency ablation and cryoablation, which destroys tumours using intense cold – are not tackling the underlying cause of the disease, their impact can be enormous as they relieve pain and often prolong survival for many years, all at a low cost.

Studies based on data gathered over the past 10 years show an increasing number of cases of terminally ill patients who have lived for well over a decade after being treated with repeated ablations. Hall’s treatment was successful, but two years later, another two tumours had appeared in her liver, in different locations. Once again they were removed with microwave ablation. Over the past seven years, she has had four separate treatments. “There’s some pain in the immediate aftermath and I’ve felt quite ill for a week afterwards,” she says. “But it seems to have slowed down the progression of the disease, and I still have full function of my liver. With surgery, they would have had to cut a section of it away.”

While there have been many breakthroughs in cancer treatment heralded by the media in recent years – most notably the advances in immunotherapy and combination therapies – the considerable advances in ablation technology and resulting impact on patient survival, have consistently slipped beneath the radar. Not so long ago, the only option for patients such as Hall would have been full or partial removal of an organ, greatly reducing quality of life. But now, with increasingly powerful and efficient devices, surgeons are able to destroy drug-resistant tumours in a growing number of diseases ranging from sarcomas to prostate cancer.

“When we were first using ablation we could only treat the simplest tumours – for example, the ones in the middle of the liver, away from the blood vessels, because the devices were less powerful and predictable,” says Matthew Callstrom, a professor of radiology at the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota. “But now, for example, with microwave ablation – which works by radiating an energy field out of the tip of the needle into the tumour, heating the water within the cancer cells until they are destroyed – you can tune the shape and diameter of that field to prescribe exactly how deep it goes into the tissue. This means we can safely go after more and more complex tumours.”

Major studies published in the past couple of years have confirmed the survival benefits. Last year, the results of the Clocc trial – a five-year study of 119 patients across 22 centres in Europe – showed that patients with colorectal cancer that had metastasised to the liver and who received ablation in addition to drug treatment lived significantly longer on average than those who received drugs alone.

“We work closely with oncologists to determine who is most likely to benefit from this and who isn’t,” says Andreas Adam, professor of interventional radiology at King’s College London. “But it can have huge benefits. For example, I had a patient with breast cancer that had spread to the liver. I ablated the tumours, destroyed them completely and every few months or years, another tumour would develop and I’d ablate again. She went on to live for almost 10 years.”

With ablation treatment allowing many patients to live for far longer, it has the potential to change the perspective on some diagnoses. Patients with metastatic disease who go on to live for another decade or more in relatively little discomfort, often come to view their condition as more like a chronic illness. “It’s a strange feeling because you are still living with an illness which is likely to be terminal sooner rather than later,” Hall says. “But it’s no longer in the forefront of your mind. I’ve even been able to return to work part-time.”

However, not every patient with metastatic disease is a suitable candidate for ablation. Surgeons typically only use the technique on patients with 10 tumours or fewer. Any more, and the only viable options are treatments such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy. “You wouldn’t dream of ablating 50 tumours, because if someone has 50 visible tumours, it’s likely that they have another 100 developing that are not yet visible, and so they need drug treatment to treat the disseminated disease,” Adam says.

But in the coming years, ablation is likely to become available to more and more patients, allowing surgeons to tackle cancers in ever more complex locations.

Among the most promising methods is a technology called irreversible electroporation, which involves electrodes being inserted through the skin into a tumour, allowing a high voltage to be generated across the cancer cell membranes, causing them to self-destruct. This is only offered by a small handful of specialised centres in the world, but is expected to become more widespread over the next decade. “It’s a non-thermal approach, so you can go into more sensitive areas such as the pancreas, or ablate tumours which are in the centre of the liver,” Callstrom says.

One day, surgeons may even be able to ablate the most difficult cancers of all – deep brain tumours. The Israeli company Insightec is developing a device that can use focused ultrasound to destroy brain lesions. Because these tiny pulses of energy can be detected on MRI scanners, surgeons can calibrate them to the exact millimetre. “Each pulse generates a single ablation the size of a grain of rice,” Callstrom says. “Because it’s so tiny this allows you to basically tattoo the tumour and so avoid the boundary to any blood vessels or neurons.”

So for the many patients who have cancer that doesn’t respond to any form of drug treatment, there is now often a way of managing and prolonging their lives, which wasn’t possible before.

“The results of these studies have completely changed the thinking regarding some cancers,” Callstrom says. “With patients with metastatic sarcomas, for instance, people used to think that if the drugs failed, that was that. But now we can monitor them. And every time new tumours pop up, we ablate them.”

August, 2018|OCF In The News|

The surge in throat cancer, especially in men

Source: newswise.com
Author: UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

Humanpapilloma virus (HPV) is now the leading cause of certain types of throat cancer. Dr. Michael Moore, director of head and neck surgery at UC Davis and an HPV-related cancer expert, answers some tough questions about the trend and what can be done about it.

Q: What is HPV and how is it related to head and neck cancers?

A: There are about 150 different types of HPV, but HPV 16 is the one that most frequently causes cancers that affect the tissue in the oropharynx, which includes back of the throat, soft palate, tonsils and the back or base of the tongue. You can get non-cancerous lesions from other types of HPV that look like warts in the nose, mouth or throat, called papillomas. Some can develop in childhood just from exposure early in life. Some develop later in life and only occasionally turn into cancer.

Q: How do you get HPV?

A: HPV can spread from mother to her baby around the time of delivery. It also spreads through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, and even open-mouth kissing. Some people have been found to be infected without an obvious cause.

Q: How does HPV cause cancer?

A: Most people who are infected clear the virus on their own. In a small group of people it hangs around and causes a persistent infection. Around 1% of US adults have a persistent HPV 16 infection, and in a small subset of these individuals the DNA of the virus incorporates itself into the DNA of the person infected and can start to make proteins that then predispose that person to developing cancer.

Q: How prevalent are HPV-related throat cancers?

A: Traditionally, the risk factors for head and neck cancers were tobacco and alcohol use, but over the last 20 or 30 years we found the rates of those cancers going down because smoking rates have gone down. Meanwhile, the incidence of head and neck cancers related to HPV has gone up more than 200 percent over this time period. This increase has been so dramatic that HPV-related throat cancer has recently surpassed cervical cancer as the most common HPV-related cancer in the United States.

Q: Why are the rates going up?

A: Unlike with cervical cancer, in which the PAP smear is highly effective at finding potentially cancerous or pre-cancerous cells, there is no good screening test for these head and neck cancers. Currently, the use of swab tests for HPV is effective in finding out if you have an HPV infection, but not in determining if the infection will be persistent or if you will ever develop cancer. As a result, such tests are not endorsed as a way to screen for these tumors.

Q: Do both men and women get thee cancers?

A: Men are four times more likely to be diagnosed with an HPV-related head and neck cancer. Researchers don’t yet know why. It may have to do with sexual practices or related to the types of exposure they receive. The local or systemic immune system may also play a role.

Q: Can HPV-related head and neck cancers be prevented?

A: We have a very effective vaccine against HPV, and we know the vaccine can prevent oral HPV infections. In fact, studies have shown that the vaccine is 93 percent effective in preventing the oral infections that cause head and neck cancers. We recommend two injections for adolescents under age 15 and three for those over 15. The vaccine is recommended for children age 10-11, but vaccination can start in children as young as age 9, and in boys as late as age 21 and in girls as late as 26. It is also important to maintain safe sexual practices and avoid other potentially cancer-causing exposures such as tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.

Q: What are the main barriers to vaccination?

A: Studies have shown that the biggest reason kids don’t get it is lack of physician endorsement or recommendation. The American Cancer Society is trying to change that, asking physicians to introduce it to parents when they discuss other adolescent vaccines. There has also been concern that parents aren’t comfortable talking about sexuality with their children, and some have worried that if the child gets the vaccine they are more likely to be sexually active. That theory has been debunked in scientific studies.

Q: How safe and effective is the HPV vaccine?

A: It has a very safe track record and is continually undergoing evaluation to look for potential side effects. While there are some risks with any vaccine, one of the most common side effects is that patients may feel light headed after being vaccinated, and it is recommended they are observed for 15 minutes afterward.

August, 2018|Oral Cancer News|

Smarter cancer treatment: AI tool automates radiation therapy planning

Source: news.engineering.utoronto.ca
Author: Brian Tran

Aaron Babier (MIE PhD candidate) demonstrates his AI-based software’s visualization capabilities. (Credit: Brian Tran)

Beating cancer is a race against time. Developing radiation therapy plans — individualized maps that help doctors determine where to blast tumours — can take days. Now, Aaron Babier (MIE PhD candidate) has developed automation software that aims to cut the time down to mere hours.

He, along with co-authors Justin Boutilier (MIE PhD 1T8), supervisor Professor Timothy Chan (MIE) and Professor Andrea McNiven (Faculty of Medicine) are looking at radiation therapy design as an intricate — but solvable — optimization problem.

Their software uses artificial intelligence (AI) to mine historical radiation therapy data. This information is then applied to an optimization engine to develop treatment plans. The researchers applied this software tool in their study of 217 patients with throat cancer, who also received treatments developed using conventional methods.

The therapies generated by Babier’s AI achieved comparable results to patients’ conventionally planned treatments. — and it did so within 20 minutes. The researchers recently published their findings in Medical Physics.

“There have been other AI optimization engines that have been developed. The idea behind ours is that it more closely mimics the current clinical best practice,” says Babier.

If AI can relieve clinicians of the optimization challenge of developing treatments, more resources are available to improve patient care and outcomes in other ways. Health-care professionals can divert their energy to increasing patient comfort and easing distress.

“Right now treatment planners have this big time sink. If we can intelligently burn this time sink, they’ll be able to focus on other aspects of treatment. The idea of having automation and streamlining jobs will help make health-care costs more efficient. I think it’ll really help to ensure high-quality care,” says Babier.

Babier and his team believe that with further development and validation, health-care professionals can someday use the tool in the clinic. They maintain, however, that while the AI may give treatment planners a brilliant head start in helping patients, it doesn’t make the trained human mind obsolete. Once the software has created a treatment plan, it would still be reviewed and further customized by a radiation physicist, which could take up to a few hours.

“It is very much like automating the design process of a custom-made suit,” explains Chan. “The tailor must first construct the suit based on the customer’s measurements, then alter the suit here and there to achieve the best fit. Our tool goes through a similar process to construct the most effective radiation plan for each patient.”

Trained doctors, and often specialists, are still necessary to fine-tune treatments at a more granular level and to perform quality checks. These roles still lie firmly outside the domain of machines.

For Babier, his research on cancer treatment isn’t just an optimization challenge.

“When I was 12 years old, my stepmom passed away from a brain tumour,” Babier shares.

“I think it’s something that’s always been at the back of my head. I know what I want to do, and that’s to improve cancer treatment. I have a family connection to it. It adds a human element to the research,” says Babier.

August, 2018|Oral Cancer News|