By Lydialyle Gibson

Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

Wait and see

For some men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer, treatment isn’t worth undergoing, at least not right away. In the March 16 Journal of Urology, Medical Center surgeon Scott Eggener and 13 coauthors report that it takes a second “restaging” biopsy to determine which patients should opt for “watchful waiting” rather than immediate surgery or radiation, which can cause incontinence and erectile dysfunction. Aggressively treating slow-growing tumors can significantly affect quality of life and doesn’t always prolong it; an estimated 20 to 50 percent of prostate-cancer patients, many of whom don’t benefit from treatment, die from another cause. Conducted between 1991 and 2007, the study followed 262 men under age 75 with early-stage prostate cancer. Of those, 43 percent eventually got treatment or showed enough signs of disease progression for physicians to recommend it. The other 219 patients kept waiting watchfully, with no signs of metastases.

Culture clash

In Cultural Revolutions (University of California Press, 2009), European-history scholar Leora Auslander reinterprets the way a trio of momentous 17th- and 18th-century wars—the English Civil War, the American Revolutionary War, and the French Revolution—led to the modern nation-state. Those conflicts were not, Auslander argues, bourgeois upheavals spearheaded by newly wealthy merchants and middle-class leaders, but broader cultural transformations that conferred importance on “the big and small symbols of state”: ordinary objects such as clothes, food, furniture, songs, holidays, and architecture. The revolutions altered how societies could be politicized; coinciding with huge economic shifts, they “sparked rich discourses,” Auslander writes, “on taste and everyday life as well as on how material culture and ritual could be mobilized in service of revolution, of republicanism, and of the nation.”

State of immunity

Greenberg and Jung’s study helps illuminate the workings of plant immune systems.

Farming, organic or otherwise, may get a boost from cell biologist Jean Greenberg and postdoc Ho Won Jung’s discovery that a naturally occurring compound can trigger plants’ immune systems. In the April 3 Science Greenberg, Jung, and three coauthors decipher how azelaic acid bolsters immunity in Arabidopsis, a common lab specimen related to mustard and broccoli. Attacked by the pathogen Pseudomonas syringae, the plant ramps up production of the acid, which flows throughout its vascular system and “primes” the plant for a fast and strong defense against a secondary bacterial attack. Produced naturally by Arabidopsis, as well as by wheat, rye, and barley, azelaic acid is effective in other plant systems, the researchers found, and can be applied by spraying. Inexpensive and environmentally healthier than chemicals, it’s also been proven safe for humans—the acid is already used to treat acne, rosacea, and hair loss. The discovery “could lead,” Greenberg said, “to better food quality and higher agricultural yields.”

Potent medicine

After studies found that grapefruit juice can increase prescription medicines’ potency, doctors began warning patients not to mix the two. But oncologist Ezra Cohen may be able to turn that hazard around, as results from a clinical trial indicate. Following up a 2007 report he coauthored in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cohen’s clinical trial shows that eight ounces of grapefruit juice, taken after the cancer drug rapamycin, can amplify its effectiveness. Of 28 patients with advanced, untreatable cancer, seven experienced little or no tumor growth, and one saw her tumor shrink. Cohen’s team presented its findings in April at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting.

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