News in brief: Cancer genomics company blacklisted by US government; Mediterranean diet improves immunotherapy response; IMGs spend years on specialist pathway

Wednesday, 12 Oct 2022

Cancer genomics company blacklisted by US government;

A genomics company with Australian cancer research ties has been blacklisted by the US government in the latest move by the Biden administration’s to counter what it says are threats from China-based companies and research institutes.

BGI Genomics, which has global research gene databanks and offers commercial DNA-sequencing services, has been added to a list of entities subject to a US investment ban.

A recent Reuters report claimed that BGI Genomic’s had links to the Chinese military and was using results from prenatal tests to collect genetic data from millions of women around the world for research into population traits. The company rejected the allegations and said all genetic data was stored in line with internationally-recognised data protection regulations.

On its website BGI Australia says it is conducting cancer bioinformatics research in partnership with groups such as the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, with a $2.6 million Cooperative Research Centre Project Grant from the Australian Government. It is also involved in a collaborative cancer research project using genomic data to develop a risk model for predicting advanced or metastatic prostate cancer.

Mediterranean diet improves immunotherapy response rates

Eating a Mediterranean diet has been associated with improved immunotherapy response rates and progression-free survival in advanced melanoma patients.

A study from the UK found that a diet containing mono-and polyunsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts and fish, polyphenols and fibre from vegetables, fruit, and wholegrains, was significantly associated with an improved response to immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs).

Based on dietary intake records for 91 patients with advanced melanoma who were treated with anti-PD-1 and anti-CTLA4 monotherapy or combination therapy, the study found a significant association between a Mediterranean diet and overall response rate and progression-free survival at 12 months.

The study also found that eating wholegrains and legumes reduced the likelihood of developing drug induced immune-related side effects, such as colitis. In contrast, red and processed meat was associated with a higher probability of immune-related side effects.

“The relationship of ICI response with diet and the gut microbiome opens a promising and exciting future to enhance treatment responses. Clinical trials investigating the effect of a high fibre diet, ketogenic diet and supplementation of omega-3 are underway. Since ICI therapy is being expanded to various tumour types, including digestive cancers, these studies could unlock treatment benefits for a large group of cancer patients in the future,” said study investigator Laura Bolte,  a PhD candidate at the University Medical Center Groningen, Netherlands.

IMGs spend years on specialist pathway

Overseas-trained specialist physicians seeking specialist registration in Australia spend up to eight years on the specialist pathway for international medical graduates (IMGs), according to latest figures released by the Medical Board of Australia.

In its 2021 report for the IMG specialist pathway, the Board notes that there were 165 applications from IMGs for registration with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, of which 26 medical practitioners had a specialist qualification from the UK, 21 from India, and 12 from South Africa and Sri Lanka, respectively. Other countries with a high number of specialist applicants were Hong Kong (10), Iran (10), the USA (9) and Canada (6).

For all specialist colleges, the total time spent by IMG on the specialist pathway ranged from less than one year to six to eight years for those with substantially comparability against the college’s criteria, with 53% taking less than two years.

For partially comparable IMGs (who complete up to 24 months supervised practice), the total time on the pathway ranged from ‘less than one year’ to ‘more than eight years’ with 58% taking less than four years.

For 2021, 77 applicants were recommended for specialist recognition by the RACP.

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