The pendulum shifts in PSA screening, ancestry and childhood cancer and growing vocal cord tissue. This week in Abstract Science.

Pendulum Shift in PSA Screening

(New York Times, 11/17/2015, Denise Grady)

Screening for prostate cancer has long been a subject of intense debate, with advocates insisting that it saves lives and detractors arguing that it leads to too much unnecessary treatment. Now two new studies published in The Journal of the American Medical Association are adding even more fuel to the discussion. One of the studies conducted by the American Cancer Society found that fewer early-stage cases are being detected not because the disease is becoming less common but because fewer screenings are being conducted. A second study conducted by researchers from several medical centers found a significant decline in routine blood tests for prostate specific antigen after a 2012 task force revised the screening recommendations for men. An editorial accompanying the articles suggest that the pendulum might have swung too far in the direction of less screening.

Genes and Pediatric Cancer

(Scientific American, 11/18/2015, Katherine Harmon Courage)

The causes of pediatric cancer, a relatively rare diagnosis, have confounded scientists, but a new study appearing this week in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest mutations passed on by parents are at the root of quite a few of these cases. The study of more than a thousand children with cancer found that 8.5 percent of them—most with little family history of cancer—carry handed-down gene mutations that made them more susceptible to the disease. The findings could help doctors select more appropriate treatments, the research team that conducted the study noted.

Striking a Chord

(Science, 11/18/2015, Emily DeMarco)

In a medical first, scientists from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison revealed this week that they had created vocal cord tissue starting with cells from human vocal cords. The team collected epithelial cells and fibroblasts from human sources: one cadaver and four living people who had their healthy voice boxes removed during unrelated surgeries and placed the two cell types in a 3D collagen matrix that mimics conditions in the body. Over two weeks, they watched as the cells formed a more complex structure that quickly came to resemble natural vocal cords. “I remember holding it and thinking, gosh, this feels like the real thing, which has a distinct feel—sort of like Jell-O but stronger and able to return to its shape if you deform it,” says Nathan Welham, an associate professor of surgery at UW-Madison.

—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery