Archive for the ‘Cancer’ Category
A 19-year-old Chicago teen may one day hold the key to curing colon cancer.
If his previous successes are any indication, Keven Stonewall is well on his way to becoming the kind of scientist who leaves a lasting impact in the realm of cancer research.
In his senior year of high school, this young man from the city’s South Side was already working on a potential colon cancer vaccine at a Rush University lab, DNAInfo reports.
“My friends, family members have died from cancer,” Stonewall said in a VNM video. “A lot of people are impacted by cancer. So I felt it was my role to step up and do something about it.”
At first, his friends mocked his dedication to science. When they were out on vacation, he was holed up in his lab.
“I was one of the few kids who were engaged,” Stonewall said. “At first they were making fun of me, like ‘Come on man, why you want to be in the lab all day?’”
But after realizing that his lab time was producing real results, his buddies turned around. In fact, they confessed they were inspired by him.
A scorpion-venom concoction that makes tumors glow sounds almost too outlandish to be true. In fact, Olson explains, that’s what troubled the big grant-making organizations when he came to them for funding. But when those organizations dismissed his ideas as too bizarre, Olson started accepting donations from individuals—particularly the families of current and former patients—quickly raising $5 million for his research. It was a bold and unprecedented tactic: Though patients and their families are often asked to donate to foundations with broad goals, Olson raised money for one specific, untested technology—a much riskier gamble. But thanks to his efforts, Olson’s fluorescent scorpion toxin is now in Phase I clinical trials, an impressive accomplishment for a compound with such a peculiar lineage. The University of Washington students are clearly awed by the work.
Olson thought he could accomplish this feat by modifying a molecule known to bind specifically to cancer cells. If he could attach a fluorescent dye to such a molecule, maybe he could make the tumors glow a brilliant blue or green when viewed through a near-infrared camera positioned next to the operating table. Surgeons would then have no problem seeing exactly where a tumor began and ended.
Traditionally, head and neck cancer patients were older men who smoke and drank heavily. The alcohol and tobacco damaged the cells in the throat, eventually leading to cancer.
HPV-caused cancer is different. The men (and it’s still mostly men) who get it are younger. In a series of cases at Mount Sinai, they were between 35 and 65.
Five years ago, I profiled Maura Gillison, the Ohio State University researcher who helped establish that this was a big problem. She told me how when enrolling a study several years ago, she’d recruited, in sequence, a malpractice lawyer, doctor, a scientist and a rear admiral. The first patient I spoke to about his HPV throat cancer was a consultant and economist who later died from his disease. Two years ago, I wrote about a 50-year-old biotech CEO who also had HPV throat cancer. Last year, the actor Michael Douglas said that his throat cancer was caused by HPV.
The point is that these are men much like Dimon: CEOs and consultants, men at the peak of their lives and professional power. And their numbers are increasing.
How do you get HPV cancer? HPV is sexually transmitted. It’s mainly known as a cause of cervical cancer, which is what happens when it infects women. But men can get it by performing cunnilingus. It’s also possible, though less likely, that it can be transmitted by kissing. Eighty percent of sexually active people between the ages of 14 and 44 have had oral sex with an opposite sex partner. Researchers estimate that HPV throat cancer in men will be more common than cervical cancer in women in the U.S.
A highly personalized medical technique is allowing patients with advanced kidney cancer to live nearly three times as long as they normally do. In an experiment involving 21 patients, around half lived more than two and half years after diagnosis with kidney cancer that had begun to spread. Five patients are alive after more than five years.
The findings are part of a large wave of positive results coming from a class of oncology treatments called cancer immunotherapies. Many drug companies, large and small, are working on treatments that instigate the immune system to attack cancer (see “The Revival of Cancer Immunotherapy”). There are a variety of methods for revving up immune cells. In some cases, like the experimental kidney cancer treatment, doctors train a patient’s own white blood cells to spot a cancer cell among its harmless neighbors.
Most so-called cancer vaccines are off-the-shelf products that teach immune cells to attack cancer cells bearing a particular protein. Since cancer is known for its tendency to mutate, these off-the-shelf treatments “may be targeting something that doesn’t exist in each patient,” says Jeff Abbey, CEO of Argos Therapeutics, the Durham, North Carolina, biotech that developed the kidney cancer treatment. Argos is taking a more personalized approach. “We think that the only way to win is to do an active specific immunotherapy that captures all the mutations,” Abbey says.
Owners of a Kentucky cancer clinic will pay $3.7 million to settle claims they prolonged chemotherapy for some of their patients to pad their bills to the government.
The owners of Elizabethtown Hematology Oncology were initially accused by a whistleblower of extending chemo treatments, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. They were alleged to have submitted false claims for payment to Medicare; Medicaid; Tricare, the military’s medical provider; and the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program over five years beginning in 2010.
Elizabethtown is outside Fort Knox, Ky., and has a substantial military community.
In his lawsuit, whistleblower Dr. Ijaz Mahmood alleged the clinic increased chemotherapy treatment lengths by a factor of three or more beyond the medical standards “in order to inflate billings.”
A study presented at a scientific meeting suggests we are getting closer to having a reliable, non-invasive breath test for lung cancer. Led by the University of Colorado Cancer Center in Denver, the study shows how a device that uses a gold nanoparticle sensor can not only tell whether exhaled breath has come from a patient with COPD or lung cancer, but it can also sense whether the cancer is in early or advanced stages.
The study is the work of Fred R. Hirsch, professor of medical oncology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and colleagues, and was presented at the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago, IL.
Prof. Hirsch says a breath test for lung cancer could “totally revolutionize lung cancer screening and diagnosis. The perspective here is the development of a non-traumatic, easy, cheap approach to early detection and differentiation of lung cancer.”
The power of dogs’ noses is well documented, and that reputation continues to improve. Researchers have discovered that our canine companions’ snouts may be more accurate than advanced laboratory procedures when it comes to detecting certain forms of cancer.
Researchers at the Istituto Clinico Humanitas in Italy have trained two dogs that can sniff out the scent of prostate cancer in urine samples with a success rate of 98 percent, a new study reports. The pool of over 600 subjects makes this the largest study ever conducted using cancer-sniffing dogs.
Smelling Out Cancer
Researchers used two professionally trained dogs to test their ability to detect prostate cancer from a pool 677 people. One group of participants was cancer-free; the other group ranged from individuals with low-risk tumors to those whose cancer had metastasized to other tissues.
The two dogs sniffed urine samples, and identified signs of prostate cancer with a combined 98 percent accuracy. In a few cases, the dogs identified cancer when it wasn’t there — called a false positive — accounting for the remaining 2 percent of cases. That success rate represents a vast improvement over the standard Prostate-Specific Antigen test, which has a false positive rate as high as 80 percent, Bloomberg reports.
The results were presented Saturday at the American Urological Association in Boston.
For some women with breast cancer, changes in brain activity while multitasking could explain “chemo brain” – reduced mental functioning that many experience after chemotherapy, Belgian researchers say.
“Cognitive complaints of people increase with chemotherapy and we are trying to find out why,” said Sabine Deprez, who led the new study. “Difficulty multitasking is one of the biggest complaints.”
Past research has documented changes in mental performance following chemotherapy – and in some cases, in cancer patients before chemotherapy, suggesting disease may also play a role, according to Deprez’s team.
Other studies have used imaging to show differences in brain activity between cancer patients who had chemotherapy and healthy people not being treated for cancer, the researchers write in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
For patients diagnosed with brain tumors, long-term survival rates tend to be bleak. Glioblastoma, the most common primary brain cancer, may reappear even after intense chemotherapy regimens, which typically prolong life by only a few months. But new wearable devices that can treat patients outside of a hospital’s walls could be the key to better treatment.
Yesterday the Israel-based oncology company NovoCure announced that its wearable, noninvasive therapy had achieved the longest median survival rate yet for these recurrent brain cancers. NovoCure’s NovoTTF-100A is a sort of anticancer hat that patients can wear outside of the hospital. It continuously fires low-intensity electric fields into the brain while patients go about their daily lives. The electricity stunts cell growth and halts the tumor’s uncontrolled progression, sparing healthy brain cells that rarely need to grow and divide.
“NovoTTF increases survival rates twofold, without the adverse effects of chemotherapy,” says Eilon Kirson, Chief Medical Officer at NovoCure. “Patients reported better quality of life, and better cognitive and emotional functioning.”
One big reason to be skeptical? The Mayo Clinic says that only one of the six people who received the treatment went into remission. The clinic tried curing four other multiple myeloma patients with measles virus, and none of them got better. One other patient responded but didn’t go into remission. In a more pessimistic world, then, yesterday’s headlines could have read “Measles Virus Has No Effect on Most Cancer Patients” instead of “Woman’s Cancer Killed By Measles Virus.”
However, while you should be wary of this one announcement, you should be excited about the potential for virotherapy: It really could be a major trend in the future of cancer medicine. Physicians have suspected that viruses could cure cancer since the mid-1950s, when some of their sickest patients suddenly got better after suffering from a viral infection. Scientists think that viruses may incite the body to fight back, and that while immune cells are at war with the virus, they attack cancerous tumors as well.
Scientists are now harnessing viruses to created these targeted cancer therapies. Viruses naturally infect cells in a very specific manner, and oncolytic virotherapy is a new field that involves reprogramming viruses to infect and kill only cancer cells, potentially avoiding the collateral damage inherent in chemotherapy.
The Mayo Clinic study is an exciting demonstration of a promising idea for battling cancers. It’s also a study of only six patients, only one of whom went into remission. Cancer research requires a sample size larger than six patients, and probably a randomized, controlled study conducted on a mass scale. We’re looking forward to seeing what virotherapy has to offer in the future. But don’t go crazy with one person’s recovery.