Category Archives: Cancer

Why childhood cancer research gets shortchanged


The National Cancer Institute will soon announce its budget allocations for next year. Unfortunately, we expect what has been the case for many years — childhood cancers will receive only minimal funding.

Second to accidents, cancer is the leading cause of death in children. As a dependent and vulnerable segment of our society, children need our protection. We must address the dangers facing children head-on.

But the National Cancer Institute has consistently failed to do this. The NCI has engaged an aggressive war against cancer, yet 96 percent of the funds its spends on the problem are focused on specific cancers which affect adults, not children. So while the incidences of cancer in children climb, and while childhood cancer destroys families and devastates communities, the federal government’s resources are directed elsewhere.

Why? Because cancer research funds are driven by the number of people — of any age — who have the disease. And, of course, adults, with decades of exposures and behaviors, experience cancer in much greater numbers than young children. This approach therefore seems like the “democratic” way to distribute federal money. Yet it doesn’t do much for the more than 15,700 children diagnosed each year with cancer, and the more than 40,000 children undergoing cancer treatment each year all across the United States.

But instead of looking at the number of annual diagnoses, perhaps we should consider the number of life-years potentially saved. For each child with cancer, on average, as many as 71 potential life years might be saved. That’s an important factor that is not being considered when funding allocation decisions are made.

The limited research funding has resulted in an unacceptable lack of progress in drug development in the last 35 years. Since 1980, only three drugs have been developed specifically for use in children with cancer. Equally important, for many of the childhood cancers, the same treatments that existed in the 1970’s continue to be used today, unaltered. Thanks to this lack of progress, the treatments we currently use to “cure” children, when they do work, are saddling them with a lifetime of chronic, difficult and sometimes life-threatening health complications. More than 95 percent of childhood cancer survivors will have significant health-related issues by the time they are 45 years old. That is almost all of them. We must increase funding for research that will lead to treatments that will not compromise the rest of a child’s life. Targeted therapies, those which target the cancer cells and leave surrounding cells and organs unharmed, are extremely promising and with proper investment, offer hope of a cure without the same negative health effects today’s child survivors face.

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Israeli Company’s Vaccine Blocks 90% of Cancer Types


An Israeli biotech company is developing a vaccine for cancer that it says can help prevent the return of the lethal disease for 90% of the different types of cancer.

Vaxil BioTherapeutics based in Nes Ziona has been developing ImMucin for more than five years, and already has seen strong success in testing indicating it can be a vital tool in combating cancer. The disease kills eight million people worldwide per year, and sees 14 million new cases diagnosed annually according to the World Health Organization.

“Vaxil is developing a drug to keep the cancer from coming back,” Vaxil’s CFO Julian Levy told NoCamels. “We are trying to harness the natural power of the immune system to fight against cancer by seeking out cancer cells and destroying them.”

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FDA approves Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo for lung cancer


U.S. regulators approved Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. ’s advanced lung cancer drug Opdivo, the latest of a string of events that has focused efforts on using the immune system to battle the disease.

The action by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration came three months ahead of the agency’s deadline for reviewing the drug and just two months after a clinical trial of Opdivo was stopped early because of a significant improvement in survival. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.

“This approval will provide patients and health care providers knowledge of the survival advantage associated with Opdivo and will help guide patient care and future lung-cancer trials,” Richard Pazdur, head of hematology and oncology products at the FDA, said.

“This is an important day for cancer patients and an important day for Bristol-Myers,” said Giovanni Caforio, the company’s chief operating officer and chief-executive officer-designate. Studies showed Opdivo has “the ability to nearly double the survival rate” for patients, “which really says it can become the standard of care for this disease,” Dr. Caforio said.

The approval amounts to an expanded indication for Opdivo, which was first approved for the market in December for patients with advanced melanoma, a skin cancer. The company plans to price the drug at about $12,500 a month, or $150,000 for patients who stay on it for a year. That is the same price as Bristol-Myers charges for the melanoma treatment.

Hope the patients have great insurance…

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Breast Cancer Cocktail Buys More Than a Year of Life


A cocktail of three breast cancer drugs buys patients an extra 16 months of life — a good news story so unusual, doctors have rushed to make it standard therapy, researchers said Wednesday.

The combination includes two so-called magic bullet drugs plus standard chemotherapy. It helps patients with advanced HER-2 positive breast cancer — a hard-to-treat type that’s more often than not a death sentence.

“I can’t think of something that improves survival by this much. Often, we debate over changing practice for something that extends survival by a few months, so 15.7 months that is so impressive. And really that’s exactly what I see in the clinic,” says Dr. Jennifer Keating Litton of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. She was not involved in the trial.

The cocktail includes two drugs made to go together by California-based Genentech. They are monoclonal antibodies — lab-engineered antibodies that home in on tumor cells. One is Herceptin, originally made to fight HER-2 breast tumors, which account for about 20 percent of breast cancer cases. The second is called pertuzumab, brand name Perjeta, and it was designed to complement Herceptin.

The third drug in the combination is the standard chemotherapy drug docetaxel.

A study of about 800 patients with advanced breast cancer, meaning the disease had spread, showed that the drug combination slowed the tumors and kept the women alive longer — on average 16 months longer — than Herceptin and docetaxel alone. The women lived on average for 56 months — nearly five years — compared to the usual lifespan of two to three years.

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Scientists Pursue Novel Blood Tests for Cancer

The inventor of a breakthrough DNA test for Down syndrome says the technology can be used to screen people for cancer.

The idea is to create a cheap screening test that people might get annually at a doctor’s office to spot a tumor at its earliest stage, when it’s more easily treated. “It took 13 years to develop the prenatal tests, but the path was untrodden,” says Lo, who is based at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Cancer will take a shorter time.”

The prenatal tests work by searching for fetal DNA present in a pregnant woman’s blood. Decoding that DNA can determine whether the baby has too many or too few chromosomes, problems that cause birth defects (see “Too Much Information”).

Both Lo and scientists at Johns Hopkins (see “Spotting Cancer in a Vial of Blood”) recently used a technique nearly identical to the one used in the prenatal tests to demonstrate that they could scan a person’s blood for evidence of genes that are duplicated, missing, or rearranged, something that is a hallmark of cancer cells.

But the testing strategy is very expensive. Tumor DNA is often present in tiny quantities if the cancer is at an early stage. It may account for just 0.01 percent of the DNA fragments in a blood sample. That means scientists end up decoding 9,999 bits of normal DNA for every stretch of cancer DNA they encounter. The result: building up a rough snapshot of the tumor’s genome using sequencing machines can cost $10,000 or more.

Lo says he’s now developing a different way to measure DNA that could cut the cost of the cancer test by about 90 percent.

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Study suggests vitamin D may prevent prostate tumor growth


New evidence suggests spending more time in the sun could make things brighter for men with prostate cancer. Researchers have found that vitamin D can help block a protein that causes prostate cancer tumors to grow.

According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer (other than skin cancer) among males in the United States. About 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. Prostate cancer occurs more often in African-American men, who are also more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage, and more than twice as likely to die from the disease. Having a family history of prostate cancer – father or brother – more than doubles a man’s risk of developing the disease.

A University of Colorado Cancer Center study recently published in the journal Prostate presents new evidence that vitamin D may help reduce cancer-causing inflammation. Scientists found that the gene GDF-15 – known to be up-regulated by vitamin D – can help block a protein which stimulates tumor growth.

“When you take vitamin D and put it on prostate cancer cells, it inhibits their growth. But it hasn’t been proven as an anti-cancer agent,” said James Lambert, lead investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. “We wanted to understand what genes vitamin D is turning on or off in prostate cancer to offer new targets.”

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Cancer-killing stem cells engineered in lab


Scientists from Harvard Medical School have discovered a way of turning stem cells into killing machines to fight brain cancer.

In experiments on mice, the stem cells were genetically engineered to produce and secrete toxins which kill brain tumours, without killing normal cells or themselves.

Researchers said the next stage was to test the procedure in humans.

A stem cell expert said this was “the future” of cancer treatment.

The study, published in the journal Stem Cells, was the work of scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

For many years, they had been researching a stem-cell-based therapy for cancer, which would kill only tumour cells and no others.

They used genetic engineering to make stem cells that spewed out cancer-killing toxins, but, crucially, were also able to resist the effects of the poison they were producing.

They also posed no risk to normal, healthy cells.

In animal tests, the stem cells were surrounded in gel and placed at the site of the brain tumour after it had been removed.

Their cancer cells then died as they had no defence against the toxins.

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T-Cell Therapy Puts Leukemia Patients in Extended Remission


An experimental therapy has brought prolonged remissions to a high proportion of patients who were facing death from advanced leukemia after standard treatments had failed, researchers are reporting.

The therapy involves genetically programming cells from the patient’s own immune system to fight the disease.

The research included 30 patients: five adults ages 26 to 60, and 25 children and young adults ages 5 to 22. All were severely ill, with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and had relapsed several times or had never responded to typical therapies. In more than half, the disease had come back even after a stem-cell transplant, which usually gives patients the best hope of surviving. Their life expectancy was a few months, or in some cases just weeks.

Six months after being treated, 23 of the 30 patients were still alive, and 19 of them have remained in complete remission.

The study, by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, is being published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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Scientists discover new role estrogen plays in cancer growth


Estrogen may play a larger role than previously thought in the development of breast cancer.

Scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discovered that estrogen readies cells to divide, grow and, in some cases, resist breast cancer drugs.

Estrogen has already been known to promote the growth and migration of breast cancer cells.

The researchers’ work, published in the journal Oncogene, could help in the development of new breast cancer treatments and help determine which patients need the most intensive treatment.

Biochemistry professor David Shapiro and his colleagues discovered that estrogen pre-activates a cellular process called the unfolded-protein response (UPR). In healthy cells, the UPR helps cells respond to stress. But in cancerous cells, activating the pathway spurs their division and subsequent expansion, and helps the cancer cells resist anticancer drugs.

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Toxic bacteria safely shrink cancer


A bacterium that is naturally toxic to cattle, sheep, and humans can be tweaked to fight difficult-to-treat cancer tumors.

The modified version of Clostridium novyi bacterium produced strong and precisely targeted results in cancers in rats, dogs, and now a human subject, scientists report.

Before injecting spores into tumors in test subjects, researchers removed one of the bacterium’s toxin-producing genes to make it safer for therapeutic use, though it still caused side effects.

“One advantage of using bacteria to treat cancer is that you can modify these bacteria relatively easily, to equip them with other therapeutic agents, or make them less toxic as we have done here,” says Shibin Zhou, associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

In its natural form, C. novyi is found in the soil and can contaminate open wounds and cause tissue-damaging and potentially fatal infection in grazing animals and humans.

The microbe thrives only in oxygen-poor environments. That makes it suitable for destroying oxygen-starved cells in tumors that are difficult to treat with chemotherapy and radiation; at the same time, it spares nearby healthy, oxygen-rich tissue.

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