Sunday, July 3, 2011

Eternal life?

I know class is long over just recently ran into this article and remember a lot of people were interested in this subject, and it was an interesting read. More or less we were talking about telomeres and how they shorten over your lifespan and if you could prolong life if you were able to find a way to lengthen the telomeres. Heres a link to the article if anyone wants to read it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Thank you

Like students, professors enjoy some classes better than others. And so it is with me: I very much enjoyed our class this quarter. Thank you so much for making it fun and enjoyable, engaging and interesting. I feel like I learned quite a bit from your blogs and wikis. It was very fun teaching this class in large part because of your enthusiasm and eagerness to learn about cancer. Those of us who have devoted our lives to cancer research realize just what an incredibly pernicious and "clever" disease cancer is. I hope you came away with that appreciation as well.

One more favor if you have the time. I didn't ask for a narrative evaluation, but if you wouldn't mind commenting to this post with any constructive criticism or especially favorable insight, I would greatly appreciate it (please login as guest to preserve anonymity if you want).

Finally, let me wish you luck with your upcoming final exams. Best wishes also for a fun and relaxing summer. See you next fall.

Dr. Islas

P.S. Please feel free to blog about anything interesting you happen to read, see or hear this summer—especially if it's cancer-related. Your accounts will stay open indefinitely.

Advances in Cancer Genomics

The genetic basis behind cancer formation implies that to fully understand the disease and effectively treat it, we must first gain an extensive knowledge of the driving genetic mechanisms which bestow upon cancer its defining characteristics. Beginning with the ambitious effort put for by the Human Genome Project, gene sequencing technologies have seen enormous improvements in speed, accuracy and cost effectiveness.

Tumors Beware!

In Dr. Shwartz's lecture, she discussed how delivery was a major problem for cancer treatment. I found a science article claiming that there may be a new way to attack cancer. Cancer drugs are able to penetrate just a few cells into the tumor, but now biologists have discovered a molecule that aids cancer treatments reach deeper into tumors. This has been used only on mice so far and has yet to be tested on humans. Tumors impede drugs in two ways. First, the vessels of tumors are not permeable enough to let drugs inside. Secondly, fluid does not tend to flow towards tumors, it flows away. A new peptide called iRGD can get inside tumors when attached to a cancer drug.

My phone told me I have cancer!

I found a very interesting science article on a very innovative smart phone application that can diagnose whether a person has cancer or not. Using this device, physicians can tell within an hour whether a tumor is cancerous. This new device has advantages over the current way oncologists are diagnosing cancer; these lab tests may be uncertain and take up to a few days.
    Ralph Weissleder, a physician/ scientist, and his team at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston developed a device which acts as a tiny nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) machine. Researchers found a way to attach magnetic particles to proteins which are then picked up by the machine from an array of chemicals, similar to those found in a tumor. This device is convenient in size, being much smaller than an NMR found in a lab.

Alternative Therapies for Cancer Patients

During the extent of this quarter, I have had to do a lot of research both for my Wiki page as well as research for the blogs which I wrote. With plenty of information on different types of cancers, their treatments, prevention, and research being conducted to reduce incidence and death, I never ran into information about therapies for minimizing the discomforts of cancer and its treatment. Chemotherapy is an aggressive form of treatment which many cancer patients choose to fight against there cancer. However, because of its aggressive nature, it affects both cancerous and normal cells. One large negative side affect of chemotherapy is neutropenia, which is a reduction in white blood cells which are responsible for fighting infections. Any form of cancer and the treatments which are available are not forgiving to the human condition, and when individuals fight their battle against cancer for any extended period of time, it is only natural that they are weakened and fragile at the end of their course. Can individuals truly 'recover' from cancer after the extent of damage their body as gone through? Curious to see what options are available for both current patients and survivors, I research different forms of therapies which can help patients recover some physical as well as mental health.

A Cancerless Mammal; The Naked Mole-Rat

During my time as an employee at a vet hospital, I have seen rat after rat undergo surgery to remove massive tumors covering the body. It made me curious as to what made rats so susceptible to these tumors. My curiosity diverged me, however, to the naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) which has been identified as a cancer resistant mammal. Naked mole-rats have a very long life span compared to other rodents, some being known to live past 3o years. Since cancer is the disease of aging, it is significant that this species during its lifespan evades cancer. This species is now being further studied to determine the mechanism by which this occurs and if by understanding the process in naked mole-rats, we can potentially mimic the process the humans.

Genetically Modified Cancer?

“Many scientists claim that the ingestion of genetically engineered food is harmless. Recent evidence, however, shows that there are potential risks of eating such foods as the new proteins produced in such foods could… contain less isoflavones, an important phytoestrogen present in soybeans, believed to protect women from a number of cancers.” [1] This statement jumped out when reading it as assigned reading for another class. Genetically modified food has been met with much criticism due to its unnatural method of enhancing the rate and efficiency of agriculture. As the quote above proclaims this technology compromises the nutritional value of food and thus elevates our susceptibility to cancer, but can this be scientifically proven?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sorry not about Cancer, but something interesting about Schizophrenia

“Postnatal NMDA receptor ablation in corticolimbic interneurons confers schizophrenia-like phenotypes” is an extremely fascinating article. The article is about postnatal inhibition of NMDAR activity in the corticolimbic GABAergic interneurons in mice causing the mice to have symptoms of schizophrenia. There is NR1 subunit of the NMDAR receptors which was selected for deletion, but not all the NMDAR receptors loss the function of the NR1. Only 40-50% of the NR1 subunit of the NMDAR receptors was deleted in the cortical and hippocampal intereneurons in mice. The reason for the deletion of NR1 is that they are assessing their theory that schizophrenia is not a hyperfunction, but a hypofunction of the interneurons.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In with the Old Drugs

Cisplatin, a commonly used chemotherapeutic, has always had a severe side effect. Although a potent chemotherapy drug, cisplatin has been known to cause severe kidney damage, leading to renal failure in many patients that take the drug. Although previously, doctors simply measured creatinine levels to gauge whether the nephrotoxic effects were taking place and tried to counteract them when they were found, now there may be a solution to this side effect. The Journal of Clinical Investigation recently published an article in which they articulate that using another drug in concert with cisplatin can help reduce renal damage. Researchers found that by inhibiting PKC-δ, the damages to the kidney were significantly reduced.

The Perfect Human Size (according to science!)

It's common knowledge that one's physical fitness is generally a good indicator of his or her health. People who are overweight are at many heightened health risks, when compared to their fitter counterparts, including: heart attack, stroke, joint/muscle pain, and numerous others, including cancer. Indeed, in the wonderful presentation from last Friday about the risk factors of pancreatic cancer, diet and obesity were two of the main points that were presented. Thus, when I read one particular article by the NIH, entitled, "NIH study identifies ideal body mass index;  Overweight and obesity associated with increased risk of death", my interest was piqued. I think that having a  
specific goal that people can shoot for is wonderful- having a target like, "losing five pounds of fat" is usually much more feasible and effective than an abstract goal, like "getting in shape."


Tumor-cell detector, using carbon nanotubes... Impressive Innovation!

It seems that everyday there is something new about cancer. I am definitely astonished by all the different types of devices that are used to detect cancer cells in different parts of our bodies. Just to name a couple, there are Positron Emission Tomography (PET), lasers, electronic nose, and Canon’s advanced breast scanner detector. But most recently, there has been one device that has impressed many doctors and scientists.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cell phone’s radiation, a possible carcinogen…

A couple hours ago as I talked to my parents on the phone about how interesting this course has been throughout the quarter, my father pointed out to me that a friend of his had told him about prolonged cell phone use leading to some type of brain cancer. I was really skeptical at first about this information, but I knew that there could be some kind of relation between cell phone use and cancer because of the electromagnetic radiation (on the electromagnetic spectrum between FM radio waves and microwave) transmitted by the antennas.

Your Cell Phone and Cancer

Just calling dibs, on this story just in case, will write the blog when im not busy getting the presentation ready.

Ethics in Bone Marrow Transplant

There are many reasons for having children, but the most peculiar reason to have another baby is to save an already sick child. Before I start talking about the article, here is some background information about leukemia. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The identifying characteristic of the disease is the out of control accumulation of blood cells.

There are four types: acute myelogenous, acute lymphocytic, chronic myelogenous, and chronic lymphocytic. Acute means advance quickly and chronic means progress slowly. Myelogenous refers to marrow cells that are precursors to red blood cells, platelets, and some white blood cells. Lymphocytic refers to marrow cells that lead to lymphocytes. The broad overview of the disease mechanism is that the cancerous cells originate in the bone marrow, undergo a change, and divide until they overcrowd the healthy, normal cells.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Adaptive Therapy for an Adaptive Disease

At the moment, the future of cancer research seems to be centered in the field of targeted chemotherapy. However, it is evident that currently neither conventional nor targeted chemotherapies will suffice against resilient tumors. Conventional therapies generally aim for maximum cell death in the shortest amount of time using fixed regimens of drugs designed to eliminate as much of the tumor mass as possible under tolerable levels of toxicity to the patient. However, our perception of cancer has begun to change.

Finding Pancreatic Cancer's Kryptonite

I have spent a good portion of the past three months researching pancreatic cancer as part of this course. Over this period of time, I've learned so much about the causes, risks, treatments, and prognoses of the disease, and to be honest, the overall outlook is pretty bleak. 80% of patients die within a year a diagnosis, and 95% die within five years. The cancer itself is incredibly hard to detect, and according to The Hirschberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, "fewer than 10% of patients' tumors are confined to the pancreas at the time of diagnosis." Metastatic tumors are even more detrimental to one's health, and are difficult to operate on- often requiring removal of surrounding organs' tissues.

Is EGCG, an antioxidant, the cure for cancer...?

As I explain in my last blog entry, green tea’s polyphenols (i.e. EGCG) are being studied intensively because of their possible cancer fighting activity in cancer cells. In laboratory experiments with animals, it has been shown that EGCG might be able to inhibit limitless replication potential, evasion of programmed death, sustained angiogenesis, and tumor cell invasiveness in cancer cells. Various studied have shown that EGCG might possibly “inhibit mitogen activation protein kinases, the activation of activator protein-1, and cell transformation” (Hou et al.).

Endoxifen: The New Breast Cancer Treatment?

Thanna and Katelyn's presentation on the effects of Tamoxifen prompted my curiosity concerning a metabolite of Tamoxifen, Endoxifen. As we learned in their presentation, Tamoxifen is metabolized into Endoxifen within the body through the activity of cytochrome P450 enzymes, namely CYP3A4 and CYP2D6. Unfortunately, women who are deficient in this enzyme are unable to reap the full benefits of Tamoxifen.

Sunscreen and Skin Cancer in Patients After Transplant

From the pervious blog, we learned that there is a high risk of getting skin cancer, -especially squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC)- for organ transplant recipients (OTR). That is mainly because of taking immunosuppressant medications after surgery. Now, the question is: Can we decrease the rate of skin cancer after transplant surgery? Is there any specific prevention method for skin cancer in OTR patients? Is sunscreen preventive?

Studies show that: “After a transplant, there is generally a lag time of 3-7 years before skin cancers begin to develop. This period of time may vary depending upon individual risk factors. The longer a person takes immunosuppressant medications, the greater the risk of skin cancer. In temperate climates 40% of fairskinnned patients develop skin cancer within 20 years after transplantation. In warmer climates, up to 70% of fair-skinned patients develop skin cancer within 20 years after transplant. Therefore, Sun protection is one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer. Unfortunately only 54% of transplant patients remember receiving skin cancer education and only 40% regularly use sunscreen.”

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Next-Generation Chemotherapy Delivery

When Dr. Schwartz gave her wonderful guest lecture in class a few weeks ago, she discussed at length some of the obstacles to drug development research. One of these issues, delivery, was especially intriguing to me, because there was definitive progress to make in the area. Until doctors are able to deliver chemicals directly to the tumor and no where else in the body, delivery can be improved. This prompted me to look into some of the new and up-and-coming technologies in the area.


Living With Cancer

We've focused on the molecular, cellular, and medicinal aspects of cancer in this class quite a bit. What we haven't focused on is the human element. Since most of the class wants to be medical doctors, we, as students, have an interest in the human element or we wouldn't be in this class, attempting to understand how cancer works.

We've learned the hallmarks of cancer, how cancer develops, grows, and metastasizes. We learned the genetic causes of cancer and explored how tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes make the cell cycle go haywire. We looked at treatments: radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy.

But what happens after treatment? Not every cancer is immediately fatal. Most cancer patients make a slow transition from being a cancer victim to cancer survivor. In 2005, the Institute of Medicine focused on this journey in a report. Accompanying that report was a short film.

Can Supplements be Harmful to Your Health?

Recently I have added many additional supplements into my diets and in doing so I like to do my research on the effects of these supplements. While doing so I found some alarming accusations and studies that supported that a few of the supplements that I take could lead to cancer, usually kidney, liver, and colon cancer to be specific. Most of the arguments made sense seeing as how most of them argued that the body would have a harder time processing these supplements then regular food and this would stress these organs, which would lead to cancer. I will list a few of the supplements that I did research on and talk about if this theory is true or not.

The Safer Cigarette

I found the most fascinating article. The article is about the elevated risk of lung cancer in American men compared to Japanese men. It is interesting article because there is a higher smoking prevalence in Japanese men, but they have a lower risk of lung cancer compared to American men.

Exporting Death

I am big fan of the Daily Show and I was watching a segment about asbestos. At the end of the segment I realized that I do not know what is asbestos. The only thing that I know about asbestos is that it causes mesothelioma and I know that because of the law attorney commercials about asbestos. So, I did some research what is asbestos. Apparently asbestos is a mineral fiber that is used in building construction materials for insulation and fire-retardant. Asbestos is commonly seen as a white material, but it can be brown or blue in its natural state. However, this material is a carcinogen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Eating Our Way Out of Cancer with Strawberries

In the Health section of ABC News, I found an article—Could Cancer Prevention Be As Easy As Eating Strawberries?—claiming that consuming strawberries may help to prevent esophageal cancer because an experiment seemed to prove so. In the experiment, researchers administered 60 grams of freeze-dried strawberries daily for 6 months to 36 patients with precancerous lesions. Afterwards, it was observed that the “growth of lesions slowed significantly in 29 out of the 36 [patients].” Below is a video of ABC’s coverage on the experiment. While ABC, the researchers, as well as I, find the effects of eating strawberries very fascinating, further study is absolutely necessary to draw concrete conclusions [1].

Monday, May 23, 2011

Man's Best Friend: How Purebreds Can Help Understand Cancer

Each year the American Kennel Club hosts the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship for owners or purebred dogs to come and compete. Awards such as the Canine Excellence award not only earn you and your dog a fancy shining metal, but the winner also receives a cash of $1000. Not a bad reason to want to own a purebred. It turns out though that purebreds are much more valuable than a family pet or award winning competitor in dog shows. Studying the genetic genomes of purebred dogs can help in the fight against cancer by allowing scientists to better understand which genes are associated with specific cancers as well as other diseases.

They betrayed us! White Blood Cells that is...

A Cancer biologist at Yale University, John Pawelek, might have found a very interesting thought on how cancers metastasize. While reading a cancer journal he came across an idea suggested by Czech scientists stating that tumor cells and white blood cells fuse together to make a hybrid. At the time he was reading a book by Lynn Margulis, an evolutionary biologist, who suggested the idea that ancient cells engulfed each other in order to improve the chances for survival. He was interested by the connection and thus started researching and experimenting with cancer and white blood cells. In 15 years of studies, he was able to confirm that cancer cells do in fact fuse with white blood cells, also known as macrophages, and become highly metastatic. He took weak metastatic cancer cell and fused them with mouse white blood cells. The results were astonishing.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Heat Shock Proteins and Cancer

A research paper—“Thermal Biology of the Deep-sea Vent Annelid Paralvinella grasslei: In Vivo Studies”— from Animal Physiology class found worms living in hot deep-sea vents, that can reach about 100°C at times, to produce HSP70 in response to their extreme environment. HSP70 stands for a family of heat shock proteins which protect the worms by preventing their proteins from being denatured in stressful conditions. Immediately, I found this information to be very interesting. If we as humans also produce heat shock proteins—which we do, can they help us fight against cancer by protecting our proteins from damage? Cancer often involves genetic mutations and thus protein malfunctions; can heat shock proteins possibly play a role somewhere in scheme of the Central Dogma of Biology?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

You Wouldn't Want Your Kids to Get Cancer Too.

File:Autosomal Dominant Pedigree Chart.svgResearchers at the Mayo Clinic have developed a new screening procedure to detect whether colorectal cancer patients under 50 have Lynch Syndrome. Lynch Syndrome, formerly known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, causes anywhere from 3,200 to 11,200 new cases a year of colorectal cancer. It often causes earlier onset of colorectal polyps which are more likely to become cancerous than in people without Lynch Syndrome. Lynch Syndrome is a dominant genetic disorder that disrupts the genes any of the MLH1, MSH2, MSH6, and PMS2 genes. These genes are involved in repairing DNA that was copied wrong during replication. Since DNA repair is an important part of the cell cycle, with defects in any of these genes, mitosis will continue despite the mistakes in the newly synthesized DNA. This often leads to mutations in the daughter cell and over time, these mutations will lead to tumor growth.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vitamin E Supplements: Good, Bad or Neither?

When I turned on the T.V. the other day, the Dr. Oz Show was on. Usually the show doesn’t interest me but today he had a segment called “5 Wrong Turns That Lead To Cancer”. His number one most common thing that we do that leads to cancer was taking too much vitamin E supplements. I instantly became interested since I often take supplements.
He explained that vitamin E is a known antioxidant, but large amounts of vitamin E will act as an anti-antioxidant and damage DNA which leads to cancer. A recent study says moderate to high doses of vitamin E led to a "slight but significant increase" in lung cancer risk. Even the American Cancer Society recommends that cancer patients avoid the use of supplements.

Are You Eating Your Way to Cancer?

Recently I have had to monitor and adjust my diet, and a part of doing this is doing research on the kinds of food that I eat. While doing came across a very alarming web post. In the post it listed a few food additives and preservatives that have been linked to being carcinogens. Many food that we eat each day are filled with these substances and you very well not even know about it and it has even passed FDA inspections. First I would like to point out that these reports are highly debated and there are many disagreements on a few of these additives/preservatives being linked to cancer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

From Good to Bad

After learning about onocognes in class, I became interested in their role in glioblastoma. After doing some research, I came across this article. The article is about the role of c-Myc in cancer cells. The hypothesis is that c-Myc in cancer cells contribute in cancer cell proliferation and growth. The article mentions that the role c-Myc plays for cancer cells is the same role it played for normal cells, sounds like c-Myc switched over to the bad side. The reduced levels of c-Myc indicate that they were incapable of supporting growth, survival, proliferation, and tumorigenesis of glioma cancer stem cells. The reduced cells of c-Myc shows weakening of cancer cells, so this would be a great target for treatment for glioblastoma.

GICs-Glioma Intitiating Cells

I have recently finished reading a fascinating article. One of the problems of treating glioblastoma is that it comes back. Remember that glioblastoma is a malignant tumor. When the tumor does come back, it comes back with vengeance and it makes it more difficult to remove the new tumor that has been formed. The cancer cells that are involved in recurrence of gliomas is glioma-initiating cells (GICs), also note that GICs are also involved in the initiation of gliomas. Ideally the best therapeutic drug to stop glioblastoma is to target the GICs. However little is known of the molecular mechanism of the GIC. The paper’s initial hypothesis is that TGF-β and LIF have role in the regulation of GICs in glioblastoma. TGF-β is an interesting protein because in normal epithelial cells it acts as an antiproliferative factor, a tumor suppressor. However in glioblastoma the protein becomes an oncogenic factor. Leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) is a protein in cells that affects cell development and growth. The image is of a LIF protein.

Targeted Cancer Therapies: Just "Plugging the Holes"?

An article published this year in Science Magazine titled "Combining Targeted Drugs to Stop Resistant Tumors" outlines the current battle being waged by drug companies and oncologists to come up with "Targeted Chemotherapies" to inhibit pathways associated with specific types of cancer or specific mutated proteins.

Conventional chemotherapy normally targets quickly proliferating cells throughout the body. While this is a somewhat effective strategy, it creates side effects which render the therapy almost as debilitating as the disease. Targeted chemotherapies are designed to affect aspects of a tumor's molecular machinery which are crucial to its survival. For example, a recently developed drug called Tarceva acts to inhibit EGFR (Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor) by associating with the ATP binding site on EGFR tyrosine kinases in patients suffering from non-small cell lung cancers. While this approach has seen moderate levels of success, cancer has proven to be a more resilient target than initially anticipated.

Monday, May 16, 2011

“Light” and “Low-Tar” Cigarettes

The tobacco industry gave the wrong impression about “light” and “low-tar” cigarettes to governments, health professionals and most importantly, smokers for a long time. In fact, the goal of tobacco industry by designing "light" and "low-tar" cigarettes was to convince health-concerned smokers to switch cigarette brands rather than quit. For decades, people were lead to this belief that “light cigarettes delivered less tar and nicotine and that therefore ‘lights’ were less harmful than regular cigarettes.” Today, it is clear that light cigarettes are not less harmful than regular cigarettes, and they have not decreased the risk of lung cancer among smokers. There is no evidence that light and low-tar smokers reduce their risk of cancer or heart disease. “In a cancer prevention study of nearly 1 million people in the U.S. the risk of lung cancer was no different among people who smoked medium-tar, low-tar, or very low-tar cigarettes.” Tobacco which is one of the hazardous chemicals in light cigarettes contains a complex mixture of numerous mutagens and carcinogens.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Radiation at a Nuclear Proportion

This blog was inspired when I came across an article (don’t remember the name) in a random magazine while at the hospital waiting to get my ankle x-rayed. What intrigued me was that it showed a picture of an atomic bomb going off and when I opened the magazine to read the article it talked about radioactive fallout and the history of the Bikini Islands

A short history about the Bikini Islands is that it is a chain of remote islands around a lagoon, and was first inhabited by natives who lived peacefully off the land. During 1946 the United States military determined that these Island were a perfect fit and location for their nuclear tests and decided to move the approximate 161-197 natives to another island named Rongerik Atoll. After this 10 “Ghost Ships” which had aboard then lambs and pigs were placed near these island and Operation Crossroad commenced. These operations were a series of 23 nuclear test one of which, was a Hydrogen Bomb in 1954. The power of a Hydrogen Bomb is 1000 times more powerful than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. When these tests were done, a few islanders were allowed to return to their island in 1968, but were soon evacuated by 1978 when it was found that because of the radioactivity left by the nuclear test left the island to dangerous.

How Does the 6th Hallmark of Cancer Happen?

Nine months ago my eleven-year-old dog underwent a massive surgery when a soccer-ball-sized tumor ruptured on his spleen (The x-ray is difficult to see). While his veterinarian showed me the x-ray of his chest cavity, the veterinarian explained that he suspected my dog had a visceral hemangiosarcoma. With my dog rapidly internally bleeding, my family and I made the decision to have the tumor removed. The one condition, however, was that my dog would be euthanized if the veterinarian saw signs of metastasis during surgery.

The Cure! Race for a Drug Therapy for Cancer

As we learned in class, cancer has evolved to manipulate the cell cycle and all of its components to ensure its survival. Despite the cell cycle containing multiple corrective methods to prevent the occurrence of tumors, cancer cells have a way of avoiding the detection of normal tumor suppressors and encouraging activation of proto-oncogenes, among other hallmarks. Due to the aggressive nature of cancer cells, it has been difficult to provide cancer patients with effective treatment that would not cause adverse reactions. It has also been a challenge to treat all cancer patients indiscriminately as each cancer type is affected by various locations within a normal pathway and certain cancers have an affinity to certain cell types. The discussion for an ultimate cure of more than one type cancer has become a possibility. A recent article published in Nature Medicine describes the development of the first Hedgehog inhibitor cancer drug.
According to the article, a phase II trial led by Ervin Epstein found that participants with Basal Cell Carcinoma Nevus Syndrome (BCCNS) taking vismodegib developed only 4 new tumors on average within a year compared to 24 new tumors in the control group. Coincidentally participants in the vismodegib group witnessed a reduction in size of existing skin lesions while those in the control group witnessed growth in size. This drug was not only proven effective in BCCNS patients, but also in patients affected with pancreatic cancer, medulloblastoma, and “17 other types of cancer”.

Tylenol- Reduces pain, but causes cancer?

Acetaminophen, or as it is known in it's most common over-the-counter medicinal form, Tylenol, is one of the most commonly used analgesics and antipyretics in the world. Its low cost, effectiveness in reducing symptoms and versatility make it a staple in the medicinal cabinets of many homes. The exact biochemical mechanisms which acetaminophen utilizes to reduce pain, fever, and inflammation are still being researched and discussed today, but it has been well-established that it oxidizes the COX-2 enzyme, which ordinarily produces chemicals that promote inflammation. Via oxidation, the enzyme is inactivated, leading to reduced inflammation and fever in the body.

<-- Acetaminophen chemical structure, from

However, there are certainly some health risks associated with the use of acetaminophen, especially when used in excess. The Journal of Arthritis Research and Therapy published an article concluding that high dose-usage (2000 mg+/day) has been associated with stomach and other gastrointestinal bleeding. Additionally, acetaminophen users are at risk for overdose, which can cause acute liver failure and death, according to The Journal of Hepatology. However, the risks associated with prolonged acetaminophen use may be far greater than previously known, according to recent research.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Something different to think about...

Our class has done a great job at delving into the biology of cancer, whether it's understanding how it works at a cellular level, studying the risks of its therapies, or critiquing the latest claim that something either cures or causes cancer. This is a biology class, afterall, and most of us intend to be scientists, doctors, and researchers, so that is certainly an important angle of the disease to study. But I was scouring the internet today to find something interesting to write about for my last blog post and, in the process, came across a page on the NY Times website entitled "Picture Your Life After Cancer". Quite literally, the page was just that: a montage of photos posted by people who've been affected by cancer in some manner. I know I personally get wrapped up in the science of cancer and get excited to talk about what is really going on in someone's body, but I don't think if you were to ask an affected patient what cancer meant to them, they would tell you about tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes; when I talk to my own mother, who is a cancer survivor, I don't do it in the terminology of kinases or mutagens. I suggest looking at the montage or trying to find some other personal stories of cancer on the internet; we need to be more careful to remember that cancer more importantly affects people than it does cells.

Scientists Cure Cancer?

As all good college students do, I logged onto to facebook in procrastination and found a comment
by a friend with a link saying, "Is this a legitimate solution?"

I read the article and all I could think was "I want to blog about this!"
The article describes a University of Alberta lab who are using the drug, dicholoracetate (DCA), to kill cancer cells. Dichloroacetic is an inhibitor of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase, which activates pyruvate dehydrogenase. This promotes the use of oxidative phosphorylation in the mitochondria, over glycolysis. Reactivating the mitochondria also reactivates apoptosis, killing the cancer cells.

So far, DCA has been tested in human lung, breast, and brain cancer cells. DCA killed the cancer cells and left the normal cells alone. In contrast to chemotherapy, DCA is selective for cancer cells and has seemingly no health effects. Studies have also been done in rats with several tumors. After drinking DCA spiked water, the rats' tumors shrank. Upon further reading, I found that DCA is in phase II of clinical trials for potential cancer treatment.

The original paper was published in Cancer Cell. This provides more in depth information as to why inactivation of the mitochondria inactivates apoptosis and vice versa. The tumor shrinkage for the rats drinking DCA water is very well illustrated.

Activating the Notch...

Scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute are studying a signaling pathway that may be related to the onset of various diseases and different types of cancers, among those being leukemia. The Notch signaling pathway is responsible for cell to cell tissue communication in adult and embryonic cells, which regulates gene mechanisms in all metazoans. Notch is a protein that sits on the cell's surface and in response to chemical signals outside of the cell, activates a cascade signal into the cell. Iannis Aifantis, while doing research on this pathway on mice, realized that upon the inhibition of Notch, the mice developed chronic myelomonycitc leukemia (CMML), which is a very uncommon type of cancer in the white blood cells. Ironically, when this pathway is overreactive it will cause the onset of another type of leukemia, T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In order to test his theory, Aifantis and his colleagues shut down all the bone-marrow notch signaling pathways in mice and the presence of CMML was seen. Amazingly, after re-activating the pathway, the leukemia would disappear completely. In order to see if this worked with humans, he grew a number of human bone marrow stem cells which had ligands that bound to and activated the notch pathway. Surely enough, when notch was deactivated these ligands were shut down and diseases that were precancerous ensued. This research has lead to a new form of targeting myeloid leukemias and drug companies along side of Iannis Aifantis are racing against time to find a drug that can activate the notch signaling pathway.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Virtual Colonoscopy

It’s the word that any 50+ year old cringes at when said: colonoscopy. This invasive exam is usually performed by inserting a long, flexible tube (colonoscope) into the rectum in order to check for polyps that may be cancerous. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Yet, only half the people who should be screened actually are due mostly to the discomfort of the procedure.

Recently, a new procedure has started to gain popularity. A virtual colonoscopy (or CT colonography) uses CT scanning equipment to produce high quality pictures of the colon. It uses a much smaller tube which is only inserted 2 to 3 inches into the rectum for half a minute. The tube is much shorter than other colonoscopy procedures and doesn’t require sedation. And, research has provided substantial evidence that virtual colonoscopy is equally able to detect normal sized polyps as fecal occult blood testing, barium enema, and sigmoidoscopy which are the three major colonoscopy procedures.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Return of Cancer...Thanks to Surgery?

Surgical removal of a tumor has been called the "cornerstone of treatment" for many cancers. In the case of breast cancer, women may choose to undergo partial or total mastectomies (the removal of one or both breasts) in order to completely remove the cancerous cells from the body. Such surgery dramatically increases survival rates for the majority of patients; however, recent research has shown a peak in reoccurring malignancies in patients who undergo surgery. For example, a study preformed by the British Journal of Cancer in 2001 showed that survival was much greater in breast cancer patients who decided to have surgery. However, eight years later, those same patients had a higher risk of reoccurring metastasis than their counterparts who did not treat their cancer with surgery. The medical journal Annals of Surgery published an article in 2009 claiming that surgery created an "environment" within the body that made it easier for cancer cells to metastasize.

Evidence for this theory was gathered from an examination of fluids that drained from the surgical sites. In these fluids, there was found to be various mitogenic factors normally associated with the wound healing process. Within these, scientist also found mitogenic factors that have been known to trigger breast cancer proliferation. In light of this discovery, further research has uncovered various mechanisms of how surgery induced cancer metastasis.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Transplant and Skin Cancer

Why do heart transplants lead to skin cancer?

Almost half of all patients with heart transplant get skin cancer. Because those patients continuously use immune suppressant drugs after implant surgery to prevent their body from rejecting the organ. One of the risks of using immune suppressant drugs is development of skin cancer. Also, according to the book Skin Disease in Organ Transplantaion by Bradley T. MD Kovach and Thomas MD Stasko: “As more transplants are performed and postoperative survival improves, the complications of chronic immunosuppression, including development of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), have become more prevalent.” Other study proves that: “The level of immunosuppression should be kept as low as possible consistent with survival and function of the transplanted organ.”

Sunday, May 8, 2011

SmartMeters, a source of cancer?

According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News the instillation of SmartMeters has raised health concerns among many residents in California, 31 cities have written official letters to representatives in initiation of a ban. These residents are skeptical about the radiation emitted from the device and believe it may significantly increase the risk of cancer.
A little information about the device before we go further into the investigation on this concern-SmartMeters, an innovation introduced by PG&E to replace analog meters, is intended to improve energy usage and reliability of safety for costumers. The goal is to create a “home area network” which will transmit wireless information about the energy usage of major appliances, monitor natural gas use, send energy alerts through email, text or phone to locate customers with power outages and encourage low-energy usage, and possibly even enable costumers to activate their alarm system with their cell phones. The SmartMeter is serving as a high-tech energy management tool for customers to conceptualize an effective plan before a bill is received. However, along with any other advancement in technology there are repercussions that are not considered in the excitement of an innovative tool.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Chemoprevention: A Case Study

To fully discern whether or not chemoprevention is the right option for a person who is at risk for cancer, all factors of that person's life must be explored in addition to the risk factor.

For example, our group has been in contact with a woman who is at risk for breast cancer. She is a premenopausal 46 year old woman. She leads a healthy lifestyle: low stress, low fat diet, little alcohol, and she does yoga. She has two half sisters, one from her mother and one from her father. Both have breast cancer. She also has some relatives including her grandmother on her father's side who had breast cancer later in life. She gets more frequent breast exams because of her family history and the fact that she has fibrocystic disease. She has also never had children. It is unlikely that she has the BRCA mutations.

Because of her family history increases her risk of breast cancer three fold[1], her doctor suggested Tamoxifen a few years ago. She was reluctant to take a prescription drug for five years. Because the side effects seemed like she would go into menopause early, Tamoxifen did not seem like the right choice for her since she is premenopausal. She feels that taking Tamoxifen would cause hormonal changes that would be unnatural, such as starting menopause early. The closer she gets to menopause the more she is reconsidering, but questions lingers in her mind:

Does Tamoxifen cause menopause early?

Is Tamoxifen effective in premenopausal women?

Urine-- Just a nasty drink or a possible cure?

Seven years ago, when my grandfather was diagnosed with liver cancer, some family friends suggested he try drinking his own urine on a daily basis. They claimed that they had heard this unique method to be an effective cure to cancer— all it would require was urine and some courage and endurance. Even though Grandpa was intent on fighting for his survival, he was not completely ready to accept and try out every proposal; in all honesty, he was a little spooked out by the notion. Well, Grandpa passed away a few months later in the summer of 2003, and it was not until yesterday that I actually remembered and decided to research about the urine-drinking remedy— once so odd to Grandpa as well as to me.

The use of one's own urine to cure diseases such as cancer is scientifically referred to as urotherapy or urine therapy [1]. There is no proper way for urotherapy, as actions can range from drinking urine, as was suggested to Grandpa; to injecting urine into the circulatory system; to rubbing it over the skin [1]. Urine therapy is recognized by the Asian, Indian, Greek, and Mexican cultures as well as some individuals in the Western world; yet, it is not a conventional method administered or purported by Western doctors [1]. Presumably, urotherapy is a controversial treatment for cancer, and the following will provide an analysis of the pro and con arguments found from my research regarding the use of urine.

Cancer and Corruption?

When I saw the American Cancer Society’s new line of commercials featuring celebrities singing Happy Birthday in celebration to those fighting cancer, I was touched. On their website, their mission seems clear; to eradicate cancer as a major health problem. More with more investigation, I found problems, huge problems, with the American Cancer Society. Groups such as The Cancer Prevention Coalition are saying the American Cancer Society is a corrupt corporation who is "more interested in acquiring wealth then saving lives." - Chronicle of Philanthropy.

According to James Bennett, a professor of economics at George Mason University who tracks charitable organizations, the American Cancer Society (ACS) held a fund balance of over $400 million with about $69 million worth of holdings in real estate, office buildings, and equipment in 1988. ("How raw land helps us find a cure for cancer or helps cancer victims is an enigma I can't fathom," says Bennett.) Of that money, the ACS spent only $90 million on medical research and related programs. That is barely a quarter of their budget. His lecture to the Cancer Control Society against the ACS can be read here.