Category Archives: Promising Research

Cancer Research: It’s About Time

By William C. Phelps, PhD

 

The 1960s seems like yesterday to me.  The music, the cultural passion, and a Presidential assassination helped to sear time and place in my now gray-headed memory. During this time, two young scientists in Philadelphia, Dr. Peter Nowell from the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. David Hungerford from Fox Chase Cancer Center, spent their days peering through microscopes at white blood cells. They noticed that when they stained cells from patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (or chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML), they would very often see an odd, minute chromosome in addition to the normal set.

We know today in looking back that this was a landmark observation. Dr. Nowell and Dr. Hungerford named their discovery the “Philadelphia Chromosome” in keeping with the tradition of the day, and it soon became an important way to diagnose CML.

In the 1970s as we suffered through the disco era, Dr. Janet Rowley at the University of Chicago used newly developed techniques that highlighted different regions of chromosomes to look more carefully at the Philadelphia Chromosome. She determined that they looked odd because two large pieces of two different chromosomes had changed places. But the significance of that wasn’t immediately apparent.… Continue reading →

Why the Recent Nobel Prizes Matter

By William Chambers, PhD

 

Earlier this month, 3 immunologists were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. Two of the 3, Bruce Beutler and Ralph Steinman, are former research grantees of the American Cancer Society, bringing the total of Nobel Prize winners who are former grantees to 46. Drs. Beutler and Jules Hoffman, the third awardee, were singled out for their work on non-adaptive immunity, and Dr. Steinman was recognized for his discovery of dendritic cells, which are singularly important in adaptive immunity. So why is their work important, and what does it have to do with the fight against cancer? [more]

 

The immune system

 

The body’s defense, or immune system, is composed of both a non-adaptive response and an adaptive response. Both work to protect the body, but the non-adaptive immune system is less sophisticated or less highly evolved than the adaptive immune system.

 

Non-adaptive immunity is seen in living things that aren’t as complex as humans, such as sea urchins or worms. In these creatures, cells called phagocytes recognize, ingest, and destroy invading organisms. Those cells can also release chemical substances that help protect the animal. Phagocytes are also part of the non-adaptive immune system in humans.… Continue reading →

Funding the Best Science Helps Us All

By Otis W. Brawley, MD, FACP

From time to time, I encounter advocates for research in certain diseases. These are people who want better answers for a specific cancer. Oftentimes these folks or a relative has had that particular cancer.  They often ask, why is so little money spent on pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, or even lung cancer?   Why can’t we spend more? These are reasonable questions, and I want to try to address them in this piece. 

First I caution against what I call “disease Olympics.”  This is when advocates for one disease try to increase funding for their disease by decreasing funding for another disease. I have often seen this in my 25 years as an oncologist, researcher, and scientific administrator. I would point out that 90% of the grants that are submitted and judged worthy of funding to the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, and other research-funding organizations are not funded due only to a lack of money. I believe the wise advocate tries to get more money for all cancer research and does not try to undermine another disease in favor of the disease that he or she is interested in. [more]

The second reason to support the best scientific ideas as judged by the rigors of scientific peer review is that we can often benefit multiple diseases by funding the best science.  Indeed, one can argue that funding the best ideas in, say, lung cancer and not the better scientific idea in another cancer could possibly hold back the advancement of lung cancer research.… Continue reading →

How do we know if medicines affect cancer risk?

By Eric Jacobs, PhD

You may be wondering if you should start taking an aspirin every day, since you’ve heard that aspirin can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Or maybe your cholesterol level is a little high but you’re concerned about taking a statin pill every day because you saw an Internet article that said lowering cholesterol by taking a statin might cause cancer.

Or recently, a study came out that suggested that using the over the counter pain reliever acetaminophen at least 4 times a week for 4 years, might increase risk of certain types of blood cancers.

Medications often have unexpected long-term effects, both good and bad, that are not fully known. We’d all like to understand the full range of risks and benefits of a drug before we take it. Or at least we’d like our doctors to understand them so they can help us make well-informed decisions. [more]

Understanding the risks and benefits of medications is the goal of pharmacoepidemiology, the study of the use and effects of medications in large groups of people. Because cancer is a serious disease we all want to prevent, understanding if medications might raise or lower risk of getting cancer is especially important.… Continue reading →

Lymph node surgery for breast cancer patients—Can I get by with less?

By Debbie Saslow, PhD

 

A recent study has shown that for some women diagnosed with breast cancer, extensive lymph node surgery isn’t needed. This is great news because removal of lymph nodes in the armpit area can have debilitating and life-long side effects.

Here is a little background: In the United States, about 210,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year. Of the invasive cancers, about 30% of cases, or 63,000 cancers, will be diagnosed at the “regional stage,” which means the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes. The findings of this study are important for women in this group.

[more]

The women who participated in the study:

  • had breast cancer that had spread to the first 1 or 2 nearby lymph nodes,
  • had received treatment including lumpectomy and radiation therapy,
  • had tumors that were less than 5 cm-about 2 inches-across, and
  • did not have any lymph nodes in the armpit that could be felt during examination.

While not a requirement of the study, almost all of the women participating also had received chemotherapy after, but not before, their lumpectomy.

 

Nine hundred women participated in the study. Half had just 1 or 2 lymph nodes removed using a procedure called sentinel lymph node dissection.… Continue reading →

Is Cancer Screening Going to the Dogs?

By Ted Gansler, MD, MBA

There’s been a lot of news lately about cancer-sniffing dogs after a new study by Japanese researcher Hideto Sonoda and his colleagues was published in the medical journal Gut. So we couldn’t help but wonder, is that possible?

 

If you haven’t heard about it, the recent study suggests that specially-trained dogs can identify the scent of volatile chemicals (those that evaporate into the air at room temperature) present in colon cancer. [more]

 

In the study, a Labrador sniffed breath samples and stool samples from patients who were known to have colon cancer, which had been identified by colonoscopy and biopsy. The dog correctly recognized cancer-related scents in 91% of the breath samples and 97% of the stool samples. And amazingly, when the dog was allowed to sniff breath and stool samples from patients who didn’t have colon cancer, the dog incorrectly “diagnosed” only 1% as malignant. This study adds to a small number of other published articles showing similar results for bladder, lung, and breast cancers, and to a recent conference presentation regarding prostate cancer.

 

In addition to these experimental studies, there have been several anecdotal reports of patients whose pet dogs seemed attracted to or upset by skin and breast cancers.… Continue reading →