The Blog

Scientists find potential loophole in pancreatic cancer defenses

i Mar 27th No Comments by

Cancer cells are known to “rewire” their metabolic circuits differently from normal cells to provide energy for cancerous growth. A study published today in Nature reveals that pancreatic tumor cells are dependent on an amino acid, glutamine, which they utilize via a molecular pathway that has no apparent backup system.

“Pancreatic cancer cells have painted themselves into a metabolic bottleneck,” said Dana-Farber’s Alec Kimmelman, MD, PhD, co-senior author of the publication with Lewis Cantley, PhD, of Weill Cornell Medical College. Their research showed “that if you suppress any enzyme in that pathway, the cancer cells cannot effectively compensate and they can no longer grow,” Kimmelman said.

Moreover, the investigators said, this novel glutamine pathway in pancreatic tumors does not appear to be important for normal cells, suggesting that inhibitor drugs could block cancer cells’ growth without harming healthy tissues and organs.

“We don’t have a drug to do this in humans,” Kimmelman said, “but we are working on inhibitors of enzymes in the glutamine pathway.”

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Study: Bitter melon toxic to pancreatic cancer cells

i Mar 27th No Comments by

A new study has shown that the juice of bitter melon, a commonly eaten vegetable in Asia and Africa, markedly suppresses the growth of pancreatic tumors in mice by disrupting the cancer cells’ metabolism of glucose, and literally starving them of the sugar they need to survive.

Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is widely cultivated and eaten across Southeast Asia, Africa, China, Japan, Oceania and even in the Caribbean.  Although eaten for centuries, bitter melon’s many health benefits (anti-viral, antioxidant, anti-diabetes) have only recently come to light in Western medicine, with research on its anti-cancer potential sharply accelerating in just the last four years. Bitter melon has now shown activity against cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, liver, stomach and naso-pharynx, as well as leukemia and neuroblastoma. But not until this latest study has it been shown that bitter melon is also cytotoxic to pancreatic cancer – and potently so.

Researchers at University of Colorado Cancer Center prepared bitter melon juice by simply purchasing the melons (Chinese variety) from a local grocery store, removing pulp and seeds, then using a household juicer. Solids were removed, and the remaining juice was either tested directly on cell cultures, or freeze dried and ground into a fine powder to be used later for feeding to mice.

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Jack Andraka, 15, invents test for early detection of pancreatic cancer

i Mar 23rd No Comments by

The method for detecting pancreatic cancer hasn’t changed in nearly 60 years, but thanks to online research, a curious mind and an appetite for science, 15-year-old Jack Andraka of Crownsville, Md., invented a breakthrough, noninvasive method for detecting the deadly disease.

Andraka’s invention won him the Gordon E. Moore Award from Intel this year, along with $75,000 in scholarship funds, which proves that science isn’t just cool, it also pays.

The Gordon E. Moore Award, named for Intel’s retired chairman/CEO, honors one student finalist for his or her outstanding and innovative research and for the potential impact that work would have in the field and on the world at large. But he wasn’t always so sure his invention would earn him the top prize.

“You look around in the medical category, and it’s insane what people are doing,” Andraka says of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in which he was competing. “I was walking up and down the aisle and getting less and less confident. One girl created a new way to detect breast cancer using the computer. Mammography is really painful and invasive, but her method was noninvasive.”

In the end, Andraka’s invention prevailed, and he accepted the “Best in Category” award with an emotional display more typical of an Oscar winner.

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Pitt analysis of 4 smartphone apps for evaluating melanoma finds many errors

i Mar 23rd No Comments by

Diagnosing skin cancer via smartphone?

Perhaps there should not be an app for that.

A study by the University of Pittsburgh evaluated four smartphone apps that evaluate melanoma by analyzing images submitted by the users.

One app functions by having a board-certified dermatologist look at the photos, while the other three apps analyze the photos by computer algorithm.

The best-performing of the computer-driven apps missed 30 percent of the melanoma cases, while the worst-performing missed 93 percent, according to the Pitt review.

The app that used actual physicians to diagnose the melanomas worked well, correctly identifying more than 98 percent of the submitted images.

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New device can diagnose melanoma with a flash of light

i Mar 23rd No Comments by

It is widely accepted that early cancer detection not only offers the best possible chances for successful treatment, but also saves health care costs and a large overburden to the health care system.

Innovations in the methods for early detection and treatment have helped to decrease overall US cancer mortality rates.  Some notable exceptions to the general decline of cancer rates are melanoma of the skin, cancers of the liver, pancreas, and uterus.  It is estimated that in the United States 76,250 men and women (44,250 men and 32,000 women) will be diagnosed with and 9,180 men and women will have died of melanoma of the skin in 2012.  That’s a slightly higher than 1 person every hour of every day in the US that dies of melanoma.

Whether you are a highly trained dermatologist using a dermatoscope (a magnifying lens with a light source) or even high-technology multispectral imaging systems or just performing a low-technology self exam in the comfort of your own home – using eyeballs alone to make a decision based on morphological assessment of a suspicious mole can confuse the best of them.

Few technological advances have been developed to help augment subjective visual diagnosis for early skin cancer detection. A new device has been developed in Canada using a real-time laser system called Raman spectroscopy.

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Immune-Cell therapy could strengthen promising melanoma treatment

i Mar 23rd 1 Comment by

A new study of genetically modified immune cells by scientists from UCLA and the California Institute of Technology could help improve a promising treatment for melanoma, an often fatal form of skin cancer.

The research, which appears March 21 in the advance online edition of the journal Cancer Discovery, was led by James Heath, a member of UCLA’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Heath is a professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at UCLA and also holds the Elizabeth W. Gilloon Chair in Chemistry at Caltech.

The melanoma treatment uses T cells — immune cells that play a major role in fighting infection — taken from patients with melanoma. The cells are then genetically modified in the laboratory so that when they are reintroduced into a patient’s bloodstream, they specifically attack melanoma tumors. In early clinical trials, this treatment was shown to shrink tumors dramatically in many patients, but the positive effects were often short-lived.

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Cancer Dream Teams: Road to a Cure?

i Mar 21st No Comments by

Group-think is that latest trend in cancer research.   TIME Magazine’s cover story this week explains why such team efforts are becoming a necessity, and why it hasn’t always been this way.

Scientists used to think they knew a lot about how cancer works, and they do. But only over the last couple of years, led by major advances in genomics, have they been able to truly understand the biological workings of this leading killer. And the knowledge has been both helpful and humbling.

Cancer, it turns out, is way more complex than many scientists imagined. And it has raised the question of whether the research paradigm we use to attack cancer needs an overhaul.  Group science may be the better model for fighting cancer over the traditional approach of a narrowly focused investigator beavering away, one small grant at a time.

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Melanoma drug succeeds in late-stage trial

i Mar 20th No Comments by

A cancer drug based on a tumor-killing virus has for the first time succeeded in a late-stage clinical trial, giving a lift to a technology that has long tantalized doctors and researchers.

Amgen, which is developing the drug, said late Tuesday that it had met the primary goal of a Phase 3 clinical trial in patients with advanced melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.

In the trial, 16 percent of the patients who had the treatment, called talimogene laherparepvec, or TVEC, experienced a significant shrinkage of their tumors that lasted at least six months. That compared with only 2 percent of the patients in a control group.

Amgen said that while people getting TVEC were living longer, it was too early to say definitively whether the drug had improved survival, something that might be known late this year. A company spokeswoman said it was also too early to say if Amgen would file for regulatory approval based on the trial results.

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Lymphoseek approved in US for melanoma, breast cancer

i Mar 13th No Comments by

A novel receptor-targeted radioactive tracer for intraoperative lymphatic mapping (ILM) — technetium Tc 99m tilmanocept (Lymphoseek, Navidea Biopharmaceuticals) — has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is indicated for use in patients with breast cancer or melanoma who are undergoing surgery to remove tumor-draining lymph nodes.

ILM is widely used for staging in patients with breast cancer and melanoma who are clinically node-negative; the mapping can detect whether any nodes contain cancer cells.

Lymphoseek is the first new drug for lymph node mapping to be approved in more than 30 years, the FDA noted in its announcement. Other products used for lymph node mapping include sulfur colloid (approved by the FDA in 1974) and isosulfan blue (approved in 1981).

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