Archive for September, 2010

Almost 90% of children diagnosed with the third most common form of cancer, neuroblastoma,  can survive even with drastically reduced chemotherapy. The research result published in the New England Journal Medicine found that almost 96% of the cancer affected children could survive for a period of three years with four to eight cycles of chemotherapy which meant a 40% -70% reduction in their normal doses.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines neuroblastoma as a cancer of the nerve tissue that initiates at the adrenal gland located in the neck, chest as well as the spinal cord.

Katherine Matthay, the leader of the research team, commented that the lowering of the amount of chemotherapy might help the children escape from long time side effects which includes secondary cancer, loss of hearing as well as fertility issues. The reduced amount does not affect the survival rate significantly, said Matthay, and remains almost the same when compared with the children given 10 cycles.

The study was conducted by keeping 479 children and infants under observation from 1997-2005. The effects of a reduced chemotherapy on the survival rate were then checked. The tumors in most of these cases had been located in the chest and abdomen. The patients were of the intermediate risk group. Some of them had tumors which were inoperable while others had cancer that had spread widely to the bones and even the bone marrow.

The researchers classified each of the tumors into groups of favorable and unfavorable on basis of a number of characteristics including the rapidity of tumor cell division. 98% of the children with favorable tumors were found to have a three year survival rate while it was 93% for those with unfavorable tumors. The study results also revealed that personalized treatment is mandatory for children with neuroblastoma depending on the nature of the tumors.

Matthay, the Chief of Pediatric Oncology at the Medical Center, University of California, San Francisco, said that they had been over treating the children so far. They need to reduce chemotherapy, she emphasized adding that the next round of studies would be conducted by decreasing the chemotherapy even further. She felt that there might be some children who would need almost no chemotherapy at all.


Researchers from the USA have now found certain changes associated with the blood of patients suffering from two different types of deadly carcinoma. This discovery can prove to be significant as it allows doctors to detect the disease much earlier.

A new technique was used by the privately held company Somalogic Inc’s researchers which allowed them to detect the early signs of pancreatic as well as a specific type of lung cancer, known as mesothelioma, in people who had been diagnosed but had not started on their treatment yet. The findings were presented at the Denver Research meeting of the ‘American Association for Cancer’.  Somalogic Inc’s Clinical Research Director, Rachel Ostroff, expressed the hope that an early detection might lead to an increased survival rate with an overall improvement in the quality of life as well.

While carcinoma of the pancreas is rare, it is the fourth deadliest type of cancer that kills people across USA. Mesothelioma, on the other hand, is caused by asbestos and is known to be the cause of death for an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people worldwide, every year.

The technology detects the disease by examining the protein present in a blood drop. The study involved testing patients diagnosed with both the types of cancer and also those who suffer from pancreatitis or lung fibrosis, two conditions which mimic the symptoms of these particular types of cancer.

The research team looked for biomarkers which differentiated between the blood of the patients with cancer and those without.  Ostroff said that that the biological markers had been highly specific leading to an accurate detection of each type of cancer. Further studies are now required to corroborate the results and see whether they can be used as diagnostic tests. Ostroff admitted that while the biomarkers could be easily detected it would be slightly more difficult to validate them. She also stated that her team would take all necessary precautions by ignoring the false positives and take all other related parameters into consideration for detecting the diseased biomarkers.


Seattle Genetics Inc. announced that its two drug therapy system can actually reduce the size of a Hodgkin’s lymphoma by half in about 75% of the patients. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a carcinoma affecting the  immune system of our body.  The drug had been developed jointly with Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.

Clay Siegall, the CEO and president of Bothell, the Washington based Seattle Genetics, stated that a total of 102 people with advanced lymphoma had been put on trial. None of them had responded to any of the previous methods of treatment for the condition. The benefits of this particular therapy lasted for more than six months however, concluded Siegal.

The drug, known as SGN-35, makes use of an antibody which attacks the cancer cells with a host of cancer killing agents. Seattle Genetics Inc. now plans on applying to the U.S .Food and Drug Administration for approval during the first half of next year. Obtaining an approval would be a watershed in its own way as it would initiate a new era of drugs which combines both antibodies as well as anti carcinogenic agents observed Jason Kantor, an analyst of the RBC capital markets based in San Francisco. The results had exceeded the expectation, Kantor added further.

Brentuximab Vedotin happens to be another name for  the drug which will be designed to recognize the receptors on the surface of an onco cell. The presence of the receptor is minimal in a healthy cell or may be entirely absent all together. A special drug linked with the antibody in question then kills off  the cell by putting a stop to cell division and thereby, growth.

Siegall revealed that the drug would help in eliminating the cancerous cells without having any appreciable effect on the normal and healthy tissue. The side effects of the drug are not severe either, said the Seattle Genetics spokesperson. The rate of side effects was not disclosed by the company. Fatigue, a decrease in WBC count, nausea and peripheral neuropathy have been found to be associated with the use of the drug.


The outcome for cancers of the head and neck is more likely to be influenced by social behavioral patterns instead of genetic ancestry, especially in African Americans, revealed the results of a study that had been undertaken by the Henry Ford Hospital.

While the researchers uncovered evidence of self reported African Americans facing a far greater risk of developing the terminal stage of cancer, there are no hard facts available that can correlate the ancestry with cancer stage or survival.  On the contrary, evidence shows only about 5% of the persons who reported themselves of African American ancestry to have 95% or more of West African ancestry.

The study leader and director of research associated with the Department of Otolaryngology, Henry Ford Hospital, Maria J. Worsham, said that this was the first possible piece of evidence which used genetic races to find out about the various stages of cancer as well as survival rates in patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

While the number of African Americans being diagnosed with late stages of cancer have more chances of succumbing in comparison to the Caucasians, it has not been possible to get a consensus on the possible causes so far. However, factors like the stage of cancer at diagnosis, access to health care as well as the insurance status are all likely to contribute to the equation. Smoking and consumption of alcohol are also regarded as two principal risk factors for this particular type of cancer.

The results of the study were brought forward at the annual meeting of the ‘American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery Foundation’ at Boston on 26th September.

The actual study was conducted on 358 patients, 37 of whom were African Americans. The researchers looked at the diagnosis particularly the late stages vis-à-vis the early ones along with the overall survival rate for African Americans suffering from HNSCC or Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma. It was conducted on the basis of their self reported race which could be traced back to the West African ancestry.  The study was also based on the panel comprising of 100 AIMs for estimating the genetic background.

The ultimate result could not establish any relation between the West African ancestry and the outcome of HNSCC.  It was the only the self reported race which was associated with the various stages of the head and neck cancer.

Source: Public Release by Henry Ford Health System on 26th September, 2010.

Study co-authors:  George Divine, Ph.D., Henry Ford Biostatistics and Research Epidemiology; Rick A. Kittles, Ph.D., University of Illinois School of Public Health.

A recent study published in the journal, Molecular Cell, this month reported that the long non-coding RNA, MALAT1 may well be responsible for regulating the pre-mRNA splicing during the initial critical stages of protein production.

While it is a known fact that almost 5% of all the genomes code proteins, the scientists studying them have only the very basic idea about the functioning of the non-coding ones. The long coding RNAs  or the lncRNAs which are generally transcribed from DNA to RNA without getting translated into proteins have not been studied adequately so far.

The sequencing of the genomes gave the scientists  a clear idea of the fact that most of the gene codes for RNAs are not translated into proteins as believed before, said Kannanganattu Prasanth, the Cell and Developmental Biology Professor at the University of Illinois.

The leader of the study, Prasanth remained focused on the role of lncRNAs like the MALAT1 which can be found distributed in the nucleus of the mammalian cell. The initial studies suggested that these lncRNAs are responsible for the regulation of vital functions of the cells with serious consequences if the genes resort to abnormal functioning. The MALAT1 is one of the genes found implicated in cancers of the breast, liver or lung, making the researchers keen to discover the actual role of this RNA in normal cells and how the changes in its expression can be related to cancer.

The researchers tested MALAT1 and how it integrated and modulated the behavior of the SR-family splicing factors.  The study results revealed that the MALAT1 sequence has a number of regions which can bind the SR-splicing proteins. Further experiments also unraveled the fact that several members of the SR-proteins do indeed get bounded by MALAT1. The results also indicated that MALAT1 latches on to the splicing factors thereby regulating their access to the new transcripts.

The study has succeeded in identifying MALAT1 as one of the key players in pre-mRNA processing which has a significant implication on human health. An error in splicing pre-mRNA of some genes is associated with a number of diseases which includes cancer. Various studies conducted so far have indicated that over expression of the genes may make them cancerous. Similarly the abnormal expressions of MALAT1 controlled splicing has been co related to oncogenes as well.


Public Release By University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Study conducted by post-doctoral researcher Vidisha Tripathi with assistance from undergraduate student David Song.

Supriya Prasanth, a professor, also contributed to the study. The research team also included scientists from the University of Toronto; ISIS Pharmaceuticals, Carlsbad, Calif.; and Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.

Getting a routine mammography had been one of the most crucial procedures of detecting breast cancer. But a study conducted recently has found evidence to the contrary. Researchers said that the importance of mammography and its role in reducing the deaths due to breast cancer is much less than thought previously.

The World Health Organization as well as various US authorities had reported that regular mammographies could, in fact, prevent deaths by as much as 25%. A newer study, however, finds that the death rate dropped by only 10% after mammography was introduced in Norway. The results have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine

Dr. Mette Kalager, the leader of the study team stated that they found evidence of the death rate dropping by 8% in women aged 70 and above who did not undergo mammography, receiving similar care to other younger women instead. The results deduce that the benefits of mammography are considerably less, amounting to only 2%.

Dr. Gilbert Welch associated with the ‘Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy’ and Clinical Practice in Lebanon finds the results disappointing, but claims that the screening mammography may have been more beneficial in the past. He emphasized that with more and more new tumors being discovered much earlier as awareness spreads and new methods of treatments come into force, the value of mammography was bound to decrease.  He said that at least 2500 women would have to be screened for 10 years in order to prevent one death due to breast cancer while a 1000 are likely to get false positive indications, with 5 to 15 of them being diagnosed and treated for a condition which would not have been a risk anyway.

Dr. Otis Brawley, the Chief Medical Officer at the American Cancer Society, however, feels that regular mammography screenings form a part of preventive health care for women.  Dr. Joanne Mortimer, an oncologist attached to the City of Hope National Medical Center, Duarte, Calif says that mammography is likely to contribute more in preventing deaths by breast cancer in the US simply because the country lacks the multidisciplinary government aided health systems which is common place in Norway and other European countries.


The health benefits of Vitamin D seem to be varied. A number of studies in the past have also linked the vitamin to a decreased risk of cancer. An analysis of the vitamin carried out in ‘Genome Research’ last month inferred that vitamin D usually interacts with a number of genes associated with cancer risks thereby decreasing the chances of developing carcinoma. The risk of developing cancers of the ovary, breast, prostate, bladder, lung, skin, colon as well as the rectum can be minimized greatly by the intake of  vitamin D.

However, the various experiments carried out in this field seemed to have been limited in nature. The study size and the experimental designs involved kept the researchers from establishing the protective nature of vitamin D with certainty until now.

A report published in the ‘Cancer Prevention Research’ on the 21st of September states that focusing on the various subgroups would be beneficial in case of endometrial cancer.

The study led by Leena Hilakivi-Clarke, an oncologist associated with Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Washington, D.C.  included observing the development of endometrial cancer in both obese as well as non-obese mice.

The mice used in the study had been genetically altered and were predisposed towards developing endometrial cancer. They were then given vitamin D supplements. Hilakivi-Clarke said that she was surprised to find almost 75% of the obese mice remain cancer free while it was 33% of the non- obese ones.

She added that a few of the earlier studies had shown that the vitamin had no apparent effect on this specific type of cancer. However, the present study was conducted to see the effects on women of all sizes and the results suggest that vitamin D could indeed negate the risks of endometrial cancer due to obesity.

The exact mechanism of diminishing the risk factor remains undecided as of now but Hilakivi-Clarke believes that the vitamin could counteract some of the associated harmful factors linked to obesity like insulin resistance which in turn increases cancer risk.


Cancer Prevention Research Journal: Study published 21st September, 2010.

The cancer drug, Avastin, by Roche Holding AG failed yet again to prove its efficacy as a medicine that ensures a disease free existence after surgery in cases of early colon cancer. The drug had failed in a previous study as well.

Although Avastin has been one of the top selling drugs in the US, authorities are still in the process of reviewing its effects on patients suffering from breast cancer. The FDA has been advised by several medical bodies to revoke its approval on the drug.

The FDA will now have to decide on using Avastin for treating breast cancer in combination with different types of chemotherapies. Avastin’s label still indicates that it can be used in instances of metastatic breast cancer and will continue to remain so until the FDA gives its decision by December 17, this year.

The international study AVANT, conducted by Roche, revealed that a year long treatment with Avastin, along with standard chemotherapy does not necessarily reduce the risk of a relapse, particularly in cases of early colon cancers. The drug has failed to be effective in the late stages of colon cancer as well. A statement issued by Basel, Switzerland-based Roche, says that the preliminary data reveals chemotherapy alone to be enough in ensuring a disease free survival. It does not need to be combined with Avastin.

The researchers from the group are now engaged in studying the results from this study as well as an earlier one (C-08) in order to arrive at a conclusion about the steps of an ongoing post surgery treatment by using Avastin as an adjuvant.


The findings by a team of international researchers under the leadership of the Mayo Clinic researchers show that individuals possessing a number of variants to the mutated BRCA1 gene face an increased risk of developing breast cancers. The findings have been published in the current issue of ‘Nature Genetics’.

The results of the study will help to determine the degree of risk for each BRCA1 gene carrier, states Fergus Couch, the investigator at Mayo Clinic and senior author of the study. It is also likely to provide useful insight into the hormone receptor linked to negative breast cancer among the general population.

It has been known that the genetic mutations within the BRCA1 gene put the carriers at risk for developing breast cancers. The researchers tried to determine whether the variations of mutated genes could alter the risk factor appreciably. Genome wide association studies were conducted in 20 different research centers spanning 11 countries around the globe.

The first study was a comparison of 550,000 human genome alterations in 1,193 carriers with breast cancer and 1,190 carriers without the invasive cancer of the breast. Both sets of carriers were under the age of 40. This led to the discovery of 96 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) which was corroborated by carrying out the same study in a larger context comprising of 3,000 carriers with breast cancer and 3,000 without. The researchers could isolate 5 SNPs associated with breast cancer risk from the region of the chromosome 19p13.

By observing these SNPs in a further 6,800 breast cancer patients without the mutated BRCA1 gene, the scientists found that the cancerous tumors were without estrogen receptors. Study of the 5 SNPs in another 2,300 breast cancer patients were found to be linked to the triple-negative breast cancer which is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer and accounts for 12% of all breast cancer incidences. The researchers could also ascertain that the SNPs had no link with the ovarian cancer in BRCA1 mutation carriers.


A recently published study in ‘Blood’, which serves as the official journal of the ‘American Society of Hematology’, substantiated that the presence of a particular protein can control certain characteristics of the blood stem cells thereby providing a better way of treating leukemic patients. The discovery was made by Dr. Tarik Möröy and his team. Dr. Cyrus Khandanpour, who is a post doctoral fellow, apart from being a medical doctor, working in Dr. Möröy’s laboratory, is the first author of the study, while Dr. Möröy himself serves as the President and Scientific Director of the ‘Hematopoiesis and Cancer Research Unit’ located at  the ‘Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal’  better known as IRCM.

Dr. Möröy tells us that the transplantation of blood stem cells is vital for people suffering from leukemia as well as any other blood related disease. It forms one of the most important aspects of the therapy. The stem cells have the capability of reproducing the entire blood system including the red and white cells along with the platelets.

The therapeutic process involves subjecting the patient to chemotherapy, which destroys the blood system along with the disease. The patient is then given blood stem cells in order to recreate the blood system. The stem cells are either taken from the patients themselves before the chemotherapy or from a healthy donor.

The collection of the blood stem cells remains a difficult proposition as the cells tend to remain within the bone marrow in a dormant state. The cells have to be mobilized into the blood stream before they can be collected for transplantation. Harvesting the blood cells from a donor does not help all the time and about 10%-20% patients succumb to leukemia and its complications.

Dr. Möröy claims to have isolated a protein known as Gfi1b which has the capability of activating the blood cells within the bone, thereby facilitating its movement into the blood stream. The entire process thus becomes much easier and less time consuming.

The researchers hope that this discovery would make stem cell therapy more effective for patients suffering from leukemia. However, the actual procedure of regulating the stem cells from dormancy to its mobile form has not been deciphered as yet.

Dr. Moroy, along with his team, hopes to study the protein Gfi1b in more details which could eventually lead to a better understanding of its functions, thereby paving the way for a better regimen for patients who need to undergo the transplant.