Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Gene Repair Studies Could Lead to Killing Cancer Cells

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Research to discover “killing fields” for cancer cells is in high gear. Latest efforts to find ways to destroy cancer cells comes from laboratories at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. The studies we refer to focus on combining genetic and biochemical components. Here the idea is to increase the presence of a tumor-suppressing protein ( called p53BP1) that, in turn, leads cancer cells to self-destruct. What the protein does is weaken cancer cells, leaving them susceptible to existing cancer-fighting drugs.

Now, the idea is to take the lab findings and test result in animal models, and if the findings hold up in animal studies, they could hold the promise of increasing the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy in shrinking—even  eliminating tumors. ( Details can be found in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Nov 24, 2014 issue. )

The researchers had been trying to figure out how to repair breaks in DNA strands. Breaks that may have been caused by radiation, chemical agents or bodily functions. That’s when they happened upon a surprising circumstance: they discovered a way to increase the protein p53BP1. Next came the idea that increasing this protein intentionally could result into weaking cancer cells. A Eureka moment.

The lead scientist, Dr. Upiwei Zhang, assistant professor of pharmacology at Case Western, said, “ Our discovery one day could lead to a gene therapy where extra amounts of the 53BP1 protein will be generated to make cancer cells more vulnerable to cancer treatment. He explained that the idea is to have the proteins trick the cancer cells to go to a fork in the road and take the wrong turn—one that would lead to their destruction. In layman’s language professor Zhang says ultimately we would eventually want to build up the number of these 53BP1 proteins in patients to make their cancer cells vulnerable to radiation therapy and chemotherapy drugs.




Saturday, November 15th, 2014



A new study from the Universities of Nottingham and Bristol in the UK may have found a new way to halt the spread of prostate tumors. The concept works like this: Prostate cancer cells multiply by building blood vessels that, like pipelines, deliver the nutrients that fuel cancer cells that spread. What if you can blow up the pipelines? In this case, halt the ability of the new blood cells to develop.

That’s what researchers have been working on. They’ve found a molecule they call SRPK1 that is needed to form the new blood vessels. The process of building these new blood vessels is known as Angiogenesis. Halting angiogenesis means blocking the SRPK1 molecule—which in turn means blocking the ability of the prostate tumor to grow—which in turn means no growth of the tumor!

Big news if researchers can replicate in humans what they found in mice!  Inhibiting SRPK1 means putting an end to the growth of the prostate tumor.

Chief investigator Professor David Bates (Division of Cancer and Stem Cells at the U of Nottingham) says: “Our results point to a novel way of treating prostate cancer and may have wider implications to be used in several types of cancers.”

Complete discussion can be found in the current journal Oncogene.


Vasectomy Linked to Aggressive Prostate Cancer

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

A newly released Harvard medical study finds that vasectomy raises the risk of lethal prostate cancer. The findings are the result of a 24-year longitudinal study of 50,000 men. The report, published in the July 7th issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, says the danger appears to be highest among men who have had a vasectomy before the age of 38!

Cancer experts call these findings “extremely important,” suggesting the implications in birth control are now quite significant and suddenly push the issue of birth control on women. As it is, women face many potential side effects in dealing with birth control.

Researchers point out that even though the most dangerous forms of prostate cancer are rare, over the 24-year study, 1.6% of the men developed a lethal form of the disease. They say a 20% increase would raise that figure to less than 2%.

As for why a vasectomy might raise the increased prostate cancer risks, Kathy Wilson, a co-author of the study, says the reasons remain unclear. One possibility, yet to be confirmed in additional research, is that the operation somehow changes the protein composition of seminal fluid made in the prostate.

Even among men who have had regular PSA screenings, those who had vasectomies were said to be 56% at higher risk to develop fatal prostate cancer. They say evidence shows the link is stronger in men who had vasectomy at younger age—earlier than 38 years old.

Malcolm Mason, a research scholar at Cancer Research UK says, “The extra risk of developing prostate cancer after having a vasectomy appears to be small, but of the few that do go on to develop the disease a higher number will develop an aggressive form.”

Among those who counsel caution is Dr. Louis Kavoussi, chairman of urology at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde, New York. He calls for more research in a “better controlled fashion” before physicians apply these findings to clinical practice. “It’s not like cigarette smoking causing a large number of people to develop lung cancer.

Support for the study comes from a grant to the Harvard School for Public Health by the U.S. National Cancer Institute among others.

New Finding: Old drug added to new drugs can equal exended life

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

In the ongoing race to find drugs that aid prostate cancer survival an important finding has just been reported. Namely, a cheap old drug used in chemotherapy—docetaxel sold under the name of Taxotere—when added to standard hormone therapy for men whose prostate cancer has widely spread can extend life by more than a year! The lead scientist in a nearly decade long study—Dr.Christopher Sweeney of Boston’s Dana-Farber Institute—hailed the discovery as one of the biggest improvements in survival for advanced cancer patients.

Men who received docetaxel lived nearly 58 months vs 44 months for those not given the drug. Dr. Sweeney shared the results at the American Society of Oncologist’s annual conference in Chicago earlier this month. It is the combination of a cheap decades old chemotherapy drug added to a newer drug that has researchers excited.

All  790 men in the study received drugs to block testosterone,which fuels prostate cancer’s growth, and half also were given six infusions of docetaxel, one every three weeks. About 2 ½ years later, 101 of the men given docetaxel had died compared to 136 of the men who did not get it. Dr. Sweeney said most men who received docetaxel were able to tolerate treatment well.

The National Cancer Institute funded the decade long study. Results show the importance of federal funding for research, scientists say, that otherwise might not get done. Dr. Clifford Hudis, a physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York says the pharmaceutical industry is less interested in funding a new use for an old drug because it has lost patent protection long ago.

Genenric docetaxel costs about $1500 per infusion. Compare that with other (newer) drugs that can cost as much as $100,000 or more for a course of treatment.

Cautionary Yellow Light for Advanced Prostate Patients

Friday, April 11th, 2014

The drug Enzalutamide marketed as Xtandi has had great success in the treatment of metastatic castration resistant in advanced prostate cancer. Xtandi is an androgen receptor antagonist drug developed by the pharmaceutical company Medivation.  ( The drug is also administered in some instances to inhibit breast cancer cell growth. )

However, at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (April, 2014) in San Diego, California a cautionary note was sounded by Dr. Emmanuel Antonarakis of Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

In a recent study Dr. Antonarakis and colleagues identified a genetic biomarker called AR-V7 that can be found in circulating tumor cells and that predicts resistance to Enzalutamide in men with advanced prostate cancer!

The marker AR-V7 was found in nearly 40 percent of patients tested.  Meaning, it is fairly common Dr. Antonarakis says.  “Patients considering treatment with Enzaltamide could have a blood test taken in advance to determine if their (particular) cancer contains AR-V7.  If (the answer is) yes, then these patients should seek alternative therapies because Enzalutamide will not be effective.”  In these instances, Dr. Antonarakis suggests therapies such as chemotherapy should be considered.






New Scan Finds Dormant Cancer Cells

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Researchers in Britain have hit upon a dramatic new imaging technique that lights up cancer’s sleeping or dormant cells.  When cancer cells stop growing they can go into a dormant stage and store energy for future use.  That means they can become resistant to killer drugs and escape detection.  Up to now, invasive techniques are used to find them and most have been able to evade detection.  Now  a radioactive molecule has been discovered that can pinpoint these sleeper cells that may eventually wake up and create havoc in the body.


The lead scientist at Imperial College London, Professor Eric Aboagye,says this new technique called PET SCAN  (positron emission tomography)  has the immediate potential in the clinic to assess how well drugs are working for patients and to warn of potential relapses of treatment. And it is non-invasive!


 The research so far has been used on mice and Professor Aboagye says the technique shows real promise as a tool for telling doctors how much of the cancer can possibly be escaping treatment.  He says the technique can be translated to work in humans and can be adapted for the clinic to help save more lives.  This is a remarkable new development that the researchers are convinced can be used in the future to treat an entire array of cancers beyond prostate.

Prostate Cancer in African Americans drops for the first time!

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

The  American Cancer Society reports that for the first time ever there has been a 20 percent decline in the number of deaths of African Americans from prostate cancer.  African Americans have for decades been the number one target for the disease and still are.  They are, in fact, 60 percent  more likely to get the disease than any other racial group.  But early detection has certainly helped  turn the corner on the number of deaths.  More and more African American men are obviously heeding the caution–getting tested instead of waiting until they discover they have advanced cases that are difficult or impossible to cure.  In short, the word is out in the African American community and more and more black men are paying attention.  The word is simple enough: you don’t have to die from prostate cancer; you should be screened when you reach 40 years of age. Men who have male family members diagnosed with the disease are especially at risk. Early detection can be a life-saver!

Major Breakthrough! Genetic predictor of aggressive nature of prostate cancer

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Once a man is diagnosed with prostate cancer the big looming question is how aggressive is the cancer?  Is it likely to present a mild case that may never cause harm or is it a deadly cancer that can threaten life?  It’s a question that has led to countless debates because current tests have been unable to differentiate with any degree of certainty whether the cancer will be a “pussy cat” or a “tiger.”  So the oncological experts are put on the spot and left to cross their fingers, make predictions—decide whether to treat the disease or not– and hope for the best outcomes. 


 The latest thinking is that the key to deciding on the aggressiveness of prostate cancer lies in genetic testing.  Scientists at Britain’s Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation in London have discovered 13 mutations in the genes of men that are accurate predictors of the development of the disease.  That is a major finding and it demonstrates not only that some men have a genetic profile that puts them at higher risk of prostate cancer, but that mutations in certain genes will lead to a much more aggressive form of the disease.


 The study reported in the British Journal of Cancer involved testing 191 men with  prostate cancer who had at least 3 relatives who were affected with the disease.


Results showed that  14 carried mutations with “loss of functions” in the DNA that stopped a gene from working.  The researchers say a patient with any one of these flaws dramatically increases the chances they will develop invasive, spreading prostate cancer.


 The co-lead investigator, Dr. Ros Eeles said their study “shows the potential benefit of putting prostate cancer on a par with cancers such as breast cancer when it comes to genetic testing…We proved that testing for known cancer mutations can pick out men who are destined to have a more aggressive form of prostate cancer.”


 ( Genes identified in predicting breast cancer and ovarian cancer in women are BRCA1 and BRCA2.  Variant forms of these genes have been found to be associated with men who have died of prostate cancer.)


 The study is in its first stage and more testing is being carried out.  But the scientists involved believe their cutting edge work in DNA sequencing will lead to screening tests that will make it possible to step in early and treat men with developing, dangerous cancers before they progress too far.  This could signal a major step forward in treating and defeating prostate cancer.









Advanced Prostate Cancer Linked to Lack of Sleep

Monday, January 20th, 2014

A new study at Harvard’s School of Public Health in Boston suggests that sleeping soundly may help protect men from advanced prostate cancer.  The lead investigator, Sarah Markt, says her group of scientists have linked together higher levels of the night time hormone melatonin with a 75% reduced risk of the advanced disease. 


 Melatonin is a hormone is produced by the pineal gland, a small gland in the brain, that helps control sleep and wake cycles.  The hormone is produced in the dark at night and regulates the body’s sleep-wake 24-hour clock—called circadian rhythm.


What the researchers found is that low levels of melatonin are typically associated with disrupted sleep.


 In this study, 928 Icelandic men were selected and questioned about their sleep patterns and had urine samples tested for levels of a melatonin breakdown product. The subjects who reported taking medication for sleep problems, and difficulty falling and staying asleep, had lower amounts of the melatonin marker.  Research took place over a period of 7 years.


 Over this period, 111 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer including 24 with advanced disease.  The men whose melatonin marker levels were higher than the middle range were 75% less likely to develop advanced prostate cancer than those with lower values of the hormone.


 Markt says “ Sleep loss can influence the amount of melatonin secretion or block it altogether, and health problems associated with low melatonin, disrupted sleep, and the disruption of the circadian rhythm are broad, including a potential risk for cancer….We found that men who had higher levels of melatonin had a 75% reduced risk for developing advanced prostate cancer compared with men who had lower levels of melatonin.”


More studies are needed, Markt added, to investigate the interplay between sleep duration, sleep disturbance and melatonin levels on risk for prostate cancer.




Coming Soon: a simple blood test to locate genes associated with cancer?

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

Scientists at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center believe they are on the track of locating gene mutations that cause pancreatic cancer without the need of finding and testing tumor tissue.  If successful, it could open the path for determining other kinds of cancers.  At present there is no single blood test that can screen for all cancer related DNA defects.  Present protocols require a tumor sample to see if there are gene mutations and whether a tumor is benign or cancerous. Still it requires that the sample is accessible. And the procedure carries with it risks and is not inexpensive.

The finding comes following the discovery that a person’s entire double-stranded genomic DNA spanning all chromosomes can be detected in what are called “exosomes.” These are tiny particles that are shed by cancer cells into the blood and they are said to contain the entire genetic blueprint of cancer cells.  By decoding this genomic data researchers can find mutations associated with cancer.  The lead investigator, Raghu Kalluri, MD, PhD, said the discovery of these exosome particles means the way may be translated into a test to help physicians detect cancer and treat patients.  The president of MD Anderson Dr. Ronald A. DePinho says,  “This seminal discovery paves the way for highly sensitive screening for driver mutations of cancer in the blood without the need for biopsy of tumor tissue and importantly lays the foundation for a new method for the early detection of cancer when the chance for a cure is greatest.”

Full report of these findings can be found in the current issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.