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Bone marrow recipient sees gift of life go full circle. ‘Karma,’ she says

November 24, 2014 | by   

Joselyn Miller received a lifesaving bone marrow transplant at City of Hope two years ago. Here, she reflects on her gratitude as a bone marrow recipient and on giving back.

By Joselyn Miller

cancer survivor Joselyn Miller

Bone marrow recipient Joselyn Miller and her brother Leason, who donated bone marrow to her for a lifesaving transplant, at City of Hope’s Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion.

thank•ful adjective  \ˈthaŋk-fəl\
:  conscious of benefit received
:  glad that something has happened or not happened, that something or someone exists, etc.
:  of, relating to, or expressing thanks

I was thankful for the perfect life I was living. Incredible childhood with ideal family. Wonderful high school and college experiences with amazing mentors and friends. Fantastic husband and children. Fun, adventurous lifestyle. I was thankful, but I had no idea what thankful truly meant beyond turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. I was about to get educated.

Throughout my 49 years, I avoided sickness like the plague. I never had a broken bone, I never had stitches, I never had surgery, I never fainted, I never had a freaking nosebleed. I had a massive phobia of needles (and snakes), and a doctor’s office was like a foreign land.  Then in May of 2012, the perfect health rug was ripped out from under me. » Continue Reading

Cancer in your family history? Your genes are not your destiny

November 22, 2014 | by   

When it comes to cancer, your family history may provide more questions than answers: How do my genes increase my risk for cancer? No one in my family has had cancer; does that mean I won’t get cancer? What cancers are common in certain populations and ethnicities?

City of Hope experts have some guidance. “Your genes are not your destiny, but they can play a role in the decisions you make related to cancer screenings, diet and interventions that you do along the way,” said Joseph Alvarnas, M.D., director of medical quality and an associate clinical professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope. “You can take an active role in how you move along in life, rather than be the passive recipient of the hand that genetics happens to deal to you.” » Continue Reading

Made in City of Hope: T cells – enlisting the immune system to beat cancer

November 21, 2014 | by   

The body’s immune system is usually adept at attacking outside invaders such as bacteria and viruses. But because cancer originates from the body’s own cells, the immune system can fail to see it as foreign. As a result, the body’s most powerful ally can remain largely idle against cancer as the disease progresses. Immunotherapy in general seeks to spur the immune system to action, helping the body fight cancer. One type of immunotherapy —T cell therapy — reprograms immune cells known as T cells to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Stephen Forman

Stephen J. Forman, the head of City of Hope’s bone marrow transplant program, is leading a wave of T cell clinical trials, all of which are moving the treatment out of the lab and directly to patients.

A wave of clinical trials

Normally, T cells attack bacteria and other infectious agents. In T cell therapy, T cells are isolated from a sample of the patient’s blood, then genetically engineered to seek out and attack a specific cancer. Researchers grow millions of these engineered T cells in the laboratory. The engineered cells are reinfused into the patient, where they go to work eliminating cancer.

Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, has long pursued breakthrough treatments for hematologic cancers and blood-related disorders, and heads up City of Hope’s bone marrow transplant program. Under his direction, a wave of T cell clinical trials is underway, all of which are moving the treatment out of the lab and directly to patients. » Continue Reading

One mother’s journey through adoption and neuroblastoma

November 20, 2014 | by   

On Jan. 1, 2015, five City of Hope patients who have journeyed through cancer will welcome the new year with their loved ones atop City of Hope’s Tournament of Roses Parade float. The theme of the float is “Made Possible by HOPE.” The theme of the parade is “Inspiring Stories.”

Here, Kari Penner shares the inspiring story of her battle for her son. 

Kari Penner with son Adi

Kari Penner, left, fought to get the best treatment for her now-son Adi, whom she met in a Romanian orphanage and who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma before he was even 2 years old. (Photo courtesy of Kari Penner)

By Kari Penner

In 2002 at age 20, I decided to move to Romania for one year to volunteer in an orphanage. More than a year went by, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the precious children there.

In July 2003, a newborn who had been abandoned at birth was brought to the orphanage when he was 2 months old. This was Adi.  In November 2004, Adi now 16 months old started getting sick. He had high fevers for a week and blood tests revealed severe anemia. More tests were run and in early December 2004 and Adi was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system that started on his adrenal gland and spread to his bone marrow.

I got to work researching and trying to find treatment options for him. I tried to get him to the States for treatment, but I didn’t have any luck. Children in foster care are not allowed to leave the country.

I felt like there were two options: Walk away and don’t look back, yet live with regret – or fight alongside this precious child and adopt him as my own.

I chose Adi. » Continue Reading

Thinking about e-cigs for the Great American Smokeout? Think again

November 20, 2014 | by   

Are you thinking about switching from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes for the Great American Smokeout? Are you thinking that might be a better option than the traditional quit-smoking route? Think again.

For lung expert Brian Tiep, M.D., the dislike and distrust he feels for e-cigs comes down to this: The public has been burned by tobacco companies before.

ecig electronic cigarette

With no labeling required for e-cigs, the consumer doesn’t know for sure what’s in the products.

The same companies that claimed cigarettes were safe, he says, now claim that electronic cigarettes – which aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration – are safe.

“I was opened-minded initially,” said Tiep, a physician in pulmonary and critical care medicine at City of Hope. “Then the tobacco companies started buying out the e-cigarette companies. These products have no regulations whatsoever right now. You’re trusting them to do the right thing by you. They claimed tobacco was safe, and it turned out not to be.”

As for tobacco cigarettes, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association tied smoking among U.S. adults to 14 million health conditions. Further, a U.S. District Court judge who in 2006 found tobacco companies guilty of lying to the public about the dangers of smoking, ordered the companies to admit their wrongdoing. The judge ruled they defrauded the public in five key ways: lying about the health damage caused by smoking, lying about the addictive nature of nicotine, marketing “low tar” and “light” cigarettes as healthier with no evidence that they are, deliberately making their products as addictive as possible and hiding the dangers of secondhand smoke. » Continue Reading

Hematologist gets $100,000 NCI grant for lymphoma research

November 19, 2014 | by   
Hematologist Robert Chen, M.D.

Hematologist Robert Chen is one of just 11 researchers in the nation this year to receive the Clinical Investigator Team Leadership Award from the National Cancer Institute. The NCI grant honors clinical researchers who participate in collaborative clinical trials.

Hematologist Robert Chen, M.D., is boosting scientific discovery at City of Hope and, by extension, across the nation. Just ask the National Cancer Institute.

The institution recently awarded Chen the much-sought-after Clinical Investigator Team Leadership Award for boosting scientific discovery at City of Hope. He is one of just 11 researchers in the nation this year to receive the prestigious $100,000 grant from the NCI.

Fewer than 60 scientists have been granted the award since its inception five years ago.

The two-year NCI grant recognizes Chen’s exceptional merit as a clinical researcher whose innovative efforts are advancing therapies for lymphoma patients.

Chen, an assistant professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, specializes in Hodgkin lymphoma research and treatment. His recent leadership of clinical trials testing the drug brentuximab vedotin helped clear its use for treating certain Hodgkin lymphoma patients who don’t respond well to stem cell transplantation. » Continue Reading

If you fit these three criteria, you should get lung cancer screening

November 18, 2014 | by   

lung cancer screening

Great strides have been made in treating cancer – including lung cancer – but by the time people show symptoms of the disease, the cancer has usually advanced. That’s because, at early stages, lung cancer has no symptoms.

Only recently has lung cancer screening become an option. (Read more about the risks and benefits.) The U.S. Preventive Task Force recommends screening with low-dose computed tomography (more commonly called a low-dose CT scan) for individuals who meet the following guidelines:

- Age 55 to 80
– Have a 30 pack-year smoking history. That is, the person smoked a pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years.
– Currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years. » Continue Reading

The future is here: $8 million CIRM grant will launch stem cell clinic

November 17, 2014 | by   

Identifying cures for currently incurable diseases and providing patients with safe, fast and potentially lifesaving treatments is the focus of City of Hope’s new Alpha Clinic for Cell Therapy and Innovation (ACT-I).

stem cells in the lab

City of Hope will open a stem cell clinic through an $8 million CIRM grant. Among the first diseases to be treated will be AIDS-related lymphoma and brain tumors.

The clinic is funded by an $8 million, five-year grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The award is part of CIRM’s Alpha Stem Cell Clinics program, which aims to create one-stop centers for clinical trials focused on stem cell treatments for diseases.

Two trials were identified to launch the center, but additional trials are currently enrolling patients and will be part of this clinic. The first trials center on transplants of blood stem cells that have been modified to treat patients with AIDS and lymphoma, and on the use of neural stem cells – which naturally home to cancer cells – to deliver drugs directly to cancers hiding in the brain. Coming soon will be trials that use T cell immunotherapy, developed by researchers in City of Hope’s new Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute.

“We are committed to finding cures and treatments to diseases that are, for now, incurable,” said John Zaia, M.D., the Aaron D. Miller and Edith Miller Chair in Gene Therapy, chair of the Department of Virology and principal investigator for the stem cell clinic. “This grant recognizes City of Hope’s commitment to and leadership in this endeavor, as well as enables us to pursue the crucially important work of bringing the promising potential of stem cell treatments to fruition.” » Continue Reading

Couples and cancer: 10 tips for better communication

November 15, 2014 | by   

Cancer is a couple’s disease. It affects not just the person diagnosed, but his or her partner as well. It also affects the ability of both people to communicate effectively.

Couples and cancer: Tips for coping

Cancer affects not just the person but his or her partner, too. City of Hope helps couples overcome their communication problems and work together during cancer treatment.

The Couples Coping with Cancer Together program at City of Hope teaches couples how to communicate and solve problems as a unit. Here are some practical behavior tips from that program:

Advice for the nonpatient:

•    Actively encourage the sharing of emotional concerns and fears.
•    Be open to her expression of concerns as often as she needs.
•    Listen to her concerns without trying to “fix,” minimize or give advice (unless asked).
•    Be physically present at all medical appointments, even when not asked.
•    Talk with the breast cancer patient about how the illness is impacting you. » Continue Reading

Made in City of Hope: COH29, a better cancer drug

November 14, 2014 | by   
Dr. Yun Yen and Dr. David Horne

Yun Yen, M.D., Ph.D. and David Horne, Ph.D., created an anti-cancer drug that has been shown to reduce tumor growth in human cancers.

Chemotherapy drugs work by either killing cancer cells or by stopping them from multiplying, that is, dividing. Some of the more powerful drugs used to treat cancer do their job by interfering with the cancer cells’ DNA and RNA growth, preventing them from copying themselves and dividing.

Such drugs, however, like Hydroxyurea, do have drawbacks. One is that the body metabolizes them quickly. Patients need frequent doses to achieve the desired effects. Because the side effects of the drugs are already considerable, increased use of them raises the risk of negative reactions. Another drawback is that cancer cells develop rapid resistance to the drugs, reducing their effectiveness.

A team effort

As a physician, molecular pharmacologist Yun Yen, M.D., Ph.D., knows well the limitations of chemotherapy drugs. He partnered with medicinal chemist David Horne, Ph.D., to find — and improve — a molecule, or compound, to overcome these problems.

First, Yen selected a promising anti-cancer compound from the National Cancer Institute’s library of anti-cancer agents. Then, using data obtained with the help of the skilled laboratory scientists in City of Hope’s Core (or “Shared”) Services, Horne began to make structural adjustments to improve the molecule’s effectiveness. Core Services provides researchers, specialized expertise, testing and instrumentation in fields such as molecular modeling, screening, medicinal chemistry and cancer biology. Access to these services enabled Yen and Horne to determine, even before preclinical testing, how the compound worked. » Continue Reading