Leukemia drug gets FDA approval due, in part, to City of Hope researcher

December 19, 2014 | by   

A new therapy is offering hope to patients with a certain form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The drug recently received approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), thanks in part to studies conducted by Anthony Stein, M.D., at City of Hope.

Anthony Stein, M.D.

City of Hope’s Anthony Stein helped gain approval for a new leukemia drug, giving clinicians a new treatment option for patients diagnosed with a highly aggressive cancer for which there are limited treatment options.

The drug Blincyto, also known by its generic name of blinatumomab, is a bispecific T cell engager, or BiTE.

An emerging class of monoclonal antibody drugs, BiTE antibodies have a unique way to activate a patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells. One section of the antibody attaches to cancer cells while the other section activates the patient’s own disease-fighting T cells and redirects them to kill the cancer cells.

Stein, a clinical professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, oversaw clinical trials of Blincyto at City of Hope for patients with a certain form of ALL that had returned after treatment and was resistant to therapy. “The approval of Blincyto represents a significant milestone in immunotherapy research,” he said. Clinicians now have a new therapy for patients diagnosed with a highly aggressive cancer for which there are limited treatment options.

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Heartburn or esophageal cancer? 8 questions and answers

December 18, 2014 | by   

Too often, the symptoms of esophageal cancer are mistaken for those of more benign conditions. That’s an easy mistake to make because many people do experience such symptoms every now and then, including trouble swallowing, hoarseness, coughing, frequent vomiting or hiccupping, even the more alarming chest pain or the feeling that food is getting struck in the throat.

Coffee and peppermint can lead to heartburn.

Heartburn or esophageal cancer? Coffee and peppermint, along with a host of other foods, can boost the risk of heartburn. That, in turn, can boost the risk of  esophageal cancer.

Knowing whether such symptoms are caused by heartburn or esophageal cancer can be difficult. Here, Jae Kim, M.D., chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at City of Hope answers eight common questions about esophageal cancer and its treatment.

Can heartburn lead to esophageal cancer?

Heartburn is the most important risk factor for the most common type of esophageal cancer. Over time, gastroesophageal reflux disease can cause inflammation of the lining of the esophagus. If there is enough inflammation, the normal lining is replaced with an abnormal lining, called Barrett’s esophagus. In some cases, Barrett’s esophagus can then lead to esophageal cancer. » Continue Reading

Why don’t cancer cells starve to death? Researcher aims to find out

December 17, 2014 | by   

Cancer cells are voracious eaters. Like a swarm of locusts, they devour every edible tidbit they can find. But unlike locusts, when the food is gone, cancer cells can’t just move on to the next horn o’ plenty. They have to survive until more food shows up — and they do.

cancer cells

City of Hope researcher Mei Kong has received a $1.7 million National Cancer Institute grant to understand how cancer cells avoid starvation during their self-caused famines.

Mei Kong, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Cancer Biology, recently received $1.7 million from the National Cancer Institute to understand how cancerous cells survive their self-imposed famines.

Glutamine is an essential form of food for cancer cells. The amino acid provides the energy the cells need to survive and multiply. But malignant cells are gluttons and grow so rapidly they run through the glutamine stores, leaving themselves without their nutrition source. Although this should cause the cells to starve to death, it doesn’t.

Kong is working to uncover the tricks cancer cells use to stifle their hunger until the famine again turns to feast. So far she and her colleagues have found several proteins and molecular pathways involved in the process. The current grant will help them extend their studies, furthering our investment in scientific discovery to uncover possible new cancer therapies.

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Inspiring Stories: Nurse is also colon cancer survivor

December 16, 2014 | by   

On Jan. 1, 2015, six 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.”

Representing City of Hope’s nursing and clinical care teams will be Anne Bourque, R.N., clinical nursing director in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation. But Bourque also has her own patient story to tell. Here, the 35-year veteran of City of Hope relates her experience with colon cancer.

By Anne Bourque

Clinical nursing director and colon cancer survivor, Anne Bourque

City of Hope nurse, Anne Bourque, is also a colon cancer survivor. Shown here with her fiancée, Steve Barnard, she’ll ride City of Hope’s Rose Parade float on New Year’s Day. The theme of the parade is “Inspiring Stories;” the theme of the float is “Made Possible by Hope.”

I have two stories: one as an employee of City of Hope, and one as colon cancer survivor treated at City of Hope.

I am a registered nurse and started working at City of Hope in 1980 when I was 25. I can honestly say accepting a job here was one of the best decisions that I have made in my life. I have worked with some of the most talented and remarkable colleagues, and knowing many of them for 30-plus years has enriched my life tremendously.

Fast forward to 2002: Then, as now, I was the clinical nursing director of hematology and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. I was divorced, with two children  – Elizabeth, who was 19, and Gregory, who was 14.

I was 47, had some bleeding and went for a colonoscopy at a different hospital. I had no desire to have any City of Hope physician see me with less than my normal work clothes on, so naturally, I would have the test done elsewhere.

On Feb. 13, on the colonoscopy table, I found out that I had colon cancer. » Continue Reading

Oral cancer patient, 25, now urges others: Demand answers to symptoms

December 15, 2014 | by   

When 25-year-old Angelina Mattos was diagnosed with Stage 4 oral cancer earlier this year, she learned that her only hope of survival was through the removal of her tongue, a surgery that leaves people without the ability to talk or eat normally, sometimes permanently ending their ability to speak.

Tounge cancer patient Angie Mattos

Tongue cancer incidence rates are increasing in women ages 18 to 44. Angelina Mattos, right, was initially misdiagnosed; now she urges people with symptoms to be their own advocates. She’s shown here with Ellie Maghami, chief of head and neck surgery at City of Hope, who warns that oral cancers are best diagnosed early.

After hearing the prognosis, her family wanted to record Mattos so they could still listen to her voice when she could no longer talk. They suggested she record herself reading children’s books in case she ultimately decided to have children.

But Mattos wouldn’t let them. She refused to let her family, or herself, believe she would never again speak. She decided that she would beat the odds, that she would indeed regain her ability to talk. (Watch her recent interview with CBS.)

That decision was a defining moment in the Pomona woman’s long, and unexpected, battle with oral cancer.

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Mother gets stem cells from brother; her son donates to stranger. Karma?

December 12, 2014 | by   

Two years ago, Joselyn Miller and her family sat together as stem cells from her brother’s bone marrow were infused into her – a precious gift of life that the family is excited to have the chance to pass to another patient in need.

cancer survivor and bone marrow recipient Joselyn Miller

Stem cell recipient Joselyn Miller and her brother, Leason Pomeroy, who donated bone marrow to her for a lifesaving transplant, pose for a photo at the Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion at City of Hope.

Today, the stem cell recipient is healthy. Her 23-year-old son Rex, who joined Be the Match’s bone marrow registry during the Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion in support of his mother, has had a rare opportunity: He was found to be an ideal match for a 65-year-old man abroad who needed a stem cell transplant.

Rex donated stem cells at City of Hope on Nov. 18 – nearly two years to the day from his mother’s own bone marrow transplant. » Continue Reading

Tongue cancer is increasing; 5 ways to reduce your risk

December 11, 2014 | by   

Even as the overall rate of oral cancers in the United States steadily declines, the rate of tongue cancer is increasing — especially among white females ages 18 to 44.

screening for oral cancers.

Tongue cancer incidence rates are increasing among white females ages 18 to 44, even those who don’t  smoke. Ellie Maghami gives advice how to lower your risk.

An oral cancer diagnosis, although rare, is serious. Only half of the people diagnosed with oral cancer are still alive after five years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In large part, that’s because of the late diagnoses of this disease. Early signs of this cancer in young adults can be easily overlooked by primary physicians.

Although the reason for the rise among young adults is unclear, people can take steps to reduce their risk of serious disease, especially a late-stage diagnosis.

Ellie Maghami, M.D., chief of head and neck surgery at City of Hope, offers this advice: » Continue Reading

Lung metastasis isn’t the same as lung cancer. Know the difference

December 10, 2014 | by   

lungsSometimes cancer found in the lungs is not lung cancer at all. It can be another type of cancer that originated elsewhere in the body and spread, or metastasized, to the lungs through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. These tumors are called lung metastases, or metastatic cancer to the lungs, and are not the same as lung cancer or even metastatic lung cancer.

Metastatic lung cancer originates in the lungs, but then spreads. It happens when cancer cells break away from the lungs and travel to other parts of the body, such as the brain or breasts. (Even though a cancerous growth may have formed in a different location, it is still named after the part of the body where it started.)

Lung metastases are different, and treatment of them requires a thorough understanding of the various types of lung tumors. Unfortunately, almost any cancer can metastasize to the lungs and initiate a lung metastasis. The most common cancers include bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, prostate cancer, neuroblastoma, Wilm’s tumor and sarcoma. There’s no way around it – a lung metastasis is a serious, life-threatening condition that is difficult to treat successfully, although some patients may gain years through surgical removal of the tumor. » Continue Reading

City of Hope research advances treatment of hematologic cancers

December 9, 2014 | by   

When it comes to research into the treatment of hematologic cancers, City of Hope scientists stand out. One study that  they presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology suggests a new standard of care for HIV-associated lymphoma, another offers promise for the treatment of relapsing or treatment-resistant lymphoma, and still another points to more effective treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Research into hematologic cancers

City of Hope research presented at the American Society of Hematology meetings provides promising new data for the treatment of hematologic cancers.

Researchers from the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute at City of Hope shared their findings at the annual ASH meeting, held Dec. 6 through 9, in San Francisco. More than 20,000 hematology professionals attended the annual conference, which highlights the hottest topics in the field.

Here are some of the highlights: » Continue Reading

Stem cell transplants OK for HIV-linked lymphoma patients, study finds

December 8, 2014 | by   

Patients with HIV-associated lymphoma may soon have increased access to the current standard of care for some non-HIV infected patients – autologous stem cell transplants.

Joseph Alvarnas

City of Hope’s Joseph Alvarnas shares results from a City of Hope study at the annual ASH meeting that supports change to standard of care for HIV lymphoma.

Impressive new data, presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) in San Francisco, indicate that HIV-associated lymphoma patients who meet standard eligibility criteria for transplants of their own stem cells respond well to the treatment, even in centers that do not have HIV-specific expertise. HIV infection has historically been viewed as reason to rule out autologous stem cell transplant – the standard of care for non-infected patients with relapsed or treatment-resistant lymphoma – due to their compromised immune system.

The new study could change that perception. It was led by Joseph Alvarnas, M.D., director of Medical Quality and Quality, Risk and Regulatory Management and a physician investigator at the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute at City of Hope, and colleagues at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The study builds on previous research at City of Hope, including a crucial 2001 publication that was among the first internationally to show these transplants were possible for HIV patients. » Continue Reading