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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

Lung cancer is a silent killer of women; if you’re at risk, get screened

November 13, 2014 | by   

During October, everything seems to turn pink – clothing, the NFL logo, tape dispensers, boxing gloves, blenders, soup cans, you name it – in order to raise awareness for what many believe is the most dangerous cancer that affects women: breast cancer. But, in addition to thinking pink, women should also think pearl. That color represents lung cancer.

Lung cancer specialist Karen Reckamp, M.D.

Lung cancer isn’t just a smoker’s disease, or a male disease. Karen Reckamp, lung cancer specialist, gives her perspective on lung cancer in women.

Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of women, killing almost twice as many women as any other cancer. This year alone, it is estimated that lung cancer will claim the lives of 72,330 women.

When asked about the increasing rate of lung cancer in women, Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope, summed it up this way: “The main reason for the increase is due to smoking. The smoking trend began later among women, so we are now seeing the result. While there has been and overall lung cancer decline in the last decade, there are some places in the country, like the South, where rates for women are still increasing.”

But, Reckamp quickly points out that lung cancer is not just a smoker’s disease. Although smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, other factors increase risk of the disease as well, such as exposure to radon, air pollution, even genetics. » Continue Reading

13-year-old leukemia survivor has one true hero: her brother

November 12, 2014 | by   

In February 2003, when she was only 16 months old, Maya Gallardo was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and, to make matters much worse, pneumonia.

Aaron Gallardo hugs his little sister Maya, while she was sick with acute myelogenous leukemia.

Aaron Gallardo hugs his little sister Maya, while she was sick with acute myelogenous leukemia. Aaron’s stem cell donation cured Maya of the disease. (Photo courtesy of the Gallardo family.)

The pneumonia complicated what was already destined to be grueling treatment regimen. To assess the extent of her illness, Maya had to endure a spinal tap procedure; the pneumonia meant it had to be done without anesthesia. Her parents could do nothing but watch, and try to comfort her.

The spinal tap revealed such severe leukemia that doctors at the children’s hospital where she was being treated said she would likely live only a few weeks.

Nonetheless, they stabilized her, and began treating her with chemotherapy. Normally, chemotherapy is not given to pneumonia patients, but because Maya’s leukemia was so advanced, she had no option but to undergo simultaneous treatment for both. If the chemotherapy went well, she would need a bone marrow transplant, the only option for curing her AML. » Continue Reading

Medicare will pay for lung cancer screening for many longtime smokers

November 11, 2014 | by   

Former smokers age 55 to 74 who rely on Medicare for health care services have just received a long-hoped-for announcement. Under a proposed decision from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, they’ll now have access to lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan.

lung cancer screening

Medicare may cover lung cancer screening with low-dose CT scans for smokers ages 55 to 74 with a 30-year pack history.

The proposed decision, announced Monday, comes about seven months after a nonbinding panel shocked lung cancer doctors and experts nationwide by recommending against paying for the potentially lifesaving screening. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force had already embraced such screening in the wake of the National Lung Screening Trial, which determined that the scans are effective in detecting early-stage lung cancer. Private plans were (and still are) expected to cover the screening beginning in 2015.

“I think it’s great Medicare is going to be covering lung cancer screening,” said Dan Raz, M.D., co-director of City of Hope’s Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program. “Lung cancer is such an important disease and education is so important to predicting death.”

While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) news is mostly good, it’s not without drawbacks. First, Medicare is covering people only up to age 74 – not age 80, as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended. Second, Medicare is mandating that all participating centers must submit data to a CMS-approved registry to get reimbursement – and there is no such registry right now. » Continue Reading

7 diabetes facts for World Diabetes Day

November 10, 2014 | by   

City of Hope has a longstanding commitment to combating diabetes, a leading national and global health threat. Already, it’s scored some successes, from research that led to the development of synthetic human insulin – still used by millions of patients – to potentially lifesaving islet cell transplants.

diabetes blood sugar test

For World Diabetes Day, City of Hope shares some of the diabetes facts that drive the institution to keep looking for better treatments and a cure for this growing national and global health threat.

Diabetes researchers here continue to push forward in the fields of epigenetics, immunology, developmental biology, translational medicine, obesity, nutrition and metabolism. A pioneer in translational research for diabetes, City of Hope serves as the West Coast’s leading center for islet cell therapy, and is a leader in epigenetics and molecular research. Its diabetes program is built on a rich history that started with its founder, Rachmiel Levine, M.D. He was the first scientist to describe the role of insulin in regulating glucose entry into the cell. That work led to an understanding of what’s now known as “insulin resistance,” the hallmark of type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes comes in two basic types. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. In this disease, the body attacks its own pancreatic islet cells, which produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy the body needs. In type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t use insulin properly, leading to blood sugar levels that are higher than normal – also called hyperglycemia. At first, the pancreas produces extra insulin to compensate, but over time it isn’t able to keep up and can’t maintain normal glucose levels.

To mark World Diabetes Day on Nov. 14, consider these diabetes facts. They drive our researchers year-round to keep looking for cures: » Continue Reading

My lung cancer diagnosis: What I wish I’d known – Dee Hunt

November 10, 2014 | by   
lung cancer patient

Dee Hunt, a lung cancer survivor, has advocated for more lung cancer funding and a broader understanding of the disease. It’s not just a smokers’ disease, she says. (Photo courtesy of Dee Hunt)

Dee Hunt never smoked.

Neither did her five sisters and brothers. They didn’t have exposure to radon or asbestos, either. That didn’t prevent every one of them from being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Their parents were smokers, but they’d all left home more than 30 years before any of them were diagnosed. For most of her life, secondhand smoke was not ever raised as a health risk or concern.

“I thought it was only smoking-related,” Hunt said in a recent interview of her early impressions of lung cancer. Now she knows better. “It’s in our environment. It’s what we breathe. It’s in our genes.”

Hunt’s older sister died of lung cancer only six months after being diagnosed with the disease. That diagnosis was preceded by three years of being misdiagnosed with pneumonia.

That ordeal prompted Hunt, now 58, to take her health into her own hands. She began pushing for a screening of her lungs to identify any cancer. She ultimately got the screening and, when she did, doctors discovered a small tumor. Her other siblings followed suit, with all of them ultimately diagnosed with tumors of various sizes. » Continue Reading

Pelvic floor disorders don’t have to be debilitating. Learn more

November 9, 2014 | by   
Christopher Chung

City of Hope’s urogynecologist Christopher Chung says women don’t have to suffer from pelvic floor disorders. A specialist in the conditions, he’ll be offering a presentation on their treatment and management.

They may not talk about it, but women with cancers in the pelvic region, such as cervical cancer, bladder cancer and uterine cancer, often have problems controlling their urine, bowel or flatus. Although they may feel isolated, they’re far from alone.

Many other women have such problems, too. In fact, nearly one in three women in the United States have what’s known as a pelvic floor disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health.  Such disorders occur when muscles or other tissue within the pelvic region weaken, causing symptoms such as urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse, in which a pelvic organ drops from its normal position.

But the condition is not as debilitating as many women think.

“Pelvic floor disorders not only can be treated, they can often cured,” says City of Hope urogynecologist Christopher Chung, M.D., a specialist in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. » Continue Reading

Made in City of Hope: Pushing the limits of liver cancer surgery

November 7, 2014 | by   

Cancer that spreads to the liver poses a significant threat to patients, and a great challenge to surgeons. The organ’s anatomical complexity and its maze of blood vessels make removal of tumors difficult, even for specialized liver cancer surgeons. Following chemotherapy, the livers of cancer patients are not optimally healthy. This compromises the power of the residual liver to compensate functionally, postsurgery, and to regenerate over time. Hence, saving as much of the liver as possible is key.

Dr. Gagandeep Singh

Gagandeep Singh, clinical professor and chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology, devised a technique that incorporates tools normally used in laparoscopy and neurosurgery to remove  liver cancer tumors.

An innovator

Gagandeep Singh, M.D., has long pursued surgical techniques that would allow for successful removal of tumors. Over time, he devised a technique that incorporated tools normally used in laparoscopy and neurosurgery.

Using this technique in 2012, he operated on Susan Stringfellow, a patient in her 60s, whose colon cancer had metastasized to her liver. Removal of the tumors required resecting almost 75 percent of her liver. In the year following the surgery, the patient’s liver regenerated itself. Encouraged, Singh continued to use the technique, teaching it to his surgical oncology fellows at City of Hope. Close to 200 surgeries later, he had amassed data confirming that the technique reduced the need for blood transfusions and resulted in no biliary leaks.

» Continue Reading