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Join a bone marrow donor registry; you just might save a life

April 28, 2014 | by   

For many patients with hematological cancers, transplantation is their best – and sometimes only – chance at a cure.

Thousands of patients each year rely on unrelated donors to provide stem cells or bone marrow for transplant.

Thousands of patients each year rely on unrelated donors to provide stem cells or bone marrow for transplant.

These lifesaving hematopoietic transplants use bone marrow, stem cells or cord blood cells to replace a patient’s faulty cells, which are critical to a healthy and functioning immune system.

Each year, thousands of patients rely on the generosity of anonymous donors to provide the cells they need for transplantation, as family members are not always a match. At City of Hope, between 500 and 600 bone marrow transplants are performed each year, and in almost half the cases, an unrelated donor is needed.

“Thousands of patients each year would benefit from a transplant from an unrelated donor, but unfortunately, many of these patients still do not have a match,” said Jill Kendall, program director for Be the Match at City of Hope. “It’s important to increase the number of people on the bone marrow registry and add diversity. There’s an increased need for people of mixed ethnic background and minorities to join the registry as they are underrepresented.”

More than 6,500 bone marrow, stem cell or cord blood recipients, their families, caregivers and donors are poised to convene at the Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion on May 9, City of Hope’s 38th celebration of these patients and the people who gave them a lifesaving gift.

Be the Match offers the following guidelines and information for people interested in potentially becoming hematopoietic cell donors.

What’s the first step?

The first step to becoming a bone marrow donor is to join the Be the Match Registry, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis that operates the largest and most diverse registry of volunteer hematopoietic cell donors and umbilical cord blood units in the U.S. Potential donors provide a swab of cheek cells using a kit either at an in-person drive or through the mail if you join online at cityofhope.org/bethematch.

What’s the commitment?

Donating is always voluntary. As a member of the registry, you are asked to keep your contact information updated, inform the registry if you have significant health changes or if you change your mind. In addition, please respond quickly if you are contacted as a potential match. Agree to donate to any searching patient who matches you, and stay on the registry until your 61st birthday – or until you ask to be removed. Respond immediately if you do not wish to donate, so the search for another donor can continue without dangerous delays for the patient. » Continue Reading

New study connects mutant enzyme to cancer’s ‘Warburg effect’

April 22, 2014 | by   

Cancer cells may be known for their uncontrollable growth and spread, but they also differ from normal tissue in another manner: how they produce energy.

New City of Hope study finds that a cancer-prone mutation of the enzyme RECQ4 accumulates in the mitochondria (the green & orange structure in above model) and can cause it to dysfunction, possibly explaining cancer's "Warburg effect."

New City of Hope study finds that a cancer-prone mutation of the gene RECQ4 causes its corresponding enzyme, RECQ4, to accumulate in the mitochondria (the green and orange structures in above illustration of a cell’s components.) This can cause mitochondrial dysfunction, possibly explaining cancer’s “Warburg effect.”

In healthy cells, energy is derived primarily from aerobic respiration, an oxygen-requiring process that extracts the maximum possible energy from glucose, or blood sugar. The amount of energy is measured by the number of units produced of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Energy may also be derived from lactic acid fermentation, which does not require oxygen but is also much less efficient, producing only two ATPs per glucose molecule versus 30 or more ATPs per glucose molecule in aerobic respiration. However, most cancer cells use lactic acid fermentation as their main method of generating energy — even in oxygen-rich environments. This method of generating energy, coupled with a high glucose-processing rate to compensate for the low ATP-per-glucose output, is called the Warburg effect.

new study by City of Hope researchers, published in Cell Reports on April 14, may explain why malignant cells prefer this less productive process.

» Continue Reading

Researcher lands $4.2 million NCI grant for clinical trials consortium

April 21, 2014 | by   

Clinical trials are expensive and complex, but they’re essential for bringing new therapies to patients. Edward Newman, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular pharmacology, just boosted City of Hope’s ability to conduct those studies with a five-year, $4.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

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City of Hope’s Edward Newman was awarded a $4.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to help support early therapeutics clinical trials.

The grant is the largest awarded to a City of Hope investigator by the National Institutes of Health this fiscal year.

The funds support the collaboration of three National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers — City of Hope, the University of Southern California/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and University of California, Davis Cancer Center. The trio will participate as a consortium in the NCI Early Therapeutics-Clinical Trials Network.

The consortium of cancer centers has been conducting clinical trials together for two decades, evaluating new drugs in phase I studies.

Phase I clinical trials are the first step in testing new treatments in patients. Clinical researchers use them to look for a drug’s side effects, determine if a drug works in patients and find the maximum safe dose for a drug.

» Continue Reading

Meet our doctors: Yuman Fong on the future of cancer surgery

April 19, 2014 | by   

Meet City of Hope’s new chair of the Department of Surgery – esteemed pancreatic and hepatobiliary surgeon, researcher and author Yuman Fong, M.D. As one of today’s most respected and recognizable physicians in the treatment of cancers of the liver, bile duct, gallbladder and pancreas, Fong has pioneered and enhanced many surgical therapies now widely used around the world to treat these difficult diseases. He also coordinates and participates in many studies aimed at better understanding them and at their prevention and treatment.

Yuman Fong

Yuman Fong, the new chair of City of Hope’s Department of Surgery, says research plays a key role in developing new and improved cancer therapies.

Here he discusses how research plays a key role in developing new and improved cancer therapies and how the future of cancer surgery is “less invasive, more cures.”

What are your primary areas of research?

There are three primary areas of research I focus on – the designing of viral vectors for gene therapy (to destroy cancer cells), surgical technology and biological imaging.

When developing viral vectors for gene therapy, one must first understand how viruses work. All viruses attack their hosts and introduce their genetic material into the host cell as part of their replication cycle. The host cell then produces additional copies of the virus, leading to more and more cells becoming infected. With viral vectors, we take certain viruses and genetically modify and design them to attack and destroy cancer cells only while sparing normal tissues. By exploiting some of the characteristics of cancer cells, these viruses only replicate in cancer cells, ultimately destroying them.

Another area of immense research is surgical technology. “Less invasive, more cures” is my motto. Here I focus on developing new tools for use in the operating room. Using robotics and many other minimally invasive surgical devices, including needles and catheters, can make the therapies much simpler for patients. » Continue Reading

17-year-old wonders about bone marrow donor; soon, she’ll get answers

April 18, 2014 | by   


For most of her life, Southern California teenager Kayla Saikaly described herself as healthy, even very healthy. She played basketball. She never missed school with as much as a fever. Her worst childhood illness was nothing more than a cold.

Kayla Saikaly, 17, and her mother Samar fought her aplastic anemia together. They will meet the match who donated bone marrow for her lifesaving transplant at City of Hope May 9.

Kayla Saikaly, 17, and her mother, Samar, fought her aplastic anemia together. They will meet the donor of her lifesaving bone marrow at City of Hope on May 9.

Then, when she was 13, her nose started bleeding after a basketball game. That incident, coupled with unexplained bruising on her arms and legs, worried her mother. She took Kayla to a physician. A series of tests ruled out leukemia, but the Cerritos teenager was found to have aplastic anemia.

“It basically means your bone marrow is not producing the blood cells it needs to be producing – red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets,” explained Kayla, now 17. “Once those get thrown off, everything gets thrown off in your whole body. One day I was healthy, and the next, it was like everything was not right in my body.”

Her doctors at Kaiser Permanente considered a bone marrow transplant, but neither Kayla’s mother Samar, father Riad or older brother Alex were a suitable match. So instead Kayla took medications to boost her cell counts. The drugs worked for a year and a half, but then they began to impact her kidneys, ultimately forcing Kayla to stop taking the medications. Eight months later, her blood cell counts began to drop again. Kayla needed a bone marrow transplant. » Continue Reading

Fighting neuroblastomas by blocking their DNA replication, repair

April 17, 2014 | by   

Neuroblastoma is one of the deadliest childhood cancers, accounting for 15 percent of pediatric cancer deaths. For patients with high-risk neuroblastomas, the five-year survival rate is 40 to 50 percent even with the most rigorous treatments available today.

PCNA, shown above, is a protein essential to DNA repair and replication, and City of Hope researchers are targeting this protein in neuroblastoma cells to halt its growth and induce its death. (Image credit: Wikimedia commons / Opabinia regalis )

PCNA, shown above, is a protein essential to DNA repair and replication, and City of Hope researchers are targeting it in neuroblastoma cells in order to halt tumor growth and induce cell death. (Image credit: Wikimedia commons / Opabinia regalis )

But those odds may improve soon, thanks to a new compound developed by City of Hope scientists. The compound — a peptide called R9-caPep — works by targeting and disrupting proliferating cell nuclear antigens (PCNA), proteins that are essential in DNA synthesis, replication and repair.

The findings were published in PLoS ONE on April 11.

“We have previously reported identifying a subset of PCNAs that are expressed only in cancer cells,” said Long Gu, Ph.D., assistant research professor in City of Hope’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and first author of the paper. “So we wanted to see if it’s possible to single out and inhibit these cancer-associated PCNAs with this peptide, which would mean it’s possible to deliver targeted therapy to malignant cells while leaving normal tissues unharmed.”

In the study, Gu and his colleagues built R9-caPep to correspond to cancer-associated PCNAs. They then applied it to several neuroblastoma cell cultures. In their observations, they noted that R9-caPep successfully blocked PCNA actions in neuroblastoma cells with much less toxicity in noncancerous cells. » Continue Reading

Blood test could help identify breast cancer recurrences sooner

April 15, 2014 | by   

For breast cancer survivors, a common worry is a recurrence of their cancer. Currently, these patients are screened with regular mammograms, but there’s no way to tell who is more likely to have a recurrence and who is fully cleared of her cancer.

Breast tumor

A new blood test could detect a cancer recurrence in breast cancer survivors significantly sooner than traditional screening alone.

A new blood test – reported in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research – could potentially provide doctors and patients with the information they need to determine whose cancer has been eliminated and who needs more aggressive treatment.

The new blood-based assay is built on a panel of 10 breast cancer-specific genes. Blood collected from breast cancer patients is processed to isolate circulating tumor DNA. The test detects if any of the 10 genes are “hypermethylated.”

Hypermethylated genes indicate that the process used by some genes to keep cancers in check has been “silenced.” Thus, the presence of such genes suggests that the patient may have a disease recurrence and that further treatment is warranted. » Continue Reading

New study identifies microRNA’s role in breast cancer metastasis

April 14, 2014 | by   
City of Hope researchers found that a microRNA called miR-105 helps cancer metastasize by breaking down the building blocks of blood vessels' barriers, allowing the cancer cells to enter the bloodstream.

City of Hope researchers found that a microRNA called miR-105 helps cancer metastasize by breaking down the building blocks of blood vessels’ barriers, allowing the cancer cells to enter the bloodstream. Artwork by Bob Fong

Metastasis — the spreading of cancer cells from a primary tumor site to other parts of the body — generally leads to poorer outcomes for patients, so oncologists and researchers are constantly seeking new ways to detect and thwart this malicious process. Now City of Hope researchers may have identified a substance that contributes to it: microRNAs, particularly one called miR-105 that is secreted by breast cancer cells.

The findings were published in the April 14 issue of Cancer Cell.

“MicroRNAs were discovered over two decades ago, but it’s only recently that the scientific community started looking into their role in cancer,” said S. Emily Wang, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Cancer Biology and senior author of the study. “When we found out that cancer cells can make and secrete microRNAs, we wanted to investigate their role in interactions between cancer cells and normal tissue.”

MicroRNAs are small snippets of genetic code that regulate gene expression. This, in turn, alters the quantity and quality of proteins that are manufactured by those genes. In this particular study, Wang and her team found that miR-105 helps breast cancer metastasize by interacting with the gene TJP1. This gene is responsible for producing a protein, ZO-1, used in the boundaries between blood vessel cells.

These boundaries, called tight junctions, are normally impermeable to most substances, including cancer cells. miR-105’s interference leads to the degradation of ZO-1, which makes the junction leaky and allows cancer cells to break free from the primary tumor and enter the bloodstream.

miR-105’s ability to break down tight junctions also helps breast cancer cells invade other organs, including the brain. There, miR-105 leads to the degradation of the blood-brain barrier, which also uses ZO-1. » Continue Reading

Cancer urban legends: True or not true? Ask the experts (w/ VIDEO)

April 14, 2014 | by   

Deodorant, plastic bottles, grilled foods, artificial sweeteners, soy products … Do any of these products really cause cancer?

With so many cancer myths and urban legends out there, why not ask the experts? They can debunk cancer myths while sharing cancer facts that matter, such as risk factors, prevention and the research underway at City of Hope.

Join us on April 19 in Lancaster, Calif., to hear from Nimit Sudan, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medical oncology, and Vijay Trisal, M.D., medical director of City of Hope’s community practices and an associate clinical professor of surgical oncology.

Or join us on April 23 in Duarte to hear from physicians and researchers together. Moderator Linda H. Malkas, Ph.D., deputy director of basic research and a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, will lead the discussion. The featured speakers are, in addition to Trisal:  James Waisman, M.D., clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research; James Lacey, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Population Sciences; Joseph Alvarnas, M.D., director of medical quality and associate clinical professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation; and Sofia Wang, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Population Sciences.

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Seats are limited to both events, so reserve your seat today by signing up now for the April 19 program in Lancaster or the April 23 program in Duarte. You can also watch both programs live on our YouTube channel. Have a question for our panel? Let us know in the comments.

Cancers by ethnic group: Numbers tell just part of the story

April 13, 2014 | by   

Cancer risk varies by ethnicity, as does the risk of cancer-related death. But the size of those differences can be surprising, highlighting the health disparities that exist among various ethnic groups in the United States.

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Both cancer incidence and death rates for men are highest among African-Americans, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among women, incidence rates are highest among whites, but death rates are highest among African-Americans.

“The causes of cancer health disparities are complex, with root causes stemming from genetic susceptibility, stress and immune function, and family history, as well as health care system factors including preventive care access and utilization, quality care, and diagnostic and therapeutic care delay,” said Kimlin Tam Ashing, Ph.D., director of the Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education (CCARE) at City of Hope.

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2014 reports that African-Americans and American Indians tend to have more aggressive cancers, more treatment-resistant cancers and lower five-year survival than the general population. » Continue Reading