Lung cancer expert not buying ASCO report on screenings’ cost

May 14, 2014 | by   

New screening guidelines for lung cancer could save thousands of lives – but it won’t come cheap, according to a mathematical model devised to estimate Medicare costs for screening seniors who fit the criteria. The findings add fuel to ongoing debate over lung cancer screening, two weeks after an advisory panel for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommended against coverage for the screening. City of Hope’s Dan Raz, M.D., co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program, takes issue with the new mathematical model, just as he did with the panel’s recommendation.

A government panel has recommended against Medicare coverage for lung cancer screening that could, according to studies, save more than 12,000 lives a year.

A government panel has recommended against Medicare coverage for lung cancer screening that could, according to studies, save more than 12,000 lives a year.

The model’s projections, which will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) annual meeting on June 2, were shared publicly Wednesday. They show that implementing the screening would detect nearly 55,000 more lung cancer cases over five years, most in the potentially curable early stages. But the cost to Medicare for screening and subsequent treatment would be $9.3 billion over five years, about a $3 per month premium increase for every Medicare member, according to the projections.

Both the findings and the recommendation from the advisory panel for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are drawing criticism from lung cancer experts and patient advocates. The recommendation itself runs contrary to the judgment of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which last year recommended low-dose CT screening for heavy smokers. The task force – which determines which screenings health insurance must cover – recommends annual scans for current and former smokers between ages 55 and 79 who smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for at least 30 years. » Continue Reading

Celebrating thousands of lives at Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion

May 13, 2014 | by   

Some celebrated decades of being cancer-free, treating the date of their bone marrow or stem cell  transplant like a second birthday. Others celebrated having made it just a few months past their transplant, which had occurred a stone’s throw from the day’s festivities.

Patients at City of Hope's 38th annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion celebrate life. More than 4,000 attended the event, including patients, donors and their loved ones.

Patients at City of Hope’s 38th annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion celebrate life. More than 4,000 people attended the event, including patients, donors and loved ones.

For two patients, it meant meeting for the first time the donors who gave their bone marrow to save the lives of strangers on some other continent. For two donors, it meant no longer being strangers to the people they had saved.

For everyone who attended City of Hope’s 38th annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion, this was a celebration of life.

“The transplants we do here are not limited by barriers of borders, difference of culture, ethnicity, religion or history, but are transcended by what binds us one to another as human beings,” said Stephen Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope. “In the quest for a cure, the world is actually very small.”

Kayla Saikaly, a 17-year-old girl of Lebanese descent who received a bone marrow transplant for aplastic anemia, embraced donor Adi Versano, a 27-year-old woman from Israel. They hit it off quickly, even making plans to go to Disneyland during Versano’s visit.  » Continue Reading

Patient: Song by Christina Grimmie of ‘The Voice’ pulled me through

May 12, 2014 | by   

City of Hope patient Kat Muller and best friend Anessa George are joined by Christina Grimmie and other top contestants of “The Voice” at a recent taping of the show in Los Angeles. Back row from left: Delvin Choice, Audra McLaughlin, George, Christina Grimmie, Muller, Sisaundra Lewis and Jake Worthington. Front row from left: Josh Kaufman, Kat Perkins, Kristen Merlin.

City of Hope patient Kathleen “Kat” Muller, now 23, has been through two bone marrow transplants to combat aplastic anemia and is now on the road to recovery. She credits the support of her friends and family, the care of her doctors, and a little inspiration from YouTube phenom and “The Voice” contestant Christina Grimmie. Muller shares her story here …


By Kathleen Muller

In April of 2012, I went to the ER for a headache that had been bothering me since February and was immediately admitted to the hospital for not having enough blood or platelets. Two days later, after my first bone marrow biopsy, I was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. The first thing the doctor told us was: “You have to go to a higher-level hospital.”

I was originally supposed to go to a hospital other than City of Hope, but when the staff at that hospital discovered I was 30 days from my 21st birthday, they realized they couldn’t treat me. The doctor who was in charge of me had a friend at City of Hope and gave him a call.

This was around the time that I discovered Christina Grimmie on YouTube and was touched by her song “Advice.” In the song’s music video, the older brother spray paints “stay strong” on a sheet. I felt like that message was meant for me, so I bought the song on iTunes and I played it every time I was feeling down. » Continue Reading

Diabetes’ lasting harm, or ‘metabolic memory,’ may be linked to genes

May 12, 2014 | by   

A landmark clinical trial in the mid-1980s changed the way type 1 diabetes is treated, but it also led to some lingering questions about the persistent effects of the disease. Now, researchers led by City of Hope’s Rama Natarajan, Ph.D., director of the Division of Molecular Diabetes Research, may have found some answers.

Natarajan Rama

Rama Natarajan, director of the Division of Molecular Diabetes Research, has discovered some clues to the “metabolic memory” experienced by diabetes patients.

So-called “metabolic memory” has puzzled scientists for decades. The condition refers to the enduring harmful effects of high blood sugar on the cardiovascular system. Researchers first uncovered the phenomenon during a long-running diabetes clinical trial that compared the effects of standard control of blood sugar versus intensive control.

Standard control involved one to two insulin injections per day and normal monitoring by a physician. Intensive control used three to four insulin injections and rigorous medical supervision aimed at keeping blood sugar as close to normal as possible. The study showed that intensive therapy significantly reduced the risk of many diabetes complications, such as kidney and eye disease, compared to standard therapy. The results were so clear it led researchers to propose that the intensive therapy be made the new standard of care.

Scientists were surprised by another result, however. Patients who started with standard diabetes therapy but switched to intensive therapy still had significantly higher risk of kidney, eye and cardiovascular diseases later in life. In other words, moving patients from standard to intensive therapy did not reverse or halt the harm done by high blood sugar levels. The body “remembered” the sugar’s effects, and damage to heart and blood vessel tissues continued to build over the years.

Natarajan and her team at City of Hope, along with collaborators from other institutions, found strong evidence that epigenetic modifications could be the culprit. These chemical changes, which occur within chromosomes, can hinder or boost the activity of genes. » Continue Reading

Mother’s Day tribute: Kayla’s fight was her mother’s fight

May 11, 2014 | by   

This weekend, City of Hope salutes mothers – mothers who are our patients, yes, but also the mothers of patients. Their path is difficult, their role is critical.

BMT Reunion and Kayla Saikaly and family

Adi Versano, center, the bone marrow donor for Kayla Saikaly, right, meets the Saikaly family: Samar, Alex and Riad. Credit: Bob Riha Jr.

The story of their children’s battle is also the story of their battle. Just ask Samar Saikaly.

When her daughter Kayla experienced a difficult-to-control nose bleed after a basketball game one day several years ago, Samar took notice. That nosebleed, combined with the unexplained bruises on her daughter’s skin, worried her. Samar called a physician – and began her daughter’s multiyear journey to overcome aplastic anemia.

But Kayla didn’t go through that journey alone. Samar was beside her every step of the way, guarding the best she could, fighting the best she could, doing everything possible to improve the odds in her daughter’s favor.

Kayla’s doctor at City of Hope, Nicole Karras, M.D., recently recalled Samar’s reaction to the news that Kayla’s chemotherapy regimen had to be intensified. “She just said: ‘Tell us what we have to do, and we will do it. We will keep her safe and infection free, whatever it takes.”’

And so the story of Kayla and her illness is also about Samar. The ordeal following her bone marrow transplant was arduous, and leaving the hospital was just the beginning of that ordeal: » Continue Reading

To Adi Versano, meeting bone marrow recipient was like meeting a sister

May 9, 2014 | by   

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” a doctor from Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem asked 26-year-old Adi Versano almost two years ago.

bone marrow donor Adi Versano

Adi Versano, left, hugs Kayla Saikaly, a 17-year-old aplastic anemia patient who was saved by Versano’s bone marrow donation. Photo credit: Bob Riha Jr.

“Two sisters and one brother,” she said.

Then the doctor told her she had another “sister,” this one in the United States, and that she desperately needed Adi’s help.

This “sister” was not a relative in a traditional sense, but their genes lined up to make Versano the perfect bone marrow match for then-15-year-old Kayla Saikaly, who needed a bone marrow transplant to cure her of aplastic anemia, a condition that causes the body not to produce enough blood cells and cripples the immune system.

There was no doubt in Versano’s mind that she would help. She says she cannot remember exactly when she, during a routine blood donation, signed up for a bone marrow registry. She was 19 then, and serving in the army in Jerusalem. Signing up was simply the right thing to do.

She signed up, and then didn’t think often about the registry or her potential to be a donor.

She began studies to become a special education teacher, choosing to specialize in working with children who have special needs because she feels she can truly make a difference in their lives. These students become like family, she says. She also started working as an assistant kindergarten teacher.

Then, in the year before what she describes as “the call that changed my life,” cancer hit close to home. » Continue Reading

Bone marrow donor: Just doing the right thing to save lives

May 9, 2014 | by   

Signing up to be a bone marrow donor, being selected as a match, undergoing blood tests, then driving 180 miles for the procedure, all for someone she never met, does not a hero make – not in Antonia Klyn’s book.

George Winston and bone marrow donor Antonia Klyn

Bone marrow donor Antonia Klyn receives a gift of CDs from musician George Winston at the 38th annual Bone Marrow Reunion on Friday, May 9, at City of Hope. Photo credit: Bob Riha Jr.

“Our modern medicine offers so many possibilities, we have to use them,” says the matter-of-fact 22-year-old college student, who lives in Lauteral, Germany. “In my opinion, healthy people should help ill people … I’m happy that I did this, but I don’t see myself as a lifesaver or something.”

At least one person would disagree: The man she saved nearly 6,000 miles away.

Until today, Klyn knew only that she was a close match for an adult man who badly needed a bone marrow transplant. The rest, she says, was simply a matter of doing the right thing.

Klyn is studying media and theater science at the Friedrich Alexander University in Erlangen-Nürnberg. Several years ago, she’d heard news reports about the need for bone marrow donors, and the next time she donated blood, she signed up to be a blood marrow donor.

“I don’t have relatives or friends with cancer,” she said. “I just thought it’s the right thing to do. I’m a young, healthy woman, and I wanted to help somebody who needs my help. And, of course, I know that there is always the possibility that someone in my family or one of my friends gets ill. If that would happen, I would hope that there is a donor.” » Continue Reading

What makes City of Hope research different? Collaboration (w/VIDEO)

May 8, 2014 | by   

Regardless of their institution, all cancer researchers want one thing – to find a cure for cancer. But City of Hope researchers have some advantages in this quest.

The advantages start with a culture of collaboration. “The fact that we can make things on campus, test things on campus, do everything on campus … What’s different here is things make it to the patient,” says Jacob Berlin, Ph.D., assistant professor of the Department of Molecular Medicine, in the video above.

“We’ve got a major hospital that’s doing state of the art therapies, and we have a very good basic science institute on the same campus. There’s a lot of give and take between those two,” says John Zaia, M.D., the Aaron D. and Edith Miller Chair in Gene Therapy, as well as the chair and professor of the Department of Virology at City of Hope.

Good science needs more than collaboration, of course. It also requires sophisticated facilities that allow researchers to accomplish their goals. And it requires institutional commitment, resources and a proven track record to attract the best scientists. City of Hope has all that.

But, still, collaboration is the foundation.

Says Karen Aboody, M.D., associate professor of neurosciences and neurosurgery: “There’s constant communication between the researchers and the clinicians. Everybody shares their experience and their techniques.”


Watch our scientists explain what makes City of Hope special.

Take a virtual tour of City of Hope.

And learn more about cancer research at City of Hope.



This celebration (Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion) includes reflection

May 7, 2014 | by   

At City of Hope’s upcoming Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion on Friday, May 9, hundreds of patients and the doctors and nurses who cared for them through their battles with cancer and other hematologic diseases will celebrate life and second chances.

Survivors and family at the City of Hope "Celebration of Life" Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion

Survivors and family members at the City of Hope “Celebration of Life” Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion.

The annual reunion, formally known as the Celebration of Life and now in its 38th year, has grown from a single patient and his brother who donated lifesaving bone marrow to hundreds of patients and thousands in attendance.

The reunion is an opportunity to reflect on the personal connection between caregivers at City of Hope and patients. That connection matters. It’s one reason that City of Hope has the best outcomes in the nation for hematopoietic cell transplants.

» Continue Reading

From donor to recipient: Follow the blood (w/VIDEO)

May 6, 2014 | by   

Every day in the United States, an estimated 40,000 units of blood products are used to treat the injured and the ill. This includes City of Hope patients, who count on donated blood during surgery or while undergoing radiation, chemotherapy or bone marrow transplantation — all of which can diminish a patient’s ability to produce their own blood or specific components of it.

This would not be possible if not for the generosity of more than 9 million Americans who donate blood at least once a year.

What happens to blood from the time it is collected until it is needed by, and transfused into, a patient? Find out in the video below.

What happens to blood from the time it’s collected until it’s needed by, and transfused into, a patient? Find out in the video “Follow the Blood,” above.

While these donors know that their contributions can save a life, they may not be aware of the journey blood takes after it leaves their veins.

To help shed light on that mystery, we took an inside look at City of Hope’s Michael Amini Transfusion Medicine Center. There, we trace a blood’s voyage from the time it is collected to its eventual destination: being transfused into a patient who needs it during cancer treatment.

To see the blood’s journey from collection to transfusion, watch our video “Follow the Blood,” above.  We’re not the only ones who found this process mesmerizing; the video has been viewed almost 30,000 times so far on our YouTube channel. It has also been featured on Gizmodo, Digg and – and received compliments from our own blood donor center staff. » Continue Reading