Diabetes: Discovery could make growing islet cells easier

October 22, 2013 | by   

Transplantation of insulin-producing islet cells is a potentially powerful tool for treating type 1 diabetes, but coming up with enough healthy donor cells for the procedure is difficult – at least for now.

Certain islet cells within the pancreas are crucial for producing insulin. Now diabetes researchers have found a key to growing them more effectively in the lab.

Certain islet cells within the pancreas are crucial for producing insulin. Now diabetes researchers have found a key to growing them more effectively in the lab.

Currently, one transplant can require cells from two donor pancreases, and the precious organs are in short supply. Of the approximately 200,000 patients with advanced diabetes that can no longer be sufficiently managed with insulin shots, only 1 percent will be able to receive a transplant.

H. Teresa Ku, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases Research at City of Hope, and her team have been exploring how to supplement islet cells harvested from donated organs with islet cells grown from stem cells. A new discovery in her lab may help expedite that process. As described in a paper published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that overexpressing a specific small RNA molecule enhances the differentiation of pancreatic cells growing from stem cells.

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Chinese medicine compound could block liver cancer

October 18, 2013 | by   

Liver cancer is tough to treat, and it’s on the rise. Now among the top 10 cancers diagnosed in the U.S. each year, it’s the third-deadliest cancer in the world. But a compound found in a traditional Chinese medicine may one day help halt the disease’s advance.

Photo of Wendong Huang, Ph.D., in lab

Wendong Huang strives for new insights into metabolism and liver cancer. What he discovers could help tame the disease. Photo credit: Walter Urie

Wendong Huang, Ph.D., associate professor in City of Hope’s Division of Molecular Diabetes Research, and his colleagues recently published the findings in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. They found that berbamine and one of its derivatives, called bbd24, blocked the growth of liver cancer cells and drove them to their deaths.

Berbamine comes from a plant that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat inflammation. In recent years, however, the anticancer potential of berbamine and some of its chemical cousins has come to scientists’ attention.

Spurred by the compounds’ anticancer potential, Huang and his team of researchers looked to see what, if any, effect berbamine and bbd24 might have on liver cancer cells, one of Huang’s chief research interests. They found in laboratory studies that the compounds did kill liver cancer cells, and at doses that would be reasonable for humans to receive. » Continue Reading

Walk for Hope: Hear their stories, tell us yours

October 17, 2013 | by   

Walk for Hope graphic

One in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in her lifetime. And each year, this reality unites thousands of survivors, families and friends in a truly one-of-a-kind event: City of Hope’s Walk for Hope.

The walk not only raises funds for research into women’s cancers, it’s actually held where new treatments are found and where they save lives: on the City of Hope campus in Duarte, Calif., with cancer patients watching from the windows of the nationally known City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital. With more than 8,000 walkers participating, Walk for Hope celebrates the collaboration between researchers, patients and the community to bring an end to breast and gynecologic cancers.

The annual event benefits City of Hope’s multidisciplinary Women’s Cancers Program. Most special about the event is the location. Walkers feel the power of their contribution as they walk by renowned Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, where promising scientific discoveries are made. That power is amplified as they pass the clinic and the hospital, where women undergo treatment.

The walk is a tribute to those women who have been, and will be, affected by women’s cancers. Participants walk for loved ones and friends, for support, for collaboration, for hope, for cures.

Hear below why these participants are walking on Nov. 3. And then tell us why you walk.

Post a video or photo with the hashtag #whyIwalk to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Vine. The collection of #whyIwalk videos can be found on City of Hope’s You Tube and Pinterest pages.

Mary Sadeghy walks for RESEARCH “so no one ever has to hear that they have cancer.”

Fran Rizzi walks for a CURE “because the list of women I adore that have been touched by this disease is far too long.”

Olga Rosas walks for RESEARCH “to help raise funds for the research that has kept me cancer free for 10 years.”

Cancer treatments without side effects? Meditopes could be answer

October 17, 2013 | by   

“Identification and grafting of a unique peptide-binding site in the Fab framework of monoclonal antibodies.” That’s the title of a study published online recently ahead of print in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers will understand the implications; the average person may not. The key word, however, is the one most understandable to the lay reader or cancer patient: unique.


Meditopes, newly discovered sites on monoclonal antibodies into which specific peptides fit neatly, have the potential to treat cancer and many other diseases in an efficient, side effect-free manner.

In short, researchers at City of Hope have hit upon a revolutionary avenue to combat cancer – and potentially many other diseases.

“This discovery provides a new way to aim cancer treatments to avoid side effects. Like the laser target designator that guides a smart bomb, this technology can be used to ensure that medicines make their way specifically to cancers,” said study co-author Joshua M. Donaldson. “The pretargeting can be applied to any antibody, and the cargo (bomb) is anything that can be attached to the guidance system.”

Monoclonal antibodies are  proteins that the body produces to fight invaders. Researchers have long wanted to use these proteins to fight cancer efficiently and effectively, but with limited success. Genetic engineering is less than practical, and chemically attaching cancer drugs to the proteins leads to reduced efficacy and increased side effects.

But “efficiently and effectively” now appears possible.

The City of Hope team, led by John Williams, found that monoclonal antibodies have a hole in the middle, one in which a specific peptide (a kind of molecule) fits neatly. Think of a lock and key or, as Williams describes it, a tractor and trailer.

“With this specific hitch, you can take any tractor and hook up any trailer, effectively allowing you to mix-and-match the appropriate equipment for a specific job,” Williams said.

However you describe the connection, it now has a name: a meditope. And perhaps the most obvious use of the meditope is to fight cancer.

“The next steps are to determine the specific antibody and chemotherapy (cancer medicine) combinations to direct against various cancers,” Donaldson said. “We hope to improve on the gains that have been made in moving from nondirected toxic drugs to more cancer-specific drugs. This allows patients to receive cancer treatments without debilitating side effects like low blood counts, infections and dehydration.”

The possibilities are so extraordinary that the team was recently awarded a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, a well-known – and extremely prestigious – name in scientific circles.

So remember the term “meditope.” You’ll be hearing it again.


As listed in the study, the authors were Joshua M. Donaldson, Cindy Zer, Kendra N. Avery, Krzysztof P. Bzymek, David A. Horne and John C. Williams.

The research reported in this article was supported by, among others,  the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under grant number P30 CA033572 and R21 CA135216. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.




‘My cancer diagnosis: What I wish I’d known’ – Roshen Tikari (w/PODCAST)

October 16, 2013 | by   

One in a series of stories asking former patients to reflect upon their experience …

Three-time lymphoma survivor Roshen Tikari made it through by keeping her family and friends close.

Three-time lymphoma survivor Roshen Tikari made it through by keeping her family and friends close.

When Roshen Tikari received her first lymphoma diagnosis, 30 years ago, she experienced a flood of fear and anxiety.

When she received her third diagnosis, last year, that deluge of emotion was replaced with a calm sense of purpose.

“When it came back for the third time, I didn’t freak out. There was no fear,” said Tikari, a resident of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. “‘OK. It’s come back. Just deal with it; attend to it; get rid of it.’”

It helped that she had City of Hope on her side. From the chemotherapy that drove away lymphoma in 1983 to the bone marrow transplant that conquered a recurrence seven years later to the clinical trial that led to complete remission earlier this year, the medical team at City of Hope has rewarded Tikari’s faith with a return to health.

Along the way, her experiences with cancer propelled her to a kind of hard-won personal growth.

PODCAST: Roshen Tikari talks about her story, her perspective and her advice in City of Hope’s Cancer Journeys podcast. Download and listen >>>

“Before that, I was just existing. And then, after going through all my treatments and I came out of it, I started to live,” she said.

The latest good news — complete remission — arrived this year at a meaningful time for the proud mother and grandmother.

“It was the greatest Mother’s Day gift I’ve ever received,” she said.

We asked Tikari to look back at the time of her diagnosis and to ask herself what she knows now that she wishes she’d known then. What wisdom, soothing words, practical tips or just old-fashioned advice would she give her newly diagnosed self? » Continue Reading

Breast cancer: Twitter users have questions; we have answers

October 15, 2013 | by   

One in eight women in the U.S. will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer, meaning that you or someone you know likely will face the disease. When cast in such personal terms, that statistic can lead to a host of questions. And City of Hope has answers.

Laura Kruper

Among the questions posed to breast cancer surgeon Laura Kruper during City of Hope’s Tweetchat was this one: How much alcohol is OK?

During City of Hope’s live TweetChat on Oct. 15, Laura Kruper, M.D., director of City of Hope’s Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Health Center, discussed breast cancer prevention, risks, treatments, lifestyle changes and much more under the hashtag #BreastChat.

You can read the full chat below.

For more answers, attend our Ask the Experts session Oct. 16 from 6:30 to 7 p.m. Titled “The A to Z’s of Breast Cancer Prevention,” the session will explore ways to reduce the chance of breast cancer, identifying risk factors, surgical options, lifestyle choices and much more. A patient expert also will provide insight on the disease, based on her breast cancer treatment at City of Hope.

Sign up for Ask the Experts online here or call 800-535-1390, ext. 65669.

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Meet our doctors: Endocrinologist Raynald Samoa on diabetes

October 12, 2013 | by   

City of Hope endocrinologist Raynald Samoa, M.D., has seen a lot of people struggle with their weight. His roots are in the South Pacific, a region that has eight of the 10 countries with the highest prevalence of obesity in the world, according to

Dr. Raynald Samoa says eating better and exercising can deter type 2 diabetes.

Raynald Samoa, a City of Hope endocrinologist, says eating better and exercising can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Now, as a physician, Samoa is committed to fighting obesity and its associated diseases, including diabetes. Here he offers insight into how certain lifestyle changes can make a dramatic difference in the lives of people with diabetes, whether young or old.

What is an endocrinologist, and who should see one?

An endocrinologist is a specialist who deals with hormonal issues and who is specifically trained to help patients with diabetes, thyroid disorders (including thyroid cancer), osteoporosis and many other hormonally based diseases.

Why is the prevalence of diabetes rising in the United States, particularly among children?

Type 2 diabetes prevalence is rising in the U.S., and many have associated the increase with the rise in obesity. Although the relationship between diabetes and obesity is not a direct one, they do share common causes, such as a high caloric intake and not enough exercise. As processed food has made food more accessible in the U.S., it has also made it easier to increase our caloric intake.

What can one do to prevent diabetes?

To prevent diabetes, one must understand the different types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is caused by a destruction of the cells in the pancreas that secrete insulin, the main hormone that helps control blood sugar. The destruction of these insulin-producing cells are caused by one’s own immune system. Although many preventive studies are being conducted, there has not been any consensus regarding the prevention of type 1 diabetes. There are some experts who propose that early feeding of cereal to infants may be a contributing factor.
  • Type 2 diabetes is associated with weight gain. In type 2 diabetes, the body still secretes insulin but can’t use it effectively. If one can still secrete enough insulin, then blood sugars can still be controlled. But when one’s pancreas can’t secrete enough insulin, then blood sugars start to rise.  Several landmark studies show that modifying one’s lifestyle via eating healthier and regular exercise is the best way to prevent type 2 diabetes. A medication called Metformin was also shown to prevent diabetes (but not as well as lifestyle modification) in high-risk patients.

It all starts with education. If people take simple steps like eating better and exercising, and make them a part of their routine for a lifetime, many can deter type 2 diabetes. They just need to know how. And in addition to our research, education is part of how City of Hope can help.

How is diabetes treated? Are there any new emerging therapies or techniques?

The mainstay for treatment of type 1 diabetes is to replace insulin. This can be done through injections either with a syringe, pen or an insulin pump. Newer studies are looking at the utility of transplanting pancreatic cells into patients with diabetes as a form of treatment, and currently is being studied for patients with low blood-sugar awareness. Type 2 diabetes treatment revolves around making one more sensitive to the effects of insulin and giving more insulin to control blood sugars.

Both types of diabetes require a multidisciplinary team. Treatment plans should include dietary education and follow-up, glucometer use to check blood sugars, identification and treatment of low blood sugars, and medication assessment. With type 2 diabetes, oral medications have been used to both improve insulin resistance and/or provide more insulin to control blood sugars.

Why did you choose this specialty?

I chose this specialty because I am strongly interested in the hormonal pathways that cause these diseases. The epidemic of diabetes that is sweeping across our country motivates me to take the best of science to help patients find the best way for them to live healthier.

Read more about options and approaches for treating diabetes in our Division of Molecular Diabetes Research section.

Breast cancer survivorship: Life after treatment (w/VIDEO)

October 10, 2013 | by   

Thanks to better screening and therapies, more women than ever are living — and thriving — after a breast cancer diagnosis. Although being cured may seem to be the end goal of treatment, for many women it’s only the beginning of a lifelong journey.

“There is a growing group of patients who are surviving their breast cancers and getting on with the rest of their lives … but many survivors may experience symptoms and issues as a result of their treatment,” said Lily Lai, M.D., associate clinical professor and physician at City of Hope’s Department of Surgery.

These symptoms vary widely depending on the treatments received, Lai said. In the video above, she does highlight some common side effects, including:

  • Lymphedema, swelling of the arm that can limit movement and cause pain, due to lymph node removal during surgery
  • Chemo brain,” deficits in memory, attention or cognition, that may be caused by chemotherapy treatments
  • Nausea, fatigue and depression, which can be associated with any breast cancer treatment

The good news is that many of these symptoms are manageable, Lai said. For example, lymphedema can be mitigated by wearing compression sleeves; several drugs can treat depression and fatigue.

And with the number of survivors growing, Lai said, research in this field is expanding, too, particularly about specific treatments’ potential side effects and complementary therapies that can address some of these symptoms.

Among the current studies are those assessing yoga‘s ability to reduce fatigue and acupuncture to treat nausea and chronic pain, Lai said. Although those therapies are still being studied for their efficacy, Lai does urge survivors to exercise.

“There’s a growing body of literature that suggests maintaining a normal weight and increasing your physical activity can both help not only managing symptoms … but can actually decrease the risk of recurrence of breast cancer and dying of breast cancer,” Lai said.

And that’s a benefit that any cancer survivor can support.

Join our breast cancer TweetChat on Tuesday, Oct. 15, noon to 1 p.m. PT.

Melanoma: Some sun lovers increase UV exposure after diagnosis

October 10, 2013 | by   

Once burned, twice shy? It would seem that anyone who has been diagnosed with melanoma – the most deadly type of skin cancer – would be doubly cautious about their future exposures to the sun.

skin cancer

A melanoma diagnosis is not a deterrent for some sun lovers, research has found.

Not so, according to a new study in JAMA Dermatology, published online Oct. 2.

Because ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is the primary risk factor for developing cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM), and CMM patients are at heightened risk of developing a second primary melanoma, researchers sought to shed light on the behavior of patients over a three-year period following diagnosis.

First author Luise Winkel Idorn, M.D., Ph.D., of Bispebjerg Hospital and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and her colleagues analyzed data from 40 participants, including 20 patients with CMM and 20 control subjects who did not have the disease but who were matched to patients by sex, age, occupation and skin type. » Continue Reading

Foothill Fitness Challenge: Try a crispy autumn salad

October 8, 2013 | by   

Salad days don’t end in August.

Chef Nathan Lyon serves up recipes and nutrition tips at the Foodhill Fitness Challenge kick-off.

Chef Nathan Lyon serves up recipes and nutrition tips at the Foothill Fitness Challenge kickoff. Photo credit: Nicole White

Using his philosophy of cooking using seasonal produce, celebrity chef Nathan Lyon shared a recipe from his cookbook “Great Food Starts Fresh” with hundreds of Foothill Fitness Challenge participants at City of Hope on Saturday. Because the participants were there specifically to improve their health, the recipe was well-received. Very well-received.

The challenge is a healthy competition sponsored by City of Hope for residents of surrounding communities; Saturday was the kickoff. The three-month event encourages residents of nearby cities to team up and compete to determine who can make the most fitness gains.

“Where I come into play is after walking around and doing all this exercise, you’re going to need to eat something,” said the Emmy-nominated television chef to the crowd Saturday morning. “So what I teach people to do is cook healthy, seasonal food.”

Cooking with produce that’s in season is a shortcut in itself, as it’s crunchy, fresh and full of flavor on its own – needing little dressing up. In his 10-minute demonstration, he prepared a crunchy, flavorful salad that just might tempt people who usually only like the croutons-and-cheese part of a salad.

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