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

Medicare panel exaggerated risks of lung cancer screening, expert says

May 6, 2014 | by   

When the Medicare Evidence Development & Coverage Advisory Committee (MEDCAC) recommended last week that Medicare not cover potentially lifesaving lung cancer screening, lung cancer experts criticized the decision, saying the panel had missed an opportunity to help prevent deaths from the leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

Dan Raz, M.D., co-director of City of Hope's Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program, says lung cancer screening with low-dose radiation chest CT scans saves lives.

Dan Raz, co-director of City of Hope’s Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program, says lung cancer screening with low-dose radiation chest CT scans saves lives.

They weren’t the only ones dismayed by the decision. Our Facebook followers posed a few questions themselves:

One wrote: “This doesn’t make sense. Is it some kind of Dollars vs. Deaths decision?”

Another asked: “What can be done to challenge the decision?”

Dan Raz, M.D., co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope, was among the expert presenters at the advisory committee meeting. He offers these answers to our Facebook followers:


Thanks for the questions, and for feeling so strongly about this very important issue. First, to offer a little background, this panel offers nonbinding recommendations to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force – which, under the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) determines which services insurers must cover – recommends this same low-dose CT scanning for screening, and insurers will be required to cover it. The CMS will issue a proposed decision by November, and adopt a final decision in February 2015.

However, should Medicare not cover the screening, a huge portion of the population that is most at risk for lung cancer would lose access to lung cancer screening. I presented to the panel at its meeting last week, advocating for the screening to be covered because the science shows it’s effective and it would save lives. This is an opportunity to transform lung cancer from something we can only sometimes cure to a disease we can usually cure, because finding it early is critical. » Continue Reading

‘Why?’ With cancer, no good answers – but a determination to find them

May 5, 2014 | by   

“Why?” The question is a natural one for people diagnosed with cancer. “Why did this cancer develop?” “What caused it?” “How did it start?”


“What causes cancer?” “Why does it develop?” Researchers and doctors at City of Hope, and around the world, are determined to find the answers.

The questions send people searching for possible links – to the environment, to their genetics, to things they didn’t do, to things they should have done, even to God.

One breast cancer patient and visitor to City of Hope’s Facebook page recently voiced her frustration with the lack of answers, writing: “No one can tell me where the cause of my cancer came from. Speculation is all that there is!”

The “hucksters and snake oil salesmen type people claiming remedies for this awful disease” were particularly troubling to her. “Why isn’t more being said about what is real and what is a hoax. What is the truth about parabens? If they are so bad, why is the stuff so common? What is the truth about plastic? … All this hype is worse than going through chemotherapy.”

Cy Stein, M.D., Ph.D., the Arthur & Rosalie Kaplan Chair in Medical Oncology at City of Hope and the deputy director for clinical research, is both sympathetic about the need for answers and optimistic that, eventually, we’ll get them.

“At this point in time, no one can tell you with certainty where your breast cancer came from,” he responded. “Cosmologists can describe the evolution of the universe from a fraction of a second after its birth at the Big Bang until now; but when biologists look the other way, through the microscope lens at living cells, we see one mystery piled upon another. Sometimes I’m convinced the complexity of a single cell is greater than that of the remainder of the universe entire.” » Continue Reading

‘Cancer Urban Legends:’ The truth is out there (w/VIDEO)

May 4, 2014 | by   

With so many cancer-related rumors circulating amid friends and colleagues and, of course, on the Internet, people sometimes find themselves scratching their heads. Is it really true? Does deodorant really cause cancer? Does soy really cause cancer? Do cell phones really cause cancer?

On April 23, City of Hope physicians and researchers came together to have a conversation about these cancer urban legends. During this lively discussion, they not only helped put cancer facts into perspective, they offered advice on healthy eating and living, prevention and some of the research underway at City of Hope.

Moderator Linda H. Malkas, Ph.D., deputy director of basic research and a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, led the discussion, asking tough questions and raising concerns that many people no doubt have. » Continue Reading

Meet our doctors: Ravi Bhatia on better survival for leukemia patients

May 3, 2014 | by   

Every four minutes, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer. More than 156,000 new cases in the U.S. are expected this year alone, with more than 52,000 of those diagnosed as leukemias. Causes of these cancers remain relatively unknown, but advances in treatment, some of which resulted from research at City of Hope, are increasing survival rates.

Dr. Ravi Bhatia

Advances in leukemia treatment are improving survival rates, says Ravi Bhatia, co-leader of the Hematologic Malignancies Program at City of Hope. (Photo by Walter Urie)

Recognized internationally for its breakthrough treatments for leukemia and other blood disorders, City of Hope is one of the most successful treatment centers for leukemia in the country and has had some of the consistently best survival outcomes. Here, Ravi Bhatia, M.D., director of the Division of Hematopoietic Stem Cell and Leukemia Research and co-leader of the Hematologic Malignancies Program, explains that the focus of doctors and others at City of Hope is not just cancer remission, but to cure patients altogether.

What is leukemia, and are there any symptoms?

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. It usually begins in the bone marrow – the soft material in the center of most bones where blood cells are formed. Normally, blood cells are made in an orderly, controlled way. In a person with leukemia, the bone marrow makes abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells. As more leukemia cells are produced, they crowd out the healthy blood cells, making it hard for normal blood cells to do their work, which is to fight infections, carry oxygen and prevent bleeding.

Common symptoms of leukemia include headache, anemia, weight loss, pain in the bones or joints, swelling or discomfort in the abdomen (from an enlarged spleen) and swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck or armpit. Some of the symptoms of leukemia are similar to those caused by the flu or other common diseases, so it is important to see a doctor if you have these symptoms. Only a doctor can diagnose and treat leukemia. » Continue Reading

Families’ lifelong bond started with a bone marrow transplant

May 2, 2014 | by   

Some bone marrow transplant recipients rely on the generosity of unrelated donors to provide the lifesaving donations necessary to cure their cancer. In every case, patients are grateful. For some, the donation bonds families who were once strangers.

Darren and Lisa Bassler toast to life with Laura and Craig Sowers. The couples became friends after Darren donated bone marrow to Lisa a decade ago.

Darren and Lisa Bassler toast to life with Laura and Craig Sowers. The couples became friends after Darren donated bone marrow to Lisa a decade ago.

That’s the case for Craig and Laura Sowers and for Darren Bassler, who saved Laura’s life with a bone marrow donation. The Sowers live in New Mexico, and Darren is a New York resident. They met years ago and have remained friends. They will attend City of Hope’s Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion this year to celebrate an important anniversary: 10 years since Laura’s transplant.

Craig Sowers tells the story in his own words:

The phone rang just after dinnertime. The caller ID said New York. I handed the phone to Laura. I heard her say, “Darren? THE Darren?”

Our year of censored communication had expired just a few hours earlier. We had received a call from the matched unrelated donor (MUD) program director of City of Hope.  So had Darren.

It had started for Laura and me two years and five months earlier with Laura’s diagnosis of leukemia. For Darren, it had been five years since he had lost his wife, Lori. She had died after a year and half battle with cancer. The loss was devastating and left him with their three daughters: One was 7 at the time and their twins were 3 years old.

Somehow, life went on and Darren continued work at the plant in upstate New York where he had been employed for 17 years. The plant owner had extended every benefit possible to Darren and his family during his ordeal. At some point during the next year, his workplace hosted a drive to register potential bone marrow donors. Darren gave a blood sample, then he forgot about it. » Continue Reading

Diabetes researcher’s hunt for islet cells gets $1.9 million NIH boost

May 2, 2014 | by   

Researchers are working hard to make needles a thing of the past for people with type 1 diabetes. Islet transplantation is proving to be a powerful and promising way to do that, but the supply of islets is extremely limited. Teresa Ku, Ph.D., is working to find more islets, and a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will help her do that.

Teresa Ku, Ph.D., is working to find more islets, and a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will help her do that.

Teresa Ku received a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to produce more islet cells to treat type 1 diabetes.

Islets are groups of cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, the hormone that enables the body to process sugar. In people with type 1 diabetes, islets cells are damaged or destroyed. These patients must inject themselves with insulin to control their blood sugar levels.

By transplanting patients with healthy islets from donors, researchers hope to restore their ability to produce insulin in the body and eliminate the need for injections.

Unfortunately, donated islets are in very short supply. Current methods require at least two pancreases per patient to get enough islets for a successful transplant. So scientists such as Ku, an associate professor in the Division of Developmental & Translational Diabetes and Endocrine Research, are looking for ways to grow these insulin-producing cells in the laboratory to make large batches for later transplant.

Researchers already have used embryonic stem cells to make insulin-producing cells that can be transplanted, but those cells have been shown to carry a risk of cancer. Scientists believe that they can avoid the cancer risk by using stem cells from adult pancreases. » Continue Reading

Cancer risk posed by nail salons’ UV lights: Putting it in perspective

May 1, 2014 | by   

An increased risk of skin cancer seems a high price to pay for quickly dried fingernails – and yet a recent study suggests that’s what you get with repeated use of ultraviolet, or UV, lamps used at nail salons.

UV risk and nail salons

The UV lights used at nail salons may pose a slightly increased risk of cancer, but the operative word is “slightly.”

The lamps-and-fingernails study, published April 30 in JAMA Dermatology, was a natural headline-grabber:

24 Visits to the Nail Salon Could Trigger Skin CancerTime

Could drying your nails at the salon give you cancer?Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Nail salon UV lamps: Are they safe? – CBS News

But the study – and the reaction to it – may shed as much light on the perception of risk as it does on the risk of skin cancer.

City of Hope experts discussed both at our recent “Cancer Urban Legends: Fact or Fiction?” Ask the Experts presentation. The topics reflected the cancer myths, rumors and worries experienced by the average consumer and, perhaps unsurprisingly here in well-manicured Southern California, the risk posed by nail salon lights was one of those concerns. » Continue Reading