The body’s immune system is usually adept at attacking outside invaders such as bacteria and viruses. But because cancer originates from the body’s own cells, the immune system can fail to see it as foreign. As a result, the body’s most powerful ally can remain largely idle against cancer as the disease progresses. Immunotherapy in general seeks to spur the immune system to action, helping the body fight cancer. One type of immunotherapy —T cell therapy — reprograms immune cells known as T cells to recognize and destroy cancer cells.
A wave of clinical trials
Normally, T cells attack bacteria and other infectious agents. In T cell therapy, T cells are isolated from a sample of the patient’s blood, then genetically engineered to seek out and attack a specific cancer. Researchers grow millions of these engineered T cells in the laboratory. The engineered cells are reinfused into the patient, where they go to work eliminating cancer.
Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, has long pursued breakthrough treatments for hematologic cancers and blood-related disorders, and heads up City of Hope’s bone marrow transplant program. Under his direction, a wave of T cell clinical trials is underway, all of which are moving the treatment out of the lab and directly to patients. » Continue Reading
On Jan. 1, 2015, six City of Hope patients who have journeyed through cancer will welcome the new year with their loved ones atop City of Hope’s Tournament of Roses Parade float. The theme of the float is “Made Possible by HOPE.” The theme of the parade is “Inspiring Stories.”
Here, Kari Penner shares the inspiring story of her battle for her son.
By Kari Penner
In 2002 at age 20, I decided to move to Romania for one year to volunteer in an orphanage. More than a year went by, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the precious children there.
In July 2003, a newborn who had been abandoned at birth was brought to the orphanage when he was 2 months old. This was Adi. In November 2004, Adi now 16 months old started getting sick. He had high fevers for a week and blood tests revealed severe anemia. More tests were run and in early December 2004 and Adi was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system that started on his adrenal gland and spread to his bone marrow.
I got to work researching and trying to find treatment options for him. I tried to get him to the States for treatment, but I didn’t have any luck. Children in foster care are not allowed to leave the country.
I felt like there were two options: Walk away and don’t look back, yet live with regret – or fight alongside this precious child and adopt him as my own.
I chose Adi. » Continue Reading
Are you thinking about switching from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes for the Great American Smokeout? Are you thinking that might be a better option than the traditional quit-smoking route? Think again.
For lung expert Brian Tiep, M.D., the dislike and distrust he feels for e-cigs comes down to this: The public has been burned by tobacco companies before.
The same companies that claimed cigarettes were safe, he says, now claim that electronic cigarettes – which aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration – are safe.
“I was opened-minded initially,” said Tiep, a physician in pulmonary and critical care medicine at City of Hope. “Then the tobacco companies started buying out the e-cigarette companies. These products have no regulations whatsoever right now. You’re trusting them to do the right thing by you. They claimed tobacco was safe, and it turned out not to be.”
As for tobacco cigarettes, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association tied smoking among U.S. adults to 14 million health conditions. Further, a U.S. District Court judge who in 2006 found tobacco companies guilty of lying to the public about the dangers of smoking, ordered the companies to admit their wrongdoing. The judge ruled they defrauded the public in five key ways: lying about the health damage caused by smoking, lying about the addictive nature of nicotine, marketing “low tar” and “light” cigarettes as healthier with no evidence that they are, deliberately making their products as addictive as possible and hiding the dangers of secondhand smoke. » Continue Reading
Hematologist Robert Chen, M.D., is boosting scientific discovery at City of Hope and, by extension, across the nation. Just ask the National Cancer Institute.
The institution recently awarded Chen the much-sought-after Clinical Investigator Team Leadership Award for boosting scientific discovery at City of Hope. He is one of just 11 researchers in the nation this year to receive the prestigious $100,000 grant from the NCI.
Fewer than 60 scientists have been granted the award since its inception five years ago.
The two-year NCI grant recognizes Chen’s exceptional merit as a clinical researcher whose innovative efforts are advancing therapies for lymphoma patients.
Chen, an assistant professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, specializes in Hodgkin lymphoma research and treatment. His recent leadership of clinical trials testing the drug brentuximab vedotin helped clear its use for treating certain Hodgkin lymphoma patients who don’t respond well to stem cell transplantation. » Continue Reading
Great strides have been made in treating cancer – including lung cancer – but by the time people show symptoms of the disease, the cancer has usually advanced. That’s because, at early stages, lung cancer has no symptoms.
Only recently has lung cancer screening become an option. (Read more about the risks and benefits.) The U.S. Preventive Task Force recommends screening with low-dose computed tomography (more commonly called a low-dose CT scan) for individuals who meet the following guidelines:
- Age 55 to 80
– Have a 30 pack-year smoking history. That is, the person smoked a pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years.
– Currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years. » Continue Reading
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).
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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.
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