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Freshly minted scientists embark upon ‘careers of greatness’

June 13, 2014 | by   

In an intimate ceremony with family, friends and faculty gathered near the Rose Garden, a dozen of City of Hope’s brightest young people embarked recently on the next phase of their scientific careers.

Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences commencement ceremony

The 2014 commencement ceremony at City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences launches a new class of top-notch scientists.

The 16th commencement ceremony of the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences took place June 6 on the institution’s Duarte campus. Sharing the culmination of years of intensive study and training, the students received their Doctor of Philosophy degrees from their laboratory mentors.

The event marked the beginning of what are sure to be great works of discovery, according to Robert Stone, City of Hope’s president and chief executive officer.

“While it’s true that today marks the completion of countless hours in the lab and the library, these pursuits were not ends in themselves,” Stone said. “Rather, they were preparation for careers of greatness …

“Thanks to this great institution — and thanks to the careers that now lie before you — progress will be made against diseases that cause untold suffering and death,” he added.

Nobel Laureate Thomas Cech, Ph.D., who gave the keynote address, reaffirmed Stone’s sentiment. » Continue Reading

$5.6 million CIRM grant will advance studies of new HIV treatment

June 12, 2014 | by   
A $5.6 million CIRM grant will allow a new approach to treating HIV to enter clinical trials.

A $5.6 million CIRM grant will allow a new approach to treating HIV to enter clinical trials.

A new approach to treating HIV could free patients from the virus’ tyranny once and for all. That approach will now advance to clinical trials, led by City of Hope researchers, through a $5.6 million grant from the California Regenerative Medicine Institute.

Under the leadership of John A. Zaia, M.D., chair of the Department of Virology and the Aaron D. Miller and Edith Miller Chair in Gene Therapy, a team of investigators at City of Hope, Sangamo Biosciences and Keck School of Medicine of USC have been developing a combination stem cell and gene therapy approach. Sangamo will provide an equal amount of funding to advance the project.

In the collaboration, AIDS patients from USC will receive treatment at City of Hope and then return to USC for follow-up.

“This is an important start that could one day change the way HIV/AIDS is treated,” Zaia said.

Although drug therapies aimed at holding back HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, have advanced significantly, they do not prevent continued virus growth and they have significant side effects. A cure remains elusive.

Several years ago, a surprise development gave hope that a genetic modification of blood stem cells could provide that cure. An AIDS patient became free of HIV infection after he received a bone marrow transplant to treat his leukemia. Dubbed the “Berlin patient,” he received marrow from a healthy donor who had a rare mutation that prevents the production of a key protein that the virus needs to infect cells. Essentially, the donor marrow was immune to HIV infection. » Continue Reading

Top-level cancer care just became more accessible

June 12, 2014 | by   

Changes in health care coverage are making it harder for some cancer patients to get high-level care. City of Hope is making it easier with the opening of a new community clinic in Arcadia, California.

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City of Hope has expanded access to its high-level cancer care with the opening of a new clinic in Arcadia.

City of Hope | Arcadia, located next to Methodist Hospital of Southern California, opened its doors for service this month. The clinic represents City of Hope’s latest efforts to strategically address the rapidly changing health care environment by expanding access to high-level cancer care. The facility makes it easier for patients in the community to obtain the general cancer surgery and medical oncology services they need.

At 3,000 square feet, the clinic houses seven exam rooms. Two of the rooms can be used for minor procedures, including those addressing prostate cancer. » Continue Reading

Stem cells could treat xerostomia (dry mouth) linked to cancer therapy

June 11, 2014 | by   

Few people might recognize the word xerostomia, but its effect is familiar. Conservative estimates suggest that 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from this malady, known more commonly as dry mouth.

Ann, David

David K. Ann, professor at City of Hope, received a five-year, $1.6 million grant to study stem cells that may restore salivary gland tissue damaged by cancer treatment.

The disorder arises when the mouth stops producing enough saliva. For many patients with cancers of the head and neck, the symptoms are all too common. Radiation therapy often is used to treat these cancers, and while highly targeted, the treatment can damage salivary glands. The result leads to difficulty swallowing and a lower quality of life.

There currently is no way to restore salivary gland function permanently. Artificial saliva is available, but clinicians generally don’t regard it as an effective long-term solution.

David K. Ann, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology, collaborating with Kirsten Limesand, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, aims to find better answers for these patients. The scientists recently received a five-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research, a part of the National Institutes of Health, to study stem cells that may restore salivary gland tissue damaged by cancer treatment. » Continue Reading

Cancer surgeon Yuman Fong: ‘Many advanced cancers are curable’

June 10, 2014 | by   


Less invasive treatments. More cures.

Yuman Fong, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgery at City of Hope, has adopted this as more than a mantra. He’s made it his life’s work. Penning the leading textbooks and manuals in liver surgery, delving into gene therapy to find innovative new approaches to use viruses to attack cancer, and exploring robotic means to improve surgeries and make them less invasive, Fong doesn’t limit himself to a single medical discipline in his quest to fight cancer.

Even in more advanced cases, up to 50 to 60 percent of liver cancer cases could be curable, says Yuman Fong, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgery.

Even in more advanced cases, up to 50 to 60 percent of liver cancer cases could be curable, says Yuman Fong, chair of City of Hope’s Department of Surgery.

“Many advanced cancers are curable,” he says. “Seeing an expert makes a difference.”

Fong uses the example of liver cancer, saying that often patients who have multiple tumors don’t recognize effective treatments are available for even advanced and complex cancers. About half of patients who have had colorectal cancer will develop a tumor in their liver. Of these, Fong estimates as many to 50 percent to 60 percent of these cases are curable – if patients can get to surgeons with the expertise to handle their disease.

He has been a leader in performing liver cancer surgeries that primarily use a needle to ablate the tumor – often allowing patients to go home on the same day.

While currently no broad screening regimen exists for liver cancer, doctors know two groups who are at highest risk, he says: colorectal cancer survivors and hepatitis C patients – especially those who have liver cirrhosis.

Fong’s point is that where you seek treatment for cancer care matters. That point is backed up by recent City of Hope research finding that being treated at a comprehensive cancer center does, in fact, improve survival. The study, recently presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting, also found that ethnicity, insurance type and socioeconomic status could all be barriers to getting treatment at a comprehensive cancer center.

The first step is for people to recognize that cancer is often more curable than they think, says Fong, and to seek the experts in curing it.

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Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting us online or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673)Our staff will explain what previous medical records we’ll need for your first appointment and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

Memory gets a boost when specific gene is stimulated, study finds

June 9, 2014 | by   

Learning and memory are regulated by a region of the brain known as the hippocampus. New research from City of Hope has found that stimulating a specific gene could prompt growth – in adults – of new neurons in this critical region, leading to faster learning and better memories.

brain neurons and memory

Stimulating a specific gene could prompt growth – in adults – of new neurons in the hippocampus, leading to faster learning and better memories.

Understanding the link between this gene and the growth of new neurons – or neurogenesis – is an important step in developing therapies to address impaired learning and memory associated with neurodegenerative diseases and aging. The new research was published June 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, which used an animal model, found that overexpressing the gene – a nuclear receptor called TLX – resulted in smart, faster learners that retained information better and longer.

“Memory loss is a major health problem, both in diseases like Alzheimer’s, but also just associated with aging,” said Yanhong Shi, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a neurosciences associate professor at City of Hope. “In our study, we manipulated the expression of this receptor by introducing an additional copy of the gene – which obviously we cannot do outside the laboratory setting. The next step is to find the drug that can target this same gene.”

The discovery creates a new potential strategy for improving cognitive performance in elderly patients and those who have a neurological disease or brain injury. » Continue Reading

Kids with leukemia at relapse risk due to forgetfulness about their pills

June 5, 2014 | by   

A quarter of children in remission from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, are tripling their risk of a relapse because they are missing too many doses of an essential maintenance medication, according to findings from a recent City of Hope study .

bottle with tablets

A City of Hope study found that a quarter of kids with acute lymphoblastic leukemia are at a tripled risk of relapse because they are missing doses of an oral chemotherapy. The No. 1 reason why: they forget.

The research, published in the journal Blood, also reports maintenance medication adherence was lower in minority groups. About 46 percent of African-American children and 28 percent of Asian children are not taking enough doses to prevent relapse, compared with 14 percent of white children.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells, is the most common form of childhood cancer. While more than 95 percent of children with ALL enter remission within a month of receiving initial cancer therapy, one in five will relapse. Additionally, relapsed disease is often harder to treat and may involve costlier, most toxic therapies.

In order to remain cancer-free, children in ALL remission must take a form of oral chemotherapy, called 6-mercaptopurine(6MP), every day for two years to protect against the disease coming back.

Despite 6MP’s proven benefit, previous studies have suggested pediatric ALL patients have difficulty taking it consistently. Other studies reported survival rates vary greatly among racial groups – prompting investigators to begin studying race-specific patterns of adherence in children with ALL.

“While we don’t yet know why children of different races have significantly different survival rates for ALL, we know that their adherence to their maintenance medication is a critical factor in their survival,” said first author Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H. “With this in mind, we sought to explore the potential linkages that may exist between several key race-specific sociodemographics of these children and their adherence to 6MP.”

Bhatia, who is also the Ruth Ziegler Chair in Population Sciences, and her team began their research studying differences in medication adherence among different racial groups of children in remission from ALL in 2012, reporting that Hispanic children did not follow their prescribed maintenance regimen as consistently as non-Hispanic whites. » Continue Reading

ASCO 2014: Aromasin better than tamoxifen for breast cancer? Maybe.

June 3, 2014 | by   

For premenopausal, hormone-sensitive breast cancer patients, the estrogen blocker tamoxifen is often prescribed after surgery to help prevent the cancer from returning. But new research data may change this longstanding practice since it found the aromatase inhibitor exemestane (trade name Aromasin) to be more effective this role.

A new study found Aromasin to be more effective than tamoxifen in reducing odds of breast cancer recurrence, but not all clinicians are convinced of this positive finding.

A new study found Aromasin to be more effective than tamoxifen in reducing odds of breast cancer recurrence, but not all clinicians are convinced of this positive finding.

These findings came from a joint analysis of two phase III breast cancer clinical trials, called TEXT and SOFT, and were presented during the plenary session of the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting.

Reporting on the study, lead author Olivia Pagani, M.D., said that the exemestane group were 34 percent less likely than the tamoxifen group to develop a subsequent breast cancer.

“For years, tamoxifen has been the standard hormone therapy for preventing breast cancer recurrences in young women with hormone-sensitive disease. These results confirm that exemestane with ovarian function suppression constitutes a valid alternative,” said Pagani, clinical director of the Breast Unit at the Oncology Institute of Southern Switzerland, in a press release.

For this study, Pagani and her team looked at data from almost 4,700 women in both trials. The women had all undergone initial breast cancer surgery and were then randomized to receive five years of either tamoxifen or exemestane. Additionally, all women were given ovarian function suppression therapy, which can include oophorectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries), ovarian irradiation or drugs that stop the ovaries from working.

After follow-up and analysis, the researchers found that breast cancer-free survival was 88.8 percent in the tamoxifen group and 92.8 percent in the exemestane group. Significant improvements were also seen in overall cancer-free survival (87.3 percent in tamoxifen, 91.1 percent in exemestane).

Despite this promising outcome, not all breast cancer clinicians are convinced, including Joanne Mortimer, M.D., director of City of Hope’s Women’s Cancers Program.

» Continue Reading

Childhood cancer treatment takes toll; research on it gets a new boost

June 3, 2014 | by   

Anyone who’s been around children knows how resilient they can be. Most of them bounce far more than they break. Perhaps that’s one reason why most children who are diagnosed with cancer face strong odds of surviving the disease.

Armenian_Saro

Saro Armenian is determined to reduce the long-term physical toll of treatment for childhood cancer. A grant from the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research and The Truth 365 will help.

But their survival is not without cost; treatments can be aggressive and result in lingering health issues. Saro Armenian, D.O., M.P.H., medical director of City of Hope’s Pediatric Survivorship Clinic, studies the long-term adverse effects of cancer treatment in survivors of childhood cancers. In particular, he focuses on damage to heart tissue.

He recently received a prestigious grant co-funded by the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research and The Truth 365 to further his research.

Rally and The Truth 365 are nonprofit organizations that raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer research. Rally in particular funds studies that address long-term side effects of treatment, a topic that has interested Armenian for years. » Continue Reading

ASCO 2014: Chemo with either Avastin or Erbitux are equally effective against colorectal cancer

June 2, 2014 | by   

Results from a large-scale study found that four commonly-prescribed drug regimens are equally effective for most types of colorectal cancer. The findings were presented during the plenary session at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting.

A new study presented at ASCO's annual meeting found that Avastin and Erbitux are equally effective against most kinds of colorectal cancer.

A new study presented at ASCO’s annual meeting found that chemotherapy plus either Avastin or Erbitux are equally effective against most kinds of colorectal cancer.

The researchers reported that, for metastatic colorectal cancer patients who do not have a KRAS 12/13 gene mutation, nearly identical results were seen from taking chemotherapy with either bevacizumab (trade name Avastin) or cetuximab (trade name Erbitux).

According to Marwan Fakih, M.D., director of City of Hope’s gastrointestinal medical oncology program, these results mean that patients and their doctors can choose a regimen based on other factors — such as side effects — without having to worry about a reduction in effectiveness.

“For now, this report’s message is simple: no change in standard practice in the United States,” said Fakih, who is not involved in this study.

For this federally funded phase III clinical trial, more than 1,100 metastatic colorectal cancer patients are randomized to receive one targeted therapy (bevacizumab or cetuximab) and one chemotherapy combination (FOLFIRI or FOLFOX). The researchers hypothesized that bevacizumab and cetuximab may have varied in efficacy due to their different mechanisms of action. Bevacizumab prevents tumor growth and spreads by blocking the formation of new blood vessels while cetuximab works by inhibiting a growth factor that is used for cancer cells’ uncontrolled division.

After patient follow-ups and data evaluation, the researchers found that there were no significant differences between the bevacizumab+chemotherapy and cetuximab+chemotherapy groups in either overall survival (29 months versus 29.9 months, respectively) or progression-free survival (10.8 versus 10.4 months, respectively.)

» Continue Reading