Posts tagged ‘cancer’
In the search for better ways to deliver powerful chemotherapy drugs only to tumors, leaving healthy tissue unscathed, nanoparticles are emerging as a promising tool. These tiny particles can be loaded with powerful chemotherapy drugs that, ideally, can be delivered directly to the cancer site. But the delivery only can be completed if the packages avoid detection by healthy cells.
City of Hope scientists may have found a way to ensure their packages arrive safely. They recently published a paper in the Journal of Materials Chemistry B outlining a new strategy for disguising these drug-carrying nanoparticles so that they will drop their therapeutic drugs directly at the tumors – escaping notice from cells that want to filter them to the liver.
In their study, researchers applied a coating to gold nanoparticles to shield them from being gobbled up – a tactic that’s been used before but that still results in most of the particles collecting in the liver instead of at the tumor sites. However, this time researchers used a more cunning disguise: They masked the particles in a coating marked with a specific molecule that triggered the tumor itself to attack the nanoparticles, break through their shield and ingest them.
Gold has been used for jewelry, to fill teeth and to garnish desserts. Now, the precious metal may also prove to be an important tool for fighting cancer.
Already, doctors have many ways to kill cancer cells. The trick is not damaging the rest of the body in the process, says Jacob Berlin, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine at City of Hope.
Thermal ablation – zapping tumors with intense heat – is one strategy that has shown considerable promise. But like other physical strategies, it requires probes or other means to access the cancer site. And in some cases, the tumor cannot be reached or may have spread, creating stray malignant cells. In other cases, there may be many tumors.
Now, working with researchers in the laboratory of Karen Aboody, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Neurosciences and the Division of Neurosurgery, Berlin and his colleagues believe they’ve found a method of delivering blasts of thermal ablation directly to tumor sites, using tiny gold rods embedded in neural stem cells.
Melanoma is the skin cancer that’s most associated with being lethal, but a study in JAMA Dermatology suggests a much more common skin cancer also carries a risk of metastasis and death.
The 10-year retrospective study, led by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, examined outcomes for cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, or CSCC, diagnosed between Jan. 1, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2009 – the largest study of CSCC outcomes since 1968.
Squamous cell carcinomas are the second most-common skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Although most cases of this type of cancer are easily cured with surgery or ablation, the study found that the cancer carries a low but significant risk of metastasis and death.
Triple-negative breast cancer is both aggressive and tough to fight with existing therapies, a combination that often results in the disease’s spread; in fact, most deaths related to this form of cancer occur due to metastases. New City of Hope research is targeting these metastases specifically.
Building on a platform developed at City of Hope by Karen Aboody, M.D., Rachael Mooney, Ph.D., a postdoctoral CIRM Scholar and a fellow in Aboody’s laboratory, hopes to use stem cells to deliver tiny packages of chemotherapy to breast cancer-related metastases.
Aboody’s platform involves neural stem cells that naturally home in on cancer sites in the body. These cells are modified to secrete an enzyme that activates a prodrug – a benign substance – to become a powerful cancer-killing agent locally at the tumor sites. Continue reading “Using neural stem cells to sneak up on breast cancer metastases” »
New DNA analyses of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) offer the best blueprint to date of the often fatal disease. Now, the challenge for physicians and scientists will be using those blueprints to build better treatments, said Ravi Bhatia, MD, director of Hematopoietic Stem Cell and Leukemia Research at City of Hope.
The project, which was started in 2005 to catalogue genetic mutations responsible for cancer, has published tumor genome information on breast, lung, colon, ovarian and brain cancers. An analysis of endometrial cancer DNA also was published the same day, in Nature.
Though uterine cancer, also known as endometrial cancer, is the most common gynecologic cancer, in many ways scientists know very little about it – and doctors have few options for fighting it. A new report released Wednesday analyzing tumor DNA from hundreds of patients significantly pushes the frontiers of knowledge of this type of cancer, and provides a solid framework for developing personalized treatments.
The paper stems from the National Institutes of Health’s Cancer Genome Atlas Project, started in 2005 to catalogue genetic mutations responsible for cancer. The project has already yielded tumor genome information on breast, lung, colon, ovarian and brain cancers.
Thanh Dellinger, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at City of Hope, said the study could open new doors for treatment, especially for patients whose endometrial cancer persists after surgery.
“For most uterine cancer patients, their cancer is treatable through a surgery – such as a hysterectomy – and that’s all the treatment they require,” said Dellinger, who was not involved in the study. “However, for those women whose cancer persists after surgery, we do not have any good options for them right now.” Continue reading “Uterine cancer: DNA study could lead to targeted treatments” »
People with a family history of breast cancer often seek genetic testing to find out whether they carry mutations to key genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2, greatly increasing their risk for breast cancer and other diseases.
For this small but significant portion of the population, knowledge is power. They have seen their grandmothers, aunts, cousins and sisters struggle with breast or ovarian cancer. They may have faced these diseases themselves.
Discovering the details about their own genetic predisposition allows them to make informed choices about prevention options ranging from frequent screening to preventive surgery. It enables them to pass on the warning to other family members to get tested themselves.
However, misconceptions about how these mutations are passed down — and about what the tests themselves mean — can get in the way of sound decision-making.
Cancer risk counselor Kathleen Blazer, Ed.D., M.S., L.C.G.C., assistant professor in City of Hope’s Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics, trains other health-care professionals to provide genetic screening.
“Making sure that doctors, counselors and scientists truly understand cancer genetics is important,” Blazer said. “That’s why we provide face-to-face and online instruction on the latest in the field.”
In a recent interview, she helped clear the air about a few common myths concerning BRCA1 and BRCA2, the “celebrity genes” of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer risk.
Cancer cells are broken mutations of normal, healthy cells. They do not operate for a limited time, but grow uncontrollably for as long as the body can sustain them. Researchers had identified the amino acid glutamine as a prime nutrient that enabled cancer cells to thrive and grow, but until recently did not understand how tumors continued to grow when glutamine levels were low.
Mei Kong, Ph.D., assistant professor in City of Hope’s Department of Cancer Biology, led a research team that discovered how cancer cells adapt to low glutamine levels, establishing a new mechanism of getting replacement nutrients. The study and description of this newly found signaling pathway were published online March 13 in the journal Molecular Cell.
Understanding the actual method of tumor adaptation to low glutamine levels identifies new cancer weaknesses that researchers can target to develop better treatments.
The authors wrote in the published study: “Thus, studying how tumor cells survive glutamine deprivation is critical for understanding tumor development and developing new cancer therapeutics to starve cancer cells by targeting both glutamine metabolism and the subsequent survival pathway when glutamine levels are low.”
Breakthroughs that help patients don’t happen by accident, not often anyway. Instead, they require painstaking work carefully conducted over time. City of Hope researchers understand this.
They’re currently exploring an array of avenues in their mission to improve care and outcomes. Here’s a look at some of their ongoing research:
T cell immunotherapy for cancer
Under the direction of Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, researchers are studying genetically modified subpopulations of T cells to be used in the treatment of cancer.
Forman’s team has developed a platform for selecting, genetically altering and expanding T cells and now is conducting a clinical trial using this therapy to treat patients undergoing autologous transplant for treatment of recurrent lymphoma. The goal is to introduce a tumor-specific immune response to help reduce the chances of relapse. Continue reading “In pursuit of cancer breakthroughs: A snapshot of current research” »
When Bridget Marshall is touring visitors around City of Hope, one of her favorite stops is the Japanese Garden where a waterfall flows under a wooden bridge, sending the water pooling into a tranquil pond populated with koi and turtles.
It’s a sanctuary drenched in metaphor, says Marshall. “The waterfall is the turbulence of life,” she tells visitors, “and the pond is the tranquility in life.”
As a cancer survivor, the Visitor Services associate has felt that turbulence and tranquility in her own life.
In 2006, a routine mammogram at City of Hope revealed that she had stage 1 and stage 2 tumors in her breast. Entering the surreal transition from employee to patient, she came under the care of a team including I. Benjamin Paz, M.D. , vice chair of the Department of Surgery, Thehang Luu, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, and Eric Radany, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology.
“When you hear you have cancer, your mind goes into an altered state,” she told an interviewer in 2010. “You can’t think straight. It takes awhile to connect. I remember thinking, ‘How do I tell my mother?’” Continue reading “‘My cancer diagnosis: What I wish I’d known’ – Bridget Marshall” »