Wednesday October 18, 2017

Immunotherapy : Allison’s Trials

Among other honors, Jim Allison was a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Lasker Award for his achievements in medical science

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Doctors performing Operation Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • If the immune system was tweaked just right, it could do a better job of killing the cancer than the usual treatments.
  • Allison tried to persuade drug makers to create a human version of the treatment that had worked in mice.
  • Immunotherapy has transformed the way doctors think about cancer treatment.

Sharon Belvin’s nightmare with cancer began in 2004, when she was just 22.

Belvin was an avid runner but said she suddenly found she couldn’t climb the stairs without “a lot of difficulty breathing.”

Eventually, after months of fruitless treatments for lung ailments like bronchitis, she was diagnosed with melanoma — a very serious skin cancer. It had already spread to her lungs, and the prognosis was grim. She had about a 50-50 chance of surviving the next six months.

“Yeah, that was the turning point of life, right there,” she says.

What Belvin didn’t know at the time was that a revolutionary treatment for melanoma had begun testing in clinical trials. An immunologist named Jim Allison, now at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, had figured out that if the immune system was tweaked just right, it could do a better job of killing the cancer than the usual treatments. (Joe Palca worked for Allison early in both men’s careers.)

Allison’s treatment was still experimental, but if it worked, it had the potential to save Belvin’s life.

“It’s a new modality for treating cancer,” Dr. Samuel Broder, a former director of the National Cancer Institute, says now of Allison’s pioneering research. “It used to be there were three basic treatment options for cancer — surgery, radiation and chemotherapy — or some combination of those three. It’s fair to say there’s now a fourth option.”

Allison’s long search for this new kind of treatment — one that has since become a lifesaver for some cancer patients — began around a decade before Belvin got sick, when Allison was running a lab at the University of California, Berkeley.

At the time, he was what you could call a research scientist’s research scientist. He was fascinated by certain powerful cells of the immune system — T cells. A subset of white blood cells, T cells travel around the body and can “protect us against just about anything,” Allison says.

T cells do recognize cancer cells, but not in a way that can eliminate the disease.Allison had been studying T cells for years, and thought that by tinkering with one key molecule on the outside of these cells, he could enhance their response to cancer, enough to eradicate the illness.

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He and one of his grad students ran an experiment to test the tweaked T cells on cancerous tumors in mice, and the initial results astounded them. The T cells seemed to be doing just what Allison had hoped they would do — shrink the tumors and kill the cancer.

Allison repeated the experiment with more mice over his winter break. After a few tense days, the tumors again disappeared.

“These mice were cured,” Allison says.

Cancer cured?

“I’ve been doing this sort of stuff for years, and I’d never seen anything like that,” Allison says. “And I thought, ‘If we could do that in people, this is going to be amazing.’ “

Allison tried to persuade drugmakers to create a human version of the treatment that had worked in mice. He thought they would jump at the chance to try a new approach.

But the biotech companies he met with didn’t bite. In those days, most firms were focused on drugs that would target tumors directly, and Allison was asking them to try something very different.

“This was targeting the immune system, not the cancer,” he says. “We weren’t trying to kill the cancer cells. We were letting the T cells kill the cancer cells.”

Backbone Surgery Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Backbone Surgery Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Thanks, but no thanks, the companies told him.

“I got very depressed,” Allison says. He was sure this was the most important work of his career, but he had to get others on board.

Eventually, a scientist attending one of Allison’s research talks was intrigued enough to contact a pal at the biotech firm Medarex. The company had recently developed technology that could make a human version of Allison’s therapy, and was willing to give it a try.

It took a decade, but eventually Allison’s big idea was ready for testing in people. A clinical trial to study the drug — now called ipilimumab, or Ippy for short — was set up at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Allison decided he wanted to be part of this next chapter in the testing of immunotherapy, so he packed up his California lab and moved it to Sloan Kettering.

As it happens, Belvin was also in New York — a patient of Dr. Jedd Wolchok at Sloan Kettering. By the fall of 2004, Belvin had run through all the treatment options available to her. Nothing had worked to control the melanoma; it continued to spread dangerously throughout her body.

Belvin remembers feeling sick and depressed, and says she wasn’t even paying much attention when Wolchok walked into the exam room and suggested one last treatment.

“Sharon, we have an opportunity to participate in a clinical trial here. It’s something you should consider,” Wolchok told her.

Belvin says she signed up without hesitation. After just four injections of Ippy across three months, her cancer was nearly gone. And at Belvin’s follow-up appointment a year later, Wolchok delivered news that was hard for her to take in: “Sharon, you no longer have cancer.”

And in the next breath, Belvin recalls, “he goes, ‘Oh, the guy who invented this is upstairs. Do you want to meet him?’ “

“Yes, of course I want to meet him!” she told her doctor.

Wolchok called Allison, who was working nearby, and told him to drop everything and come to the clinic — a part of the hospital Allison had rarely seen. Though the research scientist couldn’t imagine why Wolchok was in such a rush, he quickly figured it out as he opened the door and was greeted by Belvin with a huge hug.

Belvin says she tried not to tackle him. “It was hard to control myself,” she says. “I owe this man my life.”

Adoptive T-cell therapy Image Source- Wikimedia Commons
Adoptive T-cell therapy Image Source- Wikimedia Commons

Belvin was the first recipient of the immunotherapy that Allison had ever met. “It really meant a lot,” he says. “It reminded me what it’s all about at the end of the day.”

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That was in 2005; today, Sharon Belvin is still cancer-free.

Ippy is now sold under the brand name Yervoy by Bristol-Myers Squibb, which bought Medarex in 2009.

Meanwhile, Jim Allison has become a bit of a celebrity in the cancer research world. Among other honors, he was a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Lasker Award for his achievements in medical science.

He’s become well-known among patients, too. Now and again, Allison fields calls from patients yearning to learn from the master himself what it will take to cure their disease.

Allison can’t really answer them. Each case is different, and using a patient’s own cells to destroy tumors won’t work in every patient or in every type of cancer. Still, the approach offers promise to some people that other therapies can’t, and has transformed the way doctors think about cancer treatment.

It might be too early to say we’re going to cure cancer, Allison says, “but we’re going to cure certain types of cancers. We’ve got a shot at it now.”

-by Ajay Krishna (with inputs from NPR)

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Prostate cancer, the second most common cause of cancer rises in rural India, according to experts

The rural masses need to be made aware of the treatment, drugs and technologies to combat the disease

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Prostate cancer
Sarcomatoid prostate carcinoma, abbreviated SPC. Wikimedia
  • Prostate cancer is the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths among men worldwide
  • Experts claim, that the second most common cause of cancer, is rising in rural India 
  • The rural masses need to be made aware of the treatment, drugs and technologies to combat the disease.

New Delhi, September 22, 2017: Prostate cancer, the second most common cause of cancer and the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths among men worldwide, is rising in rural India, experts claim.

Cancer projection data shows that the number of cases will be doubled by 2020.

“Most of the metastatic prostate cancer cases are from rural areas. Therefore, it’s a challenge to government and doctors to decrease the risk factors and take prostate cancer risk in the rural areas very seriously,” P.N. Dogra, Professor and Head of Urology at AIIMS, said in a statement on Thursday.

The rural masses need to be made aware of the treatment, drugs and technologies to combat the disease.

“There is an urgent need to create awareness about prostate cancer threat amongst the rural population,” said Anup Kumar, Head (Department of Urology and Renal Transplant) at Safdarjung Hospital.

Also read: Abdominal fat drives cancer in postmenopausal women: Study

Safdarjung Hospital sees more than one lakh patients every month from all over the country.

Of these, 20 per cent are prostate cancer patients, in which 40 per cent are clinically localised, 30 per cent are locally advanced and 30 per cent are metastatic prostate cancer cases, Kumar said.

“Prostate cancer has become a major health problem globally during the last few decades. This disease is the second most common cause of cancer and the sixth leading cause of cancer death among men worldwide,” Dogra said.

According to the Population Based Cancer Registries in Delhi, the disease is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer among men in the national capital, accounting for about 6.78 per cent of all malignancies. (IANS)

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Abdominal fat drives cancer in postmenopausal women: Study

Women in this age group, who are more vulnerable to abdominal weight gain, are now left with a new spin on their weight management priorities

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Abdominal fat drives cancer in postmenopausal women
Abdominal fat drives cancer in postmenopausal women. Pixabay
  • Study suggests abdominal fat in the middle aged postmenopausal women drives cancer
  • Body fat distribution is more important as compared to the body weight, when talking about the risk of cancer in postmenopausal women
  • The best protection is to avoid central obesity 

Washington D.C. [USA], Sep 12, 2017: So if you never gave a thought to the idea of getting rid of that middle-age abdominal fat, ladies, this is the right time to start, as a recent study suggests, abdominal fat is a key factor in driving cancer for postmenopausal women.

It is important to understand the difference between the body weight and body fat distribution, since the latter is more important when talking about the risk of cancer in postmenopausal women, according to the study presented at the ESMO 2017 Congress in Madrid.

Women in this age group, who are more vulnerable to abdominal weight gain, are now left with a new spin on their weight management priorities, as a result of the findings, said Line Maersk Staunstrup, the study investigator.

“When assessing cancer risk, body mass index (BMI) and fat percentage may not be adequate measures as they fail to assess the distribution of fat mass,” she explained.

“Avoiding central obesity may confer the best protection,” she added.

The findings are from the prospective Epidemiologic Risk Factor study. The study, which is observational in nature, is a prospective cohort study designed to understand the age-related diseases in Danish, postmenopausal women, in a better way.

Also read: Melatonin May Help Treat Blood Cancers like Leukemia and Lymphoma, Claims a New Research

The study included 5,855 postmenopausal women, with the mean age being 71, who went through baseline dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans to assess body fat and its composition, which have been followed for 12 years.

“The average elderly women can very much use this information, as it is known that the menopause transition initiates a shift in body fat towards the central trunk area. Therefore elderly women should be especially aware of their lifestyle when they approach the pre-menopause age,” said Mærsk Staunstrup.

“Clinicians can additionally use the information for a preventive conversation with women who are in higher risk of cancer. While clinicians have access to whole body DXA scanners at most hospitals, portable DXA scanners have become available on the commercial market and this may allow regional bone and fat scanning, however it may not be the most reliable for measuring central obesity,” she concluded.

-prepared by Samiksha Goel of NewsGram. Twitter @goel_samiksha

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Love Hot Served Food? Caution: These 10 Foods May Turn Toxic Upon Reheating

Here is the rundown of 10 foods that you ought to abstain from reheating to keep its supplements rich

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Reheating some food may be dangerous to health. Pixabay

Sep 01, 2017: Food function as the fuel for your body and you should put every effort to have a robust and healthy food. The foods you devour include supplements, vitamins, fiber, protein, and minerals, which combine to help your body keep going.

Many of us indulge in the practice of reheating the food while eating. But few nourishments could transform into dangerous components in the wake of reheating. The reality will astound you, however, don’t stress.

Here is the rundown of 10 foods that you ought to abstain from reheating to keep its nutrients rich.

1. Rice

Rice. Pixabay

Most of you store rice in the wrong way, which in turn, can be toxic. The spores available in the raw rice can turn into bacteria, which multiply at the room temperature and may induce diarrhea and vomiting.

2. Potatoes

Potatoes. Pixabay

Potatoes are the favorite for many of us, but shockingly, potatoes lose their nutritional value when reheated. Toxic potatoes can breed illness, nausea, and induce food poisoning.

3. Spinach

Spinach. Pixabay

Just like any other green leafy vegetable, Spinach is rich in iron and nitrates. Upon reheating it, the nitrates turn into nitrites which can lead to cancer in living tissue.

4. Oils

Olive Oil. Pixabay

Some oils such as grape seed oil, walnut oil, flaxseed oil, hazelnut oil, and avocado oil have extremely low smoke limits.If you reheat them, they become unhealthy to devour.

Also Read: List of 8 Food Items to Battle Depression and Anxiety 

5. Egg

Egg. Pixabay

Reheating eggs at high temperature makes them poisonous and upon devouring them, your digestive system may fall sick.

6. Chicken

Fried Chicken. Pixabay

Chicken, the rich source of protein also create a negative impact after reheating. Eating such chicken may become a problem for you.

7. Turnips

Turnips. Pixabay

Turnips contain nitrates which can become toxic for health if reheated. Ordinarily, turnips are used in preparing soups.

8. Mushrooms

Mushrooms. Pixabay

Here is one thing about Mushroom, everyone should know: It should be utilized on the same day they are cooked, as they are a rich source of protein. Mushrooms upon reheating may change its structure which can be harmful to your body and causes severe heart problems.

9. Beets

Beetroot. Pixabay

Beets also include a high proportion of nitrates, which upon reheating can turn into nitrites and can prove to be problematic for your health.

10. Celery

Celery. Pixabay

Celery also carries a high rate of nitrate. It turns into nitrites after reheating, which increases the risk of methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder.


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