Wednesday June 20, 2018

Immunotherapy Becomes World’s First Therapy which Cured Breast Cancer

A "highly personalized" anti-cancer therapy

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Research technician Ashwini Balakrishnan works in the immunotherapy research lab of Dr. Stanley Riddell at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, March 28, 2017.
Research technician Ashwini Balakrishnan works in the immunotherapy research lab of Dr. Stanley Riddell at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, March 28, 2017. VOA
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A woman with an aggressive form of breast cancer which defied chemotherapy and spread to other organs, was cured with an experimental treatment that triggered her immune system, researchers said Monday.

The woman has been cancer-free for two years, reported the U.S.-based team, presenting their results as “a new immunotherapy approach” for the treatment of patients with a late-stage form of the disease.

Other experts not involved in the work hailed it as “exciting”.

So-called “immunotherapy” has already been shown to work in some people with cancer of the lung, cervix, blood cells (leukaemia), skin (melanoma) and bladder.

But an immune breakthrough for bowel, breast and ovary cancer has remained elusive.

In the latest study, a team extracted immune cells called lymphocytes from the patient, tweaked them in the lab, then reinjected them.

Cancer patient
Cancer patient, flickr

The woman was 49 when she signed up for the clinical trial after several attempts at a cure through conventional treatments had failed, said the study published in the scientific journal Nature Medicine.

The cancer had spread to various parts of her body, including the liver.

A person’s immune system is designed to kill invaders, including rogue, cancerous cells. But it can fail, often because it cannot recognize cancer cells containing the patient’s own DNA.

Immunotherapy trains a patient’s own immune cells to recognize and fight cancer.

For the new study, researchers took lymphocytes from a tumor in the woman’s body and scanned them for specific types which reacted to mutant, cancerous cells.

Complete regression

These were reactivated or “switched on” in the lab and injected back, along with a so-called “immune checkpoint inhibitor” — another type of immunotherapy that has shown success in other types of cancer.

Cancer survivor
Cancer survivor, flickr

This resulted in a “highly personalized” anti-cancer therapy that yielded “complete tumor regression,” the researchers wrote.

In a comment also published by Nature Medicine, expert Laszlo Radvanyi from Canada’s Ontario Institute for Cancer Research said the woman’s response to the treatment was “unprecedented” for such advanced breast cancer.

This work showed “we are now at the cusp of a major revolution in finally realizing the elusive goal of being able to target the plethora of mutations in cancer through immunotherapy,” he wrote.

In a reaction via the Science Media Centre in London, immunotherapy professor Alan Melcher of The Institute of Cancer Research said the trial was “fascinating and exciting.”

The work “provides a major ‘proof-of-principle’ step forward, in showing how the power of the immune system can be harnessed to attack even the most difficult-to-treat cancers,” he said.

Peter Johnson, an oncology professor at the Cancer Research UK Centre, said the study confirmed the immune system can recognize some cancers, and “if this can be stimulated in the right way, even cancers that have spread to different parts of the body may be treatable.”

The technique is “highly specialized and complex”, he cautioned, and may not be suitable for many patients. (VOA)

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California Cuts Coffee Off From Cancer Causing Chemicals

The state’s action rejects that ruling.

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A posted Proposition 65 warning sign is seen on display at a coffee shop in Burbank, Calif., March 30, 2018.
A posted Proposition 65 warning sign is seen on display at a coffee shop in Burbank, Calif., March 30, 2018. VOA

California officials, having concluded coffee drinking is not a risky pastime, are proposing a regulation that will essentially tell consumers of America’s favorite beverage they can drink up without fear.

The unprecedented action Friday by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to propose a regulation to clear coffee of the stigma that it could pose a toxic risk followed a review of more than 1,000 studies published this week by the World Health Organization that found inadequate evidence that coffee causes cancer.

The state agency implements a law passed by voters in 1986 that requires warnings of chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects. One of those chemicals is acrylamide, which is found in many things and is a byproduct of coffee roasting and brewing present in every cup of joe.

Win for coffee industry

If the regulation is adopted, it would be a huge win for the coffee industry, which faces potentially massive civil penalties after recently losing an 8-year-old lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court that could require scary warnings on all coffee packaging sold in California.

Judge Elihu Berle found that Starbucks and other coffee roasters and retailers had failed to show that benefits from drinking coffee outweighed any cancer risks. He had previously ruled the companies hadn’t shown the threat from the chemical was insignificant.

The state’s action rejects that ruling.

“The proposed regulation would state that drinking coffee does not pose a significant cancer risk, despite the presence of chemicals created during the roasting and brewing process that are listed under Proposition 65 as known carcinogens,” the agency said in a statement. “The proposed regulation is based on extensive scientific evidence that drinking coffee has not been shown to increase the risk of cancer and may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.”

A barista pours steamed milk into a cup of coffee at a cafe in Los Angeles, Sept. 22, 2017. State health officials proposed a regulation change Friday that would declare coffee doesn't present a significant cancer risk, countering a California court ruling.
A barista pours steamed milk into a cup of coffee at a cafe in Los Angeles, Sept. 22, 2017. State health officials proposed a regulation change Friday that would declare coffee doesn’t present a significant cancer risk, countering a California court ruling. VOA

Unprecedented move

Attorney Raphael Metzger, who won the court case on behalf of The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, said he was shocked the agency would move to nullify the court decision and undermine its own report more than a decade ago that drinking even small amounts of coffee resulted in a significant cancer risk.

“The takeaway is that the state is proposing a rule contrary to its own scientific conclusion. That’s unprecedented and bad,” Metzger said. “The whole thing stinks to high hell.”

The National Coffee Association had no comment on the proposed change. In the past, the organization has said coffee has health benefits and that the lawsuit made a mockery of the state law intended to protect people from toxics.

Scientific evidence on coffee has gone back and forth over many years, but concerns have eased recently about possible dangers, with some studies finding health benefits.

Big Coffee didn’t deny that acrylamide was found in the coffee, but argued it was only found at low levels and was outweighed by other benefits such as antioxidants that reduce cancer risk.

Coffee beans
Coffee beans, Pixabay

Congress

The state agency’s action comes about a week after bipartisan bills were introduced in both houses of Congress to require science-based criteria for labels on food and other products. One of the sponsors, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, alluded to the California coffee lawsuit as an example of misleading warnings.

“When we have mandatory cancer warnings on a cup of coffee, something has gone seriously wrong with the process,” Schrader said in a news release. “We now have so many warnings unrelated to the actual health risk posed to consumers, that most people just ignore them.”

The lawsuit against Starbucks and 90 companies was brought by the tiny nonprofit under a law that allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties for failure to provide warnings.

The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, better known as Proposition 65, requires warning labels for about 900 chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.

Also read: What Does Your Coffee Say About You?

The law has been credited with reducing cancer-causing chemicals, but it has been criticized for leading to quick settlement shakedowns and vague warnings that are often ignored. (VOA)