Scientists at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center have developed a new mouse model for pancreatic cancer that exhibits similar properties to a human tumor. Hal Moses and his team developed this improved model by combining a previous model called Kras with type II TGF receptor. Cell biology suggests loss of TGF signals causes a molecular imbalance on the cell growth leading to unrestrained cell proliferation and tumor formation. Applying this theory, genetically engineered mice with pancreatic cancer have been created for providing researchers opportunities to investigate on various treatments and screening methods to fight one of the most deadly cancers.
In another development, researchers at the University of Texas M D Anderson Cancer Center have discovered a new vascular targeting agent called Trojan Horse that shows hopes for treating bone tumors. A pre-clinical study conducted on mice revealed that Trojan Horse successfully prevented the development of bone tumors in 50 per cent mice. Although the experiment is still underway but scientists are hopeful that the success on mice could be a promising indication to tackling cancers in bones such as breast, multiple myeloma, lung and renal cell.
Peregrine Pharmaceuticals Inc, a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company is initiating its phase lb clinical trial to evaluate its anti-phospholipid immunotherapy agent, bavituximab given in combination with common cancer chemotherapy agents. The preclinical trial had suggested that agent bavituximab was very effective when combined with normal chemotherapy. The human trial is expected to enroll up to 12 patients who will be observed for 8-week duration at three clinical sites in India. The trial will check bavituximab for safety and tolerability when administered with standard chemotherapy regimens.
A study conducted on mice has thrown up a new possibility to fight breast cancer for researchers at the Kimmel Cancer Center, Philadelphia, US. The scientists found that the gene Dachshund could block breast cancer growth in mice and also stop the cancer from spreading to other tissues. Dachshund also hampers the expression of cyclin D1, a gene that causes cancer and has the ability to turn such genes back to normal. Dr Richard Pestell and colleagues studied the effect of this gene Dachshund in over 2,000 breast cancer patients and observed that the recovery of the patients increased when the gene is expressed more. Since this gene is so vital, the researchers believe that testing for its presence could one day predict whether the person is likely to develop breast cancer.
Meanwhile, British studies have suggested that the cocktail of chemotherapy drugs is decreasing mortality rates from breast cancer. A five-year study has pointed towards epirubicin being the most significant drug in this cocktail and that it reduced death rates by 30 per cent in the trial conducted on around 2,500 women from 75 British hospitals.
A possible new treatment for the eye cancer retinoblastoma is raising hopes. Scientists from St Jude’s Children’s Hospital used the molecule nutlin–3 to obstruct MDMX in retinoblastoma cells in mouse models. While the local application of this drug was successful, the efficacy increased when it was combined with topotecan. Compared to the most effective known combination of standard chemotherapy drugs, this two-drug treatment was more effective in decreasing the size of the tumors and did not cause any side effects. The treatment could even help certain forms of breast, lung and colon cancers.
Researchers at the Osaka University Medical School, Japan, conducted a research on mice to determine the effects of the body not being able to expel unwanted DNA. They found that when waste DNA accumulated in the genetically altered mice, the mice unexpectedly developed symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The researchers believed that the waste DNA was triggering the macrophages to release Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-a). In fact, when they introduced TNF-a blockers, the symptoms decreased in the mice. The researchers are hopeful that their findings will help in the formulation of a more effective treatment for arthritis.
Meanwhile, another research on rats has found that the joint inflammation associated with RA can be reduced with turmeric. Dr Janet Funk, from the University of Arizona, USA, and her colleagues compared the chemical composition of an experimental turmeric extract with that of turmeric supplements. She found that “turmeric dietary supplements share the same mechanism of action as anti-arthritic pharmaceuticals currently under development”. When tested on rats, turmeric blocked a protein that has previously been associated with the pain and inflammation of RA.
Across the globe, German researchers have proved that acupuncture can help osteoarthritis patients after studying its effects on 3,553 patients. The participants were divided into those having up to 15 sessions for the first three months and others who were not given the treatment then but were given acupuncture treatment in the last three months of the study. The researchers concluded that acupuncture helps to enhance the quality of life when it is in addition to routine care. The latter group of patients too saw improvements in six months.
South Africa is suffering from an onslaught of extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB). The issue has become so severe that experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), and health ministers and scientists from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) came together in Pretoria to find measures to combat the spread. HIV is widely spread in this region and as those affected by HIV are more likely to succumb to tuberculosis. Experts are trying to formulate a plan whereby diagnosis and treatment can be much quicker. Most of the XDR-TB cases have been detected in the KwaZulu-Natal Province on the east coast.
Meanwhie, scientists from Imperial College London, the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and other international institutions collaborated on a research that has helped to understand the way in which the body stimulates the immune system against tuberculosis. The scientists demonstrated that the receptor CCR5 signals the immune cells to attack Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the cause of TB. The scientists hope that this finding will one day lead to the development of a vaccine or immunotherapy that would perform the function of the receptor and stimulate the immune system against the bacteria.
Collaborations definitely seem to be an effective way to achieve success even in the field of medicine. Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Imperial College London, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Peru and other institutions have come up with a new test that can diagnose TB in a simpler and faster way. The test has been named microscopic-observation drug-susceptibility or MODS. When tested on 3,760 sputums, MODS proved to be sensitive and also produced results in an average time of seven days. Also, the test is much cheaper than the current culture-based one and is expected to be a boon for developing countries.
Clinical trials for cancer are in various phases of success across the globe. pSivida Ltd, a Perth-based nanotechnology company, has announced the first human trial of their pancreatic cancer treatment BrachySil. The treatment delivers BrachySil directly to a tumour in the pancreas through an endoscopic ultrasound. This novel product, which comprises a combination of BioSilicon and the isotope 32Phosphorus, shall provide oncologists with an effective and user-friendly treatment for this disease. Pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survival rates, with 85-90 per cent of patients being diagnosed with the inoperable form of the disease. The trial is being conducted in both Europe and Asia with a second clinical centre at the Singapore General Hospital and the National Cancer Centre Singapore.
Meanwhile, the Israeli biotech company Can-Fite BioPharma is developing a drug for liver cancer or Hepatocellular Carcinoma, currently referred to as CF102. Liver cancer attacks approx. 450,000 new patients each year and is highly frequent among people who suffer from Hepatitis B and C. This type of cancer is especially common in the Far East and no effective treatment for the disease has been discovered. Chemotherapy treatments, which are effective for other cancerous diseases have no effect on this cancer. Preclinical trials that have been conducted by the company indicate that CF102 performs well in the inhibition of liver cancer in animal models. In addition, it was proven that the A3 Adenosine receptor, which is the drug target, is over-expressed in liver cancer tumor. This comes on the heels of Can-Fite unveiling an assay that enables, by means of a blood test, to determine the receptor level before treatment initiation.
Researchers from the United States have discovered facts that could help in the fight against cancer.
Scientists from the University of Illinois, Seoul National University, and the National Center for Toxicological Research, have found a method to compel cancer cells into self-destruction. Most living cells contain a protein called procaspase-3. When it is activated, it changes into the enzyme caspase-3 and initiates programmed cell death. This process is called apoptosis. Cancer cells are able to evade this death and grow into tumors because in them, the signaling pathway to procaspase-3 is broken. The researchers had to screen more than 20,000 compounds before zeroing in on procaspase activating compound one (PAC-1). When tested in cell cultures and three mouse models of cancer, it was found that this compound had the ability to induce apoptosis. The innovative method could provide an effective personalized anti-cancer therapy.
Meanwhile, researchers from the Cedars-Sinai's Women's Cancer Research Institute have identified the weight of the patient as an independent factor in the progression of ovarian cancer and overall survival. In order to find a connection between obesity, ovarian cancer, tumor biology and outcome, lead investigator Andrew Li, MD, and colleagues scrutinized data from 216 patients with epithelial ovarian cancer. It was found that 29 per cent of the obese women had localized disease while only 10 per cent of the ideal-weight women had it. Also, the cellular characteristics of the tumors found in the two groups appeared to be dissimilar. The study thus suggests that fat tissue excretes a hormone or protein that causes ovarian cancer cells to grow more aggressively. The researchers now hope to establish the exact biological mechanisms that influence tumor growth in ovarian cancer.
Two independent studies may enable those who teach and care for autistic children to help them to learn and function better.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have found that children with autism showed signs of abnormal blood-vessel function and harmful levels of oxidative stress compared to healthy children. The researchers, led by Domenico Pratico, MD, Associate Professor of Pharmacology, compared the urine samples of 26 autistic children with those of 12 healthy children. They measured isoprostane, a biomarker for oxidative stress; thromboxane, an index of platelet activation; and prostacyclin, a measure of blood vessel activation in the samples. They found that children with autism had significantly higher levels of these three in their urine. The researchers hope that this correlation between oxidative stress and blood vessel function in autistic patients may help scientists find new therapeutic options for this syndrome.
Meanwhile, a study funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has proved that autism is not limited to merely communication, social behavior, and reasoning but actually affects the functioning of the entire brain. The study compared 56 autistic children with 56 children who did not have the condition. All the children were between the ages of eight and 15. It found that autism could affect sensory perception, movement and memory because it hampers different parts of the brain from working together and achieving complex tasks. That is why the autistic children performed very well in visual and spatial skills tests and were very good at spelling and grammar but found it difficult to understand complex figures of speech like idioms or even tie their shoelaces. Despite its limitations, the study has been widely hailed.
Researches conducted on different aspects of cancer show promising results with respect to its treatment and diagnosis.
Children suffering from cancer often develop anemia during chemotherapy as it has a tendency to suppress red blood cells. But now, researchers from St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Tennessee, have found that these children could benefit from a weekly dose of erythropoietin (EPO). EPO stimulates production of the hemoglobin-containing red blood cells. In a study conducted at 26 sites, 222 anemic children with cancer were randomly given either EPO or a placebo intravenously. The participants were between the ages of five and 18 years. The team concluded that EPO increases hemoglobin levels in children with anemia, reduces their need for transfusions and improves the quality of life. The results of the study will appear in the August 1, 2006, issue of Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Meanwhile, scientists have pioneered a new approach to detecting cancer cells. The approach could possibly allow doctors to discover many malignancies earlier than currently possible. Scientists from the University of Florida sought to create molecular tools that could recognize the unique molecular fingerprint of cancer tissue. These tools are in the form of aptamers, or short strands of chemically synthesized DNA, and can exploit the differences on the surface of cells to discern cancerous ones. The technique has successfully recognized leukemia cells that had been mixed in with normal bone marrow cells and distinguished between leukemia T-cells and lymphoma B-cells.
Lung cancer patients can renew their hopes thanks to a computer program. Scientists from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center developed Synchrony, which follows radiation targets and tells the CyberKnife's robotic arm when and how to move. The higher radiation dose that CyberKnife delivers can treat lung tumors in one to three sessions lasting 60 to 90 minutes.
In separate studies, researchers have found one cause for the spread of cancer and a possible line of treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh Cancer Research Center have zeroed in on a specific cell protein as a cause for the spread of cancer. The normal function of the protein MDM2 is to regulate the activity of p53. However, in some of the body’s cells, the biochemical ratio between MDM2 and p53 can become unbalanced. This can cause MDM2 to promote cancer instead. The researchers have found protein fragments that can hamper the activity of MDM2 by binding to it. They hope that this will lead to an improved line of treatment. The research was led by Dr Kathryn Ball and funded by Cancer Research UK. The study findings were published in the July 21, 2006, edition of Molecular Cell.
In another breakthrough study, American and French researchers collaborated on a line of treatment that may successfully improve the survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients. Forty-six pancreatic patients received six weeks of daily radiation therapy to the upper abdomen, concurrent with twice-weekly doses of the drug gemcitabine, followed by two cycles of maintenance doses of gemcitabine alone. Patients on the combination therapy experienced a median survival of 18.3 months. Also, 69 per cent of the study participants were alive at one year, and 24 per cent were alive at three years.
Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved the expanded use of the cancer drug Oncaspar. It can now be included in the first line treatment regimen for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. With 23 percent of children under the age of 15 diagnosed with cancer having acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the approval comes as a welcome relief.