Category Archives: Cancer

Infertility hope: Uterus transplant results in a healthy baby boy

pixabay baby holding dad's fingerInfertility is a heartbreaking problem that many women and couples face. There’s nothing worse than wanting a baby and being told that it will never happen, or being given the “one in a million” speech. And while there have been many advances in medicine that have helped women overcome the diagnosis of “infertility,” recent news of womb transplant success gives us a new reason to be optimistic!

For women who were born without a uterus (this affects about 1 in 5000 women worldwide) or have lost theirs to cancer, becoming pregnant doesn’t even seem like an option. But in September, all that changed when baby Vincent was born. Vincent’s mother was one of nine patients who had undergone a uterine transplant over the last two years in this particular study. Out of those nine patients, Vincent’s mom was the first to deliver her baby, and six others are currently pregnant.

While several countries may now start their own womb transplant programs, this is unlikely to become a commonplace technique, as it is expensive and risky. Patients must remain on anti-rejection medication to prevent their bodies from rejecting the transplanted uterus. After birth, the uterus would need be removed to prevent long-term health effects from anti-rejection drugs. But it’s still an incredible advance, and women who had no hope of becoming pregnant may now have a chance.

None of this would have been possible without dedicated researchers worldwide and the animal models that have contributed to the understanding and application of this science. Surgical techniques and anti-rejection drugs have progressed to the point of actually allowing a woman without a uterus to undergo a successful transplant and give birth to healthy baby- and that’s amazing! Read more about it here.

Breast cancer- could LIGHT exposure affect treatment?

pixabay light through treesNew research is showing that exposure to dim light at night may negatively impact the effectiveness of breast cancer treatments. In a laboratory setting, dim light exposure during night cycles made human breast tumors in rats more resistant to doxorubicin, a standard chemotherapy for breast cancer.

But why? Well, it’s all about melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced naturally by the body during dark periods at night. In this research study, exposure to light at night disrupted rats’ melatonin cycles. Half of the rats, however, received melatonin supplements to make up for this. Researchers found that the tumors grew almost three times faster in rats that did not receive supplements, and their tumors were completely resistant to doxorubicin. It seems that the presence of melatonin helped support higher levels of active doxorubicin in the breast cancer cells, and prevented enzymes from breaking it down and making it less effective.

At this point, researchers aren’t ready to make supplementation recommendations for human breast cancer patients. And if the effects of melatonin ARE similar in humans, recommendations for supplementation would need to be carefully monitored. If disrupting the natural melatonin cycle can cause the body to react to cancer treatments differently, then incorrectly supplementing could also cause undesired effects. However, since this isn’t the first time that dim light exposure at night has been shown to have negative effects, it’s possible that this research could prompt patients to be more aware of light exposure disruptions during night cycles.

Read more about it here: http://www.aacr.org/Newsroom/Pages/News-Release-Detail.aspx?ItemID=608#.VC9VpPldWSo

 

Dogs are providing clues to human breast cancer

pixabay cocker spanielDogs are often called man’s best friend. In this case, dogs are helping humans more than you might think! Dogs can be a great model for understanding cancer, because they develop cancer spontaneously, and in this case, cocker spaniels may be able to help researchers better understand human breast cancer.

Recently, the epigenome of the cocker spaniel has been characterized. Researchers compared dog and human epigenetic changes, and found that when looking at breast cancer, the same regions of DNA are affected in dogs and humans.

So, why is this important? Discovering common mechanisms can help both humans and dogs in future research studies. It’s possible that targeting these epigenetic changes could help slow disease progression, and dogs may be able to help us understand this faster. And ultimately, understanding more about the connection between canine and human cancer will benefit both species.

Read more about this research here: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-10/ibri-deg100214.php

Mesothelioma: Are YOU at risk?

Bad newsMesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen (the mesothelium). The mesothelium is important because the lungs, heart and stomach are constantly in motion, and the cells in the mesothelium provide lubrication and assist in organ function. There is no cure, and the relative 5-year survival rate is between 5% and 10%. But how does one develop mesothelioma- and are YOU at risk?

Mesothelioma is mainly caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos occurs naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers. Small, individual fibers are too small to be seen with the naked eye, and if they’re breathed in, a buildup of fibers can cause plenty of lung problems- including mesothelioma.

Because of its durability and resistance to heat and chemicals, asbestos was commonly used in many different industries for years. However, in the later 1900s, asbestos-related cancers became better understood. Laboratory studies with rodents have confirmed the link between asbestos exposure and cancer.

Since the mid 1970s, its use has been significantly decreased, but asbestos exposure is still a concern when working with older building materials. The World Trade Center, for example, was built at a time when asbestos was very common in building materials. It’s estimated that 400 tons of asbestos were used in its construction, and when the buildings collapsed, the EPA reports that asbestos was “pulverized” into fine particles and scattered over Lower Manhattan. In 2006, researchers estimated that almost 70% of recovery personnel had suffered from lung problems, and it’s expected that in the years to come, more first responders and workers that assisted in the cleanup will be diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Awareness is key. The use of asbestos is regulated by OSHA and the EPA, and anyone who believes they may come in contact with asbestos in their workplace can contact OSHA for more information on regulations and safe practices. In the meanwhile, researchers continue to look for answers. Animal research has helped lead to two approved chemotherapy medications for mesothelioma, and researchers are continuing to work on gene therapies, new ways to target cancer cells, and more efficient methods to deliver radiation.

To find out more about this disease, visit the pages listed below and follow the links in this article. To spread awareness, you can start by sharing this article on social media. We’d love to hear your thoughts- has this disease touched you or your family? What do YOU want people to know about mesothelioma? Leave your comments below.

http://www.mesothelioma.com/

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignantmesothelioma/index

Biomedical research: allowing you and your pets to appreciate life to the fullest

Silhouette of Happy Family and Dog“You don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone.” You’ve undoubtedly heard a variation of this saying, and often, it’s all too true when it comes to your health or the health of your loved ones. How often do you take your health for granted? The number of medical advances we can take advantage of today are staggering- vaccines, organ transplants, blood transfusions, insulin, pain medication, allergy medication, antibiotics, skin grafts, prosthetics, pacemakers- the list goes on and on.

Researchers are working hard, often behind the scenes, to try to give you and your loved ones every possible chance to fight disease or injury. Often, biomedical research involves working with animal models to understand diseases and develop new drugs and treatments. But it’s not just for you- biomedical research is helping your pets, too!

The FDA recently approved three new drugs to treat cancer in dogs. Previously, canine cancer was treated with drugs that were approved for use in humans. But researchers have developed specialized drugs to treat mast cell tumors, mammary carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma in man’s best friend.

“You don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Thanks to biomedical research, we can enjoy our health and the health of our pets for much, much longer.

Read more about new canine cancer treatments here: http://consumer.healthday.com/cancer-information-5/mis-cancer-news-102/cancer-drugs-approved-just-for-dogs-691349.html

Read more about the benefits of biomedical research here: http://fbresearch.org/education/benefits-of-biomedical-research/

Glioblastoma multiforme: a new weapon in the surgeon’s arsenal

Molecular ThoughtsGlioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a devastating form of brain cancer that usually results in death within 15 months of diagnosis. Tumor cells at the margins of these brain tumors often invade surrounding tissues, and this means that they can be difficult to remove completely. If a patient is able to undergo surgery, the goal is to remove as many malignant cells as possible without affecting parts of the brain that are necessary for other essential neurological functions. Currently, surgeons have no way of knowing for sure that they’ve removed all of the cancerous cells. But new research could change that.

The day before surgery, a patient would be injected with nanoprobes that migrate to the tumor cells. These nanoprobes don’t affect normal brain tissue. Then, during surgery, the surgeon would use a device that detects these nanoprobes to determine whether they had successfully removed all of the malignant cells. The device looks like a laser pointer, and in laboratory studies with mouse models of human GBM, researchers were able to remove all of the malignant cells from the mice!

This may be ready for human clinical trials relatively quickly, and it’s possible that it could be helpful in the treatment of other types of brain cancer as well. Read more about it here:

http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2014/acs-presspac-september-3-2014/handheld-scanner-could-make-brain-tumor-removal-more-complete-reducing-recurrence.html

 

Cancer that glows in the dark

pixabay green lightsGlow in the dark tumors: it sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, but actually, the use of a dye that glows under infrared light could drastically improve surgical outcomes for cancer patients and reduce the chance of recurrence.

Often, surgical removal is difficult because doctors can’t always be certain of the location of tumor margins. So researchers tested a dye that is already approved by the FDA and glows green under infrared light.This dye concentrates in cancerous tissues, so when the surgeon shines an infrared light on the surgical area, the tumor cells will glow.

Working with mice, they found that this dye helped them ‘highlight’ tumors before they were visible to the naked eye. Veterinarians then used the dye on several pet dogs with lung cancer before surgery, and found that it improved visibility of the tumors.

After proving the effectiveness of this dye in mice and dogs, human clinical trials were approved, and the dye actually helped doctors visualize human tumors as well as diagnose patients more accurately. This is a great example of research progressing from bench to bedside. Read more about it here:

http://www.alnmag.com/news/2014/07/cancer-glow-improves-surgical-outcomes?et_cid=4073942&et_rid=655142386&location=top

Bees are creating a buzz in cancer research

pixabay beesIf you’ve ever been stung by a bee, you know how painful it is. It’s hard to imagine that bee venom could save lives, but actually, new research is showing that bee venom has been able to treat breast cancer and melanoma cells!

Bee venom contains proteins that can attach to cancer cells and block tumor growth. Unfortunately, using bee venom by itself can cause unwanted problems- think about that bee sting! Bee venom can damage nerve and heart cells. So researchers got creative and figured out a way to harness the positive effects of bee venom without the nasty side effects.

Honeybee venom contains a substance called melittin that can prevent cancer cells from multiplying. Researchers were able to synthesize melittin in the laboratory and pack the toxin into nanoparticles. These particles evade the immune system, and they deliver the toxin right to the cancer cells. This doesn’t affect normal tissue, and doesn’t have the toxic effects of pure venom.

Hopefully, after animal testing, this treatment will prove to be effective, and it can proceed to human trials in the next three to five years. Read more about bee venom in cancer research here:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/buzz-over-bee-venom-in-cancer-research/

Mouse avatars for cancer patients?

My beautiful pictureCancer patients with their own mouse avatars? It sounds bizarre, but this is actually pretty incredible. Patients can have their own tumor cells grafted into nude mice to determine the best treatment for their particular cancer. For difficult cancer cases, this could give patients and doctors much-needed information.

These nude mice can grow human tumors in their bodies because they don’t have an immune system to reject the cancer cells. Researchers can then try several different treatments to determine the best course of action. For a human patient dealing with cancer that’s difficult to treat, doctors often need to take their best guess as to the most appropriate treatment. By using mouse avatars, the hope is that some of the guesswork is removed, and doctors can tailor their approaches based on results in personalized mouse studies.

This procedure is still experimental, and not without its challenges, but hopefully with time and promising results, mouse avatars will help more and more patients win their battles against cancer.

Read more about it here:

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/529901/a-mouse-with-the-same-cancer-as-you/

Spiders and erectile dysfunction: a reason to get excited!

google free brazilian wandering spiderFor most people, the sight of a spider isn’t cause for good news. Instead, these eight-legged creatures often bring out the worst in people, causing voices to jump up an octave or two. So it may be surprising that a poisonous spider would prompt excitement from anyone other than a dedicated entomologist. But actually, patients with erectile dysfunction may be pretty excited about the prospects of clinical applications for a particular spider’s venom!

The Brazilian Wandering Spider may be the world’s most toxic spider. With a leg-span of up to five inches, and a deadly neurotoxin on board, this spider is definitely one for your nightmares.

If a man is bitten, one side effect can be a painful erection that lasts for hours, potentially causing permanent damage. But researchers investigated further and extracted a particular toxin (PnTx2-6) from the venom. They found that it increases the availability of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow. In rats with erectile dysfunction, researchers saw promising results!

As the toxin works differently than erectile dysfunction drugs that are on the market today, it’s possible that therapies using this toxin could be effective treatments for erectile dysfunction in patients that haven’t responded to conventional therapies. This isn’t the first time scientists have looked towards venomous animals to provide inspiration for human therapies- read more about tarantula and centipede venom as pain medications, and snake venom for cancer treatments and possible treatments for heart disease. It will be interesting to see if spider venom can help human patients with ED- stay tuned for more research!