Priming the Body to Tackle Cancer

Arming the immune system: The black spots in this PET scan (left) indicate melanoma spread throughout a patient’s chest cavity. Seventy-four days after treatment with adoptive t-cell therapy, the cancer was gone, and it has not returned.    Credit: Butler et al., Science Translational Medicine.

Immune therapy proves effective against melanoma in an early trial

 

 

MIT Technology Review, May 3, 2011, by Karen Weintraub  —  Melanoma, one of the most common cancers, is usually treated with surgery and aggressive chemotherapy. In a new, preliminary study, Dr. Marcus O. Butler, of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, suggests a kinder, gentler way of treating melanoma, and perhaps other cancers, using the body’s own defense system.

In a study published in the April 27 edition of Science Translational Medicine, Butler and his colleagues harvested immune cells from nine patients. They souped up the cells in their lab—in effect giving them the ability to remember cancer cells—multiplied them in number, and infused them back into the patients from whom they been taken. This technique, called adoptive t-cell therapy, primes the immune system to seek out and destroy cancer cells throughout the body.

Ten weeks after starting the therapy, seven of the nine patients had more of the specially trained cells than they had started with. The disease in four of the patients had become stable—neither advancing nor retreating. In one patient, the cancer disappeared completely; two years later, it has still not returned.

“We were pleased,” Butler says.

Dr. Cassian Yee, a professor at the University of Washington and researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, says the Dana-Farber study proves adoptive therapy can work.

Yee, who also researches adoptive therapy, says cancer doctors tend to push for more-aggressive treatments that save lives but leave patients drained and ill. Butler’s success suggests that equally effective treatments could be developed that are less damaging, he says.

This might be a “good end to the more-is-better” approach, says Yee. “This is really the right way to go, in terms of seeing what minimally is necessary to demonstrate some effectiveness.” Because Butler’s patients were relatively healthy, says Yee, more research will be needed to determine effectiveness in the sickest patients.

The work is not yet ready for commercialization. Laboratory methods for boosting immune cells need to be perfected and made more efficient, and more early clinical trials are needed, both Butler and Yee say.

Five of the Dana-Farber patients went on to take ipilimumab, a human monoclonal antibody made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved for treatment of metastatic melanoma. With the addition of ipilimumab, Butler says, tumors shrank in three of the five patients and stopped growing in the other two, a response far better than that shown in previous trials of the drug. Butler says this suggests his immunotherapy may help drugs work better.

“We’re very encouraged,” Butler says. “We’re also the first to admit that it could have something to do with patient selection or the small number of patients [in our study].” He says he’s in the process of putting together a clinical trial to look directly for any benefit from combined therapy.

 

Harvard Medical School, May 3, 2011  —  There is no shortage of angst-inducing news these days: natural disasters, economic woes, political unrest. Add to this backdrop stresses in our personal lives, layoffs, illness, money woes, temper tantrums, and traffic jams, and it is clear that stressful situations are constant and inevitable.

 

Just as serious as the stressors themselves are the adverse effects stress can have on your emotional and physical health. Many well-respected studies link stress to heart disease and stroke — the No. 1 and No. 3 causes of death, respectively, in the United States. Stress is also implicated in a host of other ailments such as depression and anxiety, chronic lower respiratory diseases, asthma flare-ups, rheumatoid arthritis, and gastrointestinal problems.

 

Stress is not all bad. Your perception of a real or imagined threat can spark the stress response, which prepares the body to fight or flee. That swift reflex was encoded in you for survival. Thanks to the stress response, you might suddenly jump out of the path of a speeding car or flee from a burning house. But when your stress response is evoked repeatedly, your body experiences unnecessary wear and tear — such as high blood pressure — that can lead to poor health.

 

Even if you only have a few minutes to spare, the stress-busting suggestions described below can make your days calmer, if not easier.

 

Take the sting out of 10 common stressors

 

Sometimes just thinking about embarking on a program of stress control can be stressful. Rather than freeze in your tracks, start small and bask in the glow of your successes. Give yourself a week to focus on practical solutions that could help you cope with just one stumbling block or source of stress in your life. Pick a problem, and see if these suggestions work for you.

 

1) Frequently late?

Apply time management principles. Consider your priorities (be sure to include time for yourself) and delegate or discard unnecessary tasks. Map out your day, segment by segment, setting aside time for different tasks, such as writing or phone calls. If you are overly optimistic about travel time, consistently give yourself an extra 15 minutes or more to get to your destinations. If lateness stems from dragging your heels, consider the underlying issue. Are you anxious about what will happen after you get to work or to a social event, for example? Or maybe you’re trying to jam too many tasks into too little time.

 

2) Often angry or irritated?

 

Consider the weight of cognitive distortions. Are you magnifying a problem, leaping to conclusions, or applying emotional reasoning? Take the time to stop, breathe, reflect, and choose.

 

3) Unsure of your ability to do something?

 

Don’t try to go it alone. If the problem is work, talk to a co-worker or supportive boss. Ask a knowledgeable friend or call the local library or an organization that can supply the information you need. Write down other ways that you might get the answers or skills you need. Turn to CDs, books, or classes, for example, if you need a little tutoring. This works equally well when you’re learning relaxation response techniques, too.

4) Overextended?

 

Clear the deck of at least one time-consuming household task by hiring help. If you can, hire a housecleaning service, shop for groceries through the Internet, convene a family meeting to consider who can take on certain jobs, or barter with or pay teens for work around the house and yard. Consider what is truly essential and important to you and what might take a backseat right now.

5) Not enough time for stress relief?

 

Try mini-relaxations. Or make a commitment to yourself to pare down your schedule for just one week so you can practice evoking the relaxation response every day. Slowing down to pay attention to just one task or pleasure at hand is an excellent method of stress relief.

 

6) Feeling unbearably tense?

 

Try massage, a hot bath, mini-relaxations, a body scan, or a mindful walk. Practically any exercise — a brisk walk, a quick run, a sprint up and down the stairs — will help, too. Done regularly, exercise wards off tension, as do relaxation response techniques.

 

7)   Frequently feel pessimistic?

 

Remind yourself of the value of learned optimism: a more joyful life and, quite possibly, better health. Practice deflating cognitive distortions. Rent funny movies and read amusing books. Create a mental list of reasons you have to feel grateful. If the list seems too short, consider beefing up your social network and adding creative, productive, and leisure pursuits to your life.

 

8) Upset by conflicts with others?

 

State your needs or distress directly, avoiding “you always” or “you never” zingers. Say, “I feel _____ when you _____.” “I would really appreciate it if you could _____.” “I need some help setting priorities. What needs to be done first and what should I tackle later?” If conflicts are a significant source of distress for you, consider taking a class on assertiveness training.

 

9) Worn out or burned out?

 

Focus on self-nurturing. Carve out time to practice relaxation response techniques or at least indulge in mini-relaxations. Care for your body by eating good, healthy food and for your heart by seeking out others. Give thought to creative, productive, and leisure activities. Consider your priorities in life: is it worth feeling this way, or is another path open to you? If you want help, consider what kind would be best. Do you want a particular task at work to be taken off your hands? Do you want to do it at a later date? Do you need someone with particular expertise to assist you?

 

10)   Feeling lonely?

 

Connect with others. Even little connections — a brief conversation in line at the grocery store, an exchange about local goings-on with a neighbor, a question for a colleague — can help melt the ice within you. It may embolden you, too, to seek more opportunities to connect. Be a volunteer. Attend religious or community functions. Suggest coffee with an acquaintance. Call a friend or relative you miss. Take an interesting class. If a social phobia, low self-esteem, or depression is dampening your desire to reach out, seek help. The world is a kinder, more wondrous place when you share its pleasures and burdens.

Opening Up the Brain with Ultrasound

 

 

A path into the brain: Perfusion Technology is developing a headset (top) that would deliver ultrasound waves throughout the brain, allowing cancer drugs or other large molecules to slip through the blood-brain barrier. At bottom, a section of a monkey’s brain after treatment with the device shows that it allowed a chemical marker (brown) to penetrate the brain.    Credit: Courtesy of Al Kyle

 

 

 

A startup is developing a simple ultrasound method to get cancer drugs into the brain.

 

 

MIT Technology Review, May 3, 2011, by Courtney Humphries  —  The cells lining the brain’s blood vessels are tightly packed together—like a good defensive line, they keep bacteria and other blood-borne intruders from getting through, shielding the brain. But this protective layer, called the blood-brain barrier, also thwarts efforts to deliver drugs like chemotherapy agents to the brain, so scientists have long searched for ways to disrupt it selectively to allow treatments in. A startup company called Perfusion Technology is developing a technique to open this barrier by bathing the brain in ultrasound waves.

Ultrasound has been investigated for a decade as a tool for opening the blood-brain barrier. Most techniques, however, rely on specialized equipment to focus the ultrasound waves to a tiny point. They also require an injection with microbubbles to amplify the effect, and an MRI machine to guide the treatment. Al Kyle, president and CEO of Perfusion Technology, which is based in Andover, Massachusetts, says that the company’s method is simpler and cheaper. Rather than opening the blood-brain barrier briefly at a single point, Perfusion uses a specially designed headset to expose the entire brain to low-intensity ultrasound waves for an hour-long treatment session.

The company is developing the treatment specifically for patients with brain tumors. A patient could receive the ultrasound during an outpatient session of intravenous chemotherapy, to open the blood-brain barrier and let the drugs into the brain. Kyle says it would be “a kinder and gentler way of delivering therapeutics to the brain” than current invasive methods, such as an infusion pump or a surgical implant. He also believes that his company’s approach would be better than focused methods when it comes to treating tumors that have spread to multiple parts of the brain, because it reaches the entire brain at once.

Although Perfusion is initially developing the technique to treat primary brain tumors, the majority of brain cancers originate elsewhere and metastasize to the brain; in these cases, the technique might help deliver drugs designed for other kinds of cancer into the brain, Kyle says. He further believes the method could someday help treat other kinds of neurological disorders.

Nathan McDannold, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital who has been developing focused ultrasound for drug delivery to the brain, agrees that if Perfusion Technology’s method is proved to work it will have advantages, because it doesn’t require microbubble agents and expensive equipment. But the company still needs to prove the safety and effectiveness of its approach. The biggest safety concern is bleeding: when a similar ultrasound method was tested on stroke patients several years ago as a way of dissolving clots, it led to excessive bleeding.

Kyle says his company has completed five animal studies over the past few years and has used its ultrasound technique to deliver several large molecules safely to the brain, including the cancer drug Avastin. The company hopes to complete preclinical animal studies in the next year and prepare for initial trials in humans.

 

 

Medscape.com, May 3, 2011

  • Stay Slimmer With Water

Trying to lose weight? Water revs up metabolism and helps you feel full.

Replace calorie-laden beverages with water, and drink a glass before meals to help you feel fuller.

Drinking more water also helps amp up metabolism – especially if your glass is icy cold. Your body must work to warm the water up, burning a few extra calories in the process.

 

  • Water Boosts Your Energy

If you’re feeling drained and depleted, get a pick-me-up with water. Dehydration makes you feel fatigued.

Water helps the blood transport oxygen and other essential nutrients to your cells.

If you’re getting enough water, your heart also doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood throughout your body.

 

  • Lower Stress With Water

85% of your brain tissue is water. If you’re dehydrated, both your body and your mind will be stressed.

If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already a little dehydrated.

To keep stress levels down, keep a glass of water at your desk or tote a sports bottle and sip regularly.

  • Build Muscle Tone With Water

Drinking water helps prevent muscle cramping and lubricates joints in the body.

When you’re well hydrated, you can exercise longer and stronger without “hitting the wall.”

  • Nourish Your Skin

Fine lines and wrinkles are deeper when you’re dehydrated. Water is nature’s own beauty cream.

Drinking water hydrates skin cells and plumps them up, making your face look younger.

It also flushes out impurities and improves circulation and blood flow, leaving your face clean, clear, and glowing.

  • Stay Regular With Water

Along with fiber, water is essential to good digestion.

Water helps dissolve waste particles and passes them smoothly through your digestive tract.

If you’re dehydrated, your body absorbs all the water, leaving your colon dry and making it more difficult to pass waste.

  • Water Reduces Kidney Stones

The rate of painful kidney stones is rising because people – including children – aren’t drinking enough water.

Water dilutes the salts and minerals in your urine that form the solid crystals known as kidney stones.

Kidney stones can’t form in diluted urine, so reduce your risk with plenty of water!

 

  • Are You Drinking Enough Water?

Generally, nutritionists recommend we follow the “8×8 rule.”

Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.

You may need more water if you exercise or sweat heavily.

You may need less water if you drink other beverages often.