Johns Hopkins Makes Cancer Discovery

A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins discover the biochemical mechanism that tells cancer cells to break off from the primary tumor and spread throughout the body.

A process known as metastasiS.

That word scares the bejeebers out of patients diagnosed with cancer.  90% of cancer deaths are caused when cancer metastasizes.

Anything that helps prevent that from happening is a tremendous breakthrough in medicine.

                      [Photo Credit:  Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun]

Hasini Jayatilaka, left, a post-doctoral fellow and Denis Wirtz, professor of chemical and biomedical engineering, who work together at the Institute of NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins University, discuss their discovery.

 

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BALTIMOREHasini Jayatilaka was a sophomore at the Johns Hopkins University working in a lab studying cancer cells when she noticed that when the cells become too densely packed, some would break off and start spreading.

She wasn’t sure what to make of it, until she attended an academic conference and heard a speaker talking about bacterial cells behaving the same way. Yet when she went through the academic literature to see if anyone had written about similar behavior in cancer cells, she found nothing.

Seven years later, the theory Jayatilaka developed early in college is now a bona fide discovery that offers significant promise for cancer treatment.

Jayatilaka and a team at Johns Hopkins discovered the biochemical mechanism that tells cancer cells to break off from the primary tumor and spread throughout the body, a process called metastasis. Some 90 percent of cancer deaths are caused when cancer metastasizes.

The team also found that two existing, FDA-approved drugs can slow metastasis significantly.

“A female patient with breast cancer doesn’t succumb to the disease just because she has a mass on her breast; she succumbs to the disease because (when) it spreads either to the lungs, the liver, the brain, it becomes untreatable,” said Jayatilaka, who earned her doctorate in chemical and biomolecular engineering this spring in addition to her earlier undergraduate degree at Hopkins.

“There are really no therapeutics out there right now that directly target the spread of cancer. So what we came up with through our studies was this drug cocktail that could potentially inhibit the spread of cancer.”

The study was published online May 26 in the journal Nature Communications. The next step for the team is to test the effectiveness of the drugs in human subjects.

Typically, cancer research and treatment has focused on shrinking the primary tumor through chemotherapy or other methods. But, the team said, by attacking the deadly process of metastasis, more patients could survive.

“It’s not this primary tumor that’s going to kill you typically,” said Denis Wirtz, Johns Hopkins’ vice provost for research and director of its Physical Sciences-Oncology Center, who was a senior author on the paper.

Jayatilaka began by studying how cancer cells behave and communicate with each other, using a three-dimensional model that mimics human tissue rather than looking at them in a petri dish.

Many researchers believe metastasis happens after the primary tumor reaches a certain size, but Jayatilaka found it was the tumor’s density that determined when it would metastasize.

“If you look at the human population, once we become too dense in an area, we move out to the suburbs or wherever, and we decide to set up shop there,” Jayatilaka said. “I think the cancer cells are doing the same thing.”

When the tumor reaches a certain density, the study found, it releases two proteins called Interleukin 6 and Interleukin 8, signaling to cancer cells that things had grown too crowded and it was time to break off and head into other parts of the body.

Previously, Wirtz said, the act of a tumor growing and the act of cancer cells spreading were thought to be very separate activities, because that’s how it appeared by studying cancer cells in a petri dish, rather than the 3-D model the Hopkins team used.

Many researchers study only cancer cell growth or its spread, and don’t communicate with each other often, he said.

Once the cancer cells start to sense the presence of too many other cancer cells around them, they start secreting the Interleukin proteins, Wirtz said. If those proteins are added to a tumor that hasn’t yet metastasized, that process would begin, he said.

The team then tested two drugs known to work on the Interleukin receptors to see if they would block or slow metastasis in mice.

They found that using the two drugs together would block the signals from the Interleukin proteins that told the cancer cells to break off and spread, slowing – though not completely stopping – metastasis.

The drugs the team used were Tocilizumab, a rheumatoid arthritis treatment, and Reparixin, which is being evaluated for cancer treatment.

The drugs bind to the Interleukin receptors and block their signals, slowing metastasis.

Though metastasis was not completely stopped, Jayatilaka said, the mice given the drug cocktail fared well and survived through the experiment.

She said adding another, yet-to-be-determined drug or tweaking the dose might stop metastasis entirely.

Contrary to the hair loss, nausea and other negative side effects patients undergoing chemotherapy suffer, Wirtz said the side effects from the drugs used in the study would be minimal.

Anirban Maitra, co-director of a pancreatic cancer research center at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, cautioned that clinical trials in humans are needed to prove the theory.

“There’s a risk that something that looks so great in an animal model won’t pan out in a human,” he said.

But Maitra said the study looked promising, in particular because the researchers had used drugs already on the market. It can take a decade to identify a drug that would perform similarly and get it approved, and many similar observations don’t advance because of the time and expense it can take to get drug approval, he said.

Muhammad Zaman, a professor and cancer expert at Boston University, called the Hopkins discovery “exciting.”

“This paper gives you a very specific target to design drugs against,” he said. “That’s really quite spectacular from the point of view of drug design and creating therapies.”

Zaman said it was important for cancer researchers to use engineering to better understand cancer, as the Hopkins team did.

“This really brings cancer and engineering together in a very unique way, and it really takes an approach that is quantitative and rigorous,” he said. “We have to think of cancer as a complex system, not just a disease.”

Wirtz predicted a future where cancer would be fought with a mix of chemotherapy to shrink the primary tumor and drug cocktails like the one the Hopkins team developed to ensure it would not metastasize. He compared such a treatment to how HIV/AIDS is treated today.

“We’re not going to cure cancer with one therapy or even two therapies; it’s going to be drug cocktails,” Wirtz said. “That’s what saved the day with HIV/AIDS.”

Immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer, also could play a role in a combined method, Wirtz added.

“We’re, in research, sometimes incentivized to look at one pathway at a time, one type of cancer at a time,” Wirtz said. “I think oncology has started realizing we’re going to need more than one approach.”

MORE INFORMATION:

http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2017/jun/20/researchers-say-theyve-unlocked-key-to-cancer-meta/

VIDEO LINK:  

http://www.baltimoresun.com/health/93637026-132.html

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Maria Dorfner is the founder of NewsMD Communications and Healthy Within Network. This is her blog.  Contact: maria.dorfner@yahoo.com


Future Health: New Device To Detect Early-Stage Colon Cancer

DANIELA SEMEDO reports on a European project, which aims to develop an innovative endoscope device that can detect and diagnose colorectal cancer in its early stages.

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Called PICCOLO, the project is funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program. It’s tackling one of the world’s predominant cancers by using new optical technologies that identify precancerous polyps and early colon cancers.

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Colorectal cancer represents around one-tenth of all cancers worldwide, and nearly 95 percent of these cases are adenocarcinomas, which typically start as a tissue growth called a polyp.

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Early and accurate diagnosis and precise intervention can increase cure rates to up to 90 percent.

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A colonoscopy is currently the method used to screen for colon cancer. But while up to 40 percent of patients who undergo colonoscopy present one or more polyps, almost 30 percent of these polyps are not detected.

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Of the polyps detected by colonoscopy, 29 to 42 percent are generally hyperplastic and will not develop into cancer. The remainder are neoplastic polyps, representing colorectal cancer in its earliest stages.

There is an urgent need for new diagnostic techniques that are equipped with enough sensitivity and specificity to allow in situ assessment, safe characterization, and resection of lesions during clinical practice interventions.

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The multidisciplinary PICCOLO team proposes a new compact, hybrid, and multimodal photonics endoscope based on Optical C, a medical imaging technique that uses light to capture micrometer-resolution, three-dimensional images from within optical scattering media.

Artzai Picon of Tecnalia Research & Innovation says, “We hope that PICCOLO will provide major benefits over traditional colonoscopy. Firstly, by developing an advanced endoscope, using both optical coherence tomography (OCT) and multi-photon tomography (MPT), we will provide high-resolution structural and functional imaging, giving details of the changes occurring at the cellular level comparable to those obtained using traditional histological techniques.”

“Furthermore, when multiple polyps are detected in a patient, the current gold standard procedure is to remove all of them, followed by microscopic tissue analysis,” he said. “Removal of hyperplastic polyps, which carry no malignant potential, and the subsequent costly histopathological analysis, might be avoided through the use of the PICCOLO endoscope probe, which could allow image-based diagnosis without the need for tissue biopsies.”

Researchers behind the project believe the new device may not only add to colon cancer detection, but could also be applied to diseases in other organs of the body.

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Investigators expect their first prototype to be fully developed by the end of 2018 and plan to start testing the device in clinical studies in 2020.

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DANIELA SEMEDO, Colon Cancer News
https://coloncancernewstoday.com/2017/06/08/bristol-myers-squibb-novartis-to-test-mekinist-opdivo-combination-in-advanced-colorectal-cancer/

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http://www.fightcolorectalcancer.org

 

Maria Dorfner is the founder of NewsMD: What’s Hot in Health, a division of Healthy Within Network.  Have a story to share with healthcare consumers and media?

Contact: maria.dorfner@yahoo.com

 

Humor Helps Cancer Patients Heal

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When 28-year-old Oncology Nurse, Lexi Timmons works with cancer patients, which she’s done for two years, she notices what helps most is humor to brighten their spirits.

She also observes they receive a lot of greeting cards from well-meaning loved ones, but most are downright depressing instead of what they need most during this time, which is cheer.  She realizes it’s not their fault  because the majority of Greeting cards for illness in major retailers are typically glum offering sympathy, along with a Get Well Soon salutation.  She could see her patients get sad as they open and read them.

That’s how Lexi got the idea to create a line of Greeting cards that make cancer patients smile, laugh and feel good.  She calls them LUMPY CARDS.   Everyone knows stress has a negative impact on your mind and body. When people have cancer, they need their immune systems to stay strong and humor helps diffuse stress.  When someone is laughing they’re not thinking of being sick, even if it’s only for a little while.  It’s a step in the right direction.  Laughter is always positive, which is why we love Lexi’s idea and spirit. Sometimes, her patients inspire the cards.

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Lexi says, “I love to crack jokes and so do my patients. I realized that when people are going through the roughest of times, it actually brings out the best comedian in them.  It helps them cope and it also releases feel good endorphins in them, which are healing.”

Another inspiration was unexpected.  In 2012, cancer hit home when her Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

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Lexi Timmons with a cancer patient she didn’t expect – her own Mom

“My Mom is at her best when she is laughing and not thinking about her cancer. I knew this would help her too.”

LUMPY CARDS sure did make her Mom smile.

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Now, Lexi’s Mom inspires some of the Greeting cards. Together, they share great laughs and beautiful smiles.

Laughter really is the best medicine

 Her Mom Sherry says, “I just love Lexi’s cards! She has a knack for finding just the right line to make people feel better. When I was going through cancer treatment, and I would read one of her cards, they would make me laugh or feel loved. Her cards captured what I needed to hear at each stage of my treatment, and were neither too sympathetic or mushy. So many of the cards out there make you feel like your life is over now that you have cancer or you’re dying.”

Lexi writes the humorous cards herself, but would love to partner with some professional comedians, who would like to volunteer for a good cause and get credit on them.

There are a range of cards uniquely tailored for men, women, friends, family and spouses dealing with cancer and they’re reasonably priced at $3.99 a card.

Healthy Within Network and NewsMD give these cards two healthy thumbs up. 

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And so does the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, who has this to say:

“Now THIS is interesting!  A company that makes unique and provocative greeting cards for cancer patients. Lumpy Cards certainly doesn’t tiptoe around the topic of cancer.  The animal selection is particularly cute.”

 

 Way to go, Lexi.  An absolutely beautiful person inside and out, like her Mom.

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Lexi with her biggest fan, Mom

 

 

Here’s a link to Lexi on-camera talking about her inspiration for Lumpy Cards:

 

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  You can contact Lexi for an interview (Contact Us page on link) or order cards here:  http://www.lumpycards.com

Maria Dorfner is an  award-winning health journalist, and the the founding CEO of Healthy Within Network and NewsMD Communications.  This is her blog. She has been working in Media since 1983 and began specializing in Health in 1993, creating and sharing original and trusted health content for healthcare consumers. Her award-winning health series and segments have been seen on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, DISCOVERY HEALTH and more.

“Today, the floodgates are open to anyone reporting on health. Consumers are now well aware that physicians may have ties to pharmaceutical companies, health devices or hospitals, so they question everything. They are also now aware that food and beverage companies promoting products may not have their best interests in mind. When your Mom, Dad, sister, brother or loved one has a health issue, you want to know you’re getting trusted unbiased information. We maintain the experts need to be questioned to ensure not only transparency, but that profits aren’t placed before people.  Additionally, we focus on prevention and maintaining good health.  Virgil said it best when he said, “Health is your greatest wealth. Invest wisely.” ~Maria Dorfner