Canada Aims to Save Lives With Standardization of Mesothelioma Data

Canada, a leading exporter of asbestos,  has announced a nationwide initiative that is designed to give cancer researchers and health officials improved access to research data.  Known as the National Staging Initiative, the project will serve to enhance the sharing and cooperation of cancer research across all provinces and territories.

Specifically, the initiative will focus on the collective gathering of staging information for prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer. These four cancers are the most common cancer types in Canada (94,600 new cases of these cancers are estimated to occur within the country for the 2010 year).

The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer worked cooperatively with the Canadian Association of Provincial Cancer Agencies to create the initiative. Collectively, the organizations have pledged $20 million towards the campaign.

Labeled as an initiative that is “first of its kind,” Canada’s Federal Health Administrator, Leona Aglukkaq, states, “The national staging initiative will generate better data and better evidence which will improve the cancer system and ultimately save lives.”

Staging is the process of assessing how far along a particular case of cancer has progressed. Recommended treatment options vary depending on which stage a patient’s cancer has progressed. As such, a nationwide collection of staging info provides researchers with a deeper well of data that can be used to more easily identify trends within cancer populations.

According to Caroline Heick, VP of knowledge management at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, “This information plays an important role in helping health system planners answer questions like ‘Are screening programs effective in saving Canadians’ lives?’ and ‘Which treatments are helping people live longer?”

Staging data will be collectively pooled for all patients diagnosed with one of the four cancers on or after January 1, 2010. Data related to the initiative is estimated to be available in 2012.

Sources: Montreal Gazette, New Brunswick Business Journal

Is Cancer a Manmade Illness?

A recent review of tissue samples taken from ancient Egyptian mummies has revealed a strikingly rare occurrence of cancer, says a team of British and American scientists. Given the relatively high frequency of cancer among the modern population, the lack of cancer patients in Ancient Egypt leads researchers to propose the fact that cancer is a modern, manmade illness.

According to one of the lead researchers for the study, Rosalie David, “In industrialized societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death, but in ancient times, it was extremely rare.” This fact leads her to conclude, “There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer.”

However, this conclusion is not a universal viewpoint of the scientific community. Certainly, there are a few variables that need to be taken into account when reviewing signs of cancer in a mummified subject that is more than 1,000 years old.

For example, John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin points out, “To see cancers with the skeletal record, you really have to have a tumor that’s affecting bone. Although there might be few confirmed diagnoses of tumors in bones, it’s because cancer is a difficult diagnosis to make from bone.”

Still it is not unheard of to effectively diagnose cancer from a skeletal record. In fact, Dr. Michael Zimmerman of Villanova University (and lead author for the study) was able to use mummified tissue to identify rectal cancer in a mummified specimen that is approximately 1,700 years old. Given this success, and the lack of cancer found across all mummies examined, Zimmerman agrees with David on the fact that cancer appears to be caused by pollution, diet and other manmade health hazards.

To bolster their claims, David and Zimmerman combed through ancient Egyptian and Greek texts in an effort to identify any mentions of cancer among both human and animal populations. The near lack of such data may be interpreted as an additional sign that some credence can be given to the controversial idea.

Critics have also brought up the fact that individuals living in ancient times had a typical lifespan of less than 30 years. Today, cancers generally manifest beyond the 30-year mark. As such it could just be that ancient individuals did not live long enough for cancer to occur.

The British/American team attempted to debunk this possibility by reviewing signs of other age-related illnesses. The fact that they found fairly common symptoms of atherosclerosis, osteoporosis and Paget’s disease of bone suggests that aging was progressed enough to reveal higher rates of cancer than actually found.

Still, the idea that cancer is wholly a manmade illness is a hard pill to swallow – signs of cancer have previously been found in the remains of dinosaurs. However, the evidence compiled by the team is compelling enough to raise questions about how much human contributors have affected the rise of cancer in our society.  In the cases of clear carcinogens like asbestos, the connection to cancer (mesothelioma) is certainly present, but for many other cancers it is not clear.

Sources:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/

http://www.care2.com/

Nearly Half of Deaths in Turkish Town Caused by Mesothelioma

In most of the world, mesothelioma is an extremely rare type of lung cancer that accounts for less than one of every 100,000 deaths. However, in the Turkish region of Cappadocia, instances of death related to malignant mesothelioma hover at an astonishing rate of 48 percent.

Mesothelioma has been linked to the inhalation of asbestos fibers – a naturally occurring mineral that is used in a variety of heat-resistant products. A similarly fibrous material – erionite – is abundant in the Cappadocia region and has been used for decades as a resource for building homes and roadways.

Unfortunately, the frequent use of erionite in the Cappadocia region has exposed most of the residents to hazardous levels of this toxic material. The towns most dramatically affected by the fiber include Tuzkoy, Sarihidir and Karain.

While erionite is found in a number of regions globally (for example, Nevada), “the cancerous material is generally found far deep underground,” according to Izzetin Baris (a retired professor with a long history of mesothelioma research). “In Turkey, however, it is very close to the surface.”

Look at the numbers, and it becomes evident that, “The number of cases of mesothelioma in Tuzkoy has been about 600 to 800 times higher than world standards,” says Murat Tuncer of the Turkish Health Ministry department.

Due to these alarming numbers, government authorities have initiated a relocation plan to move all 2,350 remaining residents of Tuzkoy to a nearby location. As with the 250 families that have already been relocated, the costs associated with the move will be subsidized by the state. The new housing facility is located approximately one mile away from the current city’s location.

While this relocation is believed to move Tuzkoy villagers properly out of harm’s way, officials are still unsure about plans to demolish the current city. Present plans suggest the entire village will be demolished, buried in a thick layer of uncontaminated earth and then re-planted. However, other ideas include paving over the city with asphalt or doing nothing and simply prohibiting entry into the area.

Sadly, the knowledge of environmental hazards in Tuzkoy has been known for quite some time. In fact, relocation efforts first began back in 1999. However, little progress has been made thanks to various government difficulties and financial constraints.

Currently, government authorities hope the relocation will be completed by 2012. Even when such relocation occurs, however, a decline of cancer rates may not be noted for decades – mesothelioma often does not manifest until 20 to 50 years following initial exposure.

Source: ABCNews

New Cancer Drug Shows Early Promise

More than 80 percent of malignant melanoma patients in a recent study experienced a dramatic reduction in tumor size thanks to a new experimental drug treatment. While drug trials for the treatment are still in the early stages, industry experts such as Matthew Meyerson of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston report the findings as “a major breakthrough in cancer treatment.”

The findings of the study, published in a recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, are the result of targeted drug development. In previous genome analysis, it was found that production of a protein called BRAF is overactive in approximately 50 to 60 percent of patients diagnosed with malignant melanomas. This insight led to the production of drugs that inhibit the molecular pathways associated with BRAF production.

Two pharmaceutical companies ñ Roche and Plexxikon ñ collaborated to develop the specific drug used to hinder BRAF pathways. For the study, 32 melanoma patients were given the drug, with 81 percent showing a partial or complete response. In a few cases, tumors actually disappeared altogether for a short time.

The drug shows significant promise for a cancer that is notoriously difficult to treat. If caught early, surgery may prove an effective treatment. However, cases in which the cancer grows beyond the skin come with a poor diagnosis (many patients do not survive more than 12 months once metastasis occurs). Presently, only 10 to 20 percent of patients respond well to FDA approved drug treatments.

Thanks to the innovation of targeted genome sequencing, the number of participants in clinical trials can be greatly reduced. Given the promising effects of the phase II trial, the drug is ready to enter phase III trials to further test its efficacy. Of primary concern for future trials, is the analysis of a cancer’s ability to become resistant to the new drug. Current tests indicate that resistance can occur anywhere from three months to two years from the beginning of treatment.

To counter this resistance, researchers may try a combination of drugs that target additional protein mutations beyond the BRAF protein.

If found effective, the potential of BRAF inhibitor drugs may extend beyond malignant melanoma cancer. The mutation is also present in seven to eight percent of all other cancers.

Resource:

http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/26117/?a=f

http://www.cancer.gov/ncicancerbulletin/090710/page2

Paper Diagnostics Aimed to Bring Down Costs of Medical Testing

Many people are at least partially aware of paper-based diagnostic testing. The technique is most commonly associated with over-the-counter pregnancy tests. While the technique has been around for a while, researchers are now attempting to bring paper-based diagnostics to more complex medical testing. If successful, it could mean a dramatic reduction in medical costs and greatly improve accessibility in developing nations.

At the University of Washington in Seattle, a team of researchers has made a breakthrough that may open the doors to a wide variety of paper diagnostics. Their work deals with amplifying the signal of a test antibody by improving the timing of chemical delivery associated with the paper test. Success in this endeavor essentially amplifies the sensitivity of the test, allowing for indicators of a disease to be identified even at low levels.

Ultimately, the goal of the team is to replace complicated and expensive ELISA instrumentation. ELISA stands for enzyme-lined immonsorbent assay, a test that is currently used to detect proteins and antibodies linked to a variety of illnesses. While this current technology is highly accurate, it also requires large, expensive equipment that must be monitored by lab technicians. Switching over to paper-based diagnostics would put such tests into a credit-card sized piece of paper and eliminate the need for trained professionals.

With the amplification problem now solved, the team in Seattle is now working on packaging the technology so that it can be easily distributed.

In related news, a team of researchers at Australia’s Monash University has successfully created a paper diagnostic test for determining blood type. The simple dipstick test requires a drop of blood to be placed on a piece of paper that has been imprinted with antibodies. Depending on how the blood seeps into the paper, testers can quickly and easily determine if a patient’s blood type is A, B, AB or O.

Knowledge of blood type is integral for a number of reasons, including blood transfusion. The speed and affordability of the new test could greatly improve the success rate of such procedures in developing countries. According the team, the same basic technology may also be extended to blood tests that diagnose blood-related illnesses such as tuberculosis, anemia and diabetes.

Madison Square Garden Closed Due to Asbestos Cleanup

Officials at Madison Square Garden ordered the postponement of a scheduled game between the NBA’s Orlando Magic and the hometown New York Knicks due to dust falling from the arena ceiling during an asbestos cleanup project. Work crews at the Garden were converting the arena floor for the basketball after a game featuring the NHL’s New York Rangers. During the conversion and subsequent cleanup, dust and debris from the ceiling hit the floor.

According to a statement from the Knicks, the cleanup included cleaning out areas of the ceiling that held “asbestos-related materials”. The statement also said that the team and the arena would work with city officials and independent environmental testing services to “determine the most appropriate course of action”. The team said that they would not reopen the arena until they had received assurances that no fans, players or staff would be exposed to any health hazards from the debris.

Madison Square Garden has long been considered a New York City landmark and is known to sports fans as “The World’s Most Famous Arena”. With the start of the NBA, NHL and college basketball seasons, the building is experiencing one of its yearly peaks in terms of use and attendance. The arena serves as the home to the Knicks, Rangers, and the St. John’s University Red Storm basketball games.

The current schedule calls for another NBA game between the Knicks and the Washington Wizards on Friday (5 November), a concert by former Pink Floyd guitarist Roger Waters (6 November) and a day-night double-header between the Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers at noon, followed by an NHL contest between the Rangers and the St. Louis Blues at 7:30pm (7 November).

Constructed in the late 1960s, the newest version of the venerable arena opened in 1968. During the construction project, as was typical at the time, workers used asbestos-laced materials as insulation and fireproofing materials. The Garden is the oldest building still in use in the National Hockey League and the second-oldest still in use by the National Basketball Association. The recent asbestos scare came during efforts to remove the carcinogenic substance from the building as part of a major renovation project.

An official with the New York Department of Environmental Protection said that their office investigated the incident. Investigators found that “no asbestos (was) released” and declared that there was “no health concern” for anyone who worked in or visited the building.

MSG officials have yet to announce when or if they will reopen the arena for any upcoming events. However, one executive said that they expect the debris to be cleared away by today (3 November) and that the only event effected by the scare would be the Knicks/Magic game.

If officials later decide to keep the building closed until further notice, a spokesman said that they have contacted arena owners in New Jersey and Connecticut to house the NBA and NHL games. Ticket holders are urged to check with the team web sites to find out when or where their games will be rescheduled or relocated.

Sources: New York Post, CNN, ESPN, NorthJersey.com

EPA’s “Most Wanted” Fugitive Captured

Officials with the US Marshals Service and the Environmental Protection Agency captured escaped fugitive Albania Deleon last week in the Dominican Republic. Ms. Deleon was convicted of issuing certificates for an asbestos-remediation training class to unqualified applicants. She had fled the country prior to her sentencing hearing in March. When she failed to appear, US District Judge Nathaniel Gorton issued a bench warrant for her arrest.

Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said that Ms. Deleon “put communities at risk” by issuing hundreds of the false certifications. She credited the teamwork of the US Attorney’s Office, the Marshals Service, EPA special agents and Dominican law enforcement for tracking down and capturing Ms. Deleon. Carmen Ortiz, a prosecutor with the US Attorney’s Office, also credited both American and Dominican agencies in insuring that Ms. Deleon “will at last face punishment” for her crimes.

Ms. Deleon was convicted on more than twenty offenses in November 2008. The crimes include mail fraud, accessing fraudulent payroll tax documents, encouraging illegal aliens to live in the US, conspiracy to make false statements to government officials, and making false statements to the EPA. She also now faces potential charges of resisting arrest, fleeing the country and defaulting on her bail agreement.

From 2001 to 2006, Ms. Deleon owned a training company called Environmental Compliance Training. The school received certification from both the EPA and the state of Massachusetts. The company also offered four-day training classes in asbestos handling, removal and cleanup processes. However, many of ECT’s clients did not attend the classes and did not receive the proper training for dealing with the dangerous material. Instead, Ms. Deleon issued the certificates and falsified final exam results.

Investigators later found that many of the ECT clients that received the false certificates were illegal aliens. The illegal workers would often skip the class sessions in order to work at other jobs while the instructors carried out the lessons. The workers would then use the certificates to get better-paying jobs on asbestos remediation projects, although they were not qualified and often did not use the proper safety protocols.

An inspection of ECT’s records showed that up to eighty percent of the certificates Ms. Deleon issued were to students who did not complete the class. She also used her temporary employment agency, Methuen Staffing, to employ many of the illegal workers who came to her for certification. Methuen Staffing provided workers for many asbestos removal projects throughout New England.

Ms. Deleon was also convicted of creating false tax statements, as she would often pay the workers in cash or by other means in order to avoid filling out tax documentation. Instead, she only reported the employees whose taxes she withheld. Investigators estimated that she saved her business well over a million dollars in taxes and workers’ compensation insurance payments by keeping the illegal workers off the books.

Deleon is still in the Dominican Republic, but faces up to twenty years in prison on each count of mail fraud and five years on every other count when she is extradited back to the US.

Sources: EPA website, Boston Herald

Stress May Reduce Effectiveness of Cancer Treatment

Increased levels of stress ñ either mental or physical ñ may reduce the effectiveness of cancer treatment, according to researchers at Ohio State University. These findings are based on studies that looked at how breast cancer cultures reacted to treatment in relation to levels of a stress-related protein.

Results suggest that the heat shock factor-1 (HSF-1) protein, which increases in production at the onset of stress, reduces the body’s ability to kill cancer cells. This decrease in effectiveness was witnessed even after cancer cells were damaged through the process of radiation or chemotherapy treatment.

HSF-1 is associated with both mental stress and physical stress. The body produces it in an attempt to insulate healthy cells and tissues from the negative effects of stress. Apparently, it also helps insulate cancer cells from negative harm as well.

In response to this, Ohio State researchers recommend patients take steps to reduce mental and physical sources of stress in the days leading up to treatment. Both relaxation and physical inactivity are important, according to researchers.

While exercise and activity are often recommended for cancer patients, lead study author Govindasamy Ilangovan notes that timing of exercise is important: “It looks like any intense or prolonged physical activity a couple of days before the start of cancer therapy is highly risky, and has potential to reduce the benefits of treatment.”

Though the study looked only for a link between breast cancer and stress, it should be noted that HSF-1 production could affect a wide variety of cancer types.

Based on these findings, researchers suggest that it may be possible to develop drugs that effectively suppress the adverse treatment effects of HSF-1. The University of Ohio study was published in the September 21st online edition of Molecular Cancer Research.

Sources:

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5hiCLJ_GqdRgeCbHM587ophqP3pnQ

http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/643444.html