Scientists Fight Cancer With Cancer

Scientists at the Rogosin Institute in New York have found a new weapon in the fight against cancer: beads made from mouse cancer cells.  Researchers created the beads by removing cancer cells from mice and coating them in agarose, a sugar derived from seaweed.  In previous tests on animals, the study found that the beads significantly reduced the size of the surrounding tumors.

The beads start as a mixture of agarose and kidney cancer cells from mice.  The next step is to cover the mixture in another layer of agarose, creating the coating for the bead.  After three to ten days, almost all of the kidney cancer cells die off.  The remaining cells resemble cancer “stem cells” and begin to reproduce inside the bead.

As the stem cells divide and refill the bead’s interior, they emit proteins that other nearby cancer cells use as a signal.  The process essentially “tricks” cancer cells into believing that more cancer cells are nearby and that the existing cancer cells must stop growing.  In most cases, the tumors can stagnate, shrink, or die off entirely.

The process of testing the method on humans has already begun.  At least thirty cancer patients have been implanted with the beads, with more test subjects expected to join the study pending the early results.  The patients in the study have some of the most aggressive forms of cancer, including colon, pancreatic and prostate cancers, in the advanced stages of the disease.  The research team hopes to release the results from the small-scale study by the end of the year.

Dr. Howard Parnes, a researcher with the National Cancer Institute, called the efforts at Rogosin “a completely novel way” of looking at cancer treatment methods.  He said that the methods of moving mouse cancer cells into humans has yet to show any evidence of creating any ill effects on patients.  Dr. Parnes mentioned that the study showed a “remarkable proof of principle” that the genetic structure of cancer cells in one animal could be used as an effective treatment in another species.

Dr. Daniel Petrylak, director of the prostate-cancer program at Columbia University Medical Center, said that the results from the Rogosin study appear to be “very compelling”.  Dr. Petrylak said that he would soon select patients to take part in the next phase of the study.  Prostate cancer is often very aggressive and spreads quickly throughout the body, thus prostate cancer patients would be suitable candidates for further testing.

Dr. Barry Smith, director of the Rogosin Institute, said that the team’s results with lab mice were promising.  The study showed that mice treated with the beads showed a reduction in tumor size of up to sixty percent within a month of the procedure.  The group also treated eleven dogs with prostate cancer using the beads.  The dogs that received the beads lived an average of nearly six months, with one dog surviving for almost two years, compared with a typical survival time of less than two months for untreated dogs.

Sources:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703555804576102081795100672.html
http://www.wtma.com/rssItem.asp?feedid=116&itemid=29625523
http://www.myfoxny.com/dpps/news/scientists-try-to-fight-cancer-with-cancer-dpgonc-20110125-gc_11580315

New Blood Test Could Improve Diagnosis and Treatment of Cancer

New blood test technology has been developed that is sensitive enough to detect cancer cells, according to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Veridex (a division of Johnson & Johnson).

A press release published by Johnson & Johnson suggests the technology, which is currently in development for commercial use, “will enable [circulating tumor cells] to be used both by oncologists as a diagnostic tool for personalizing patient care, as well as by researchers to accelerate and improve the process of drug discovery and development.”

A prototype of the technology has previously been able to successfully identify a variety of cancer cells in the blood (such as breast cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer). The device is similar in size to a business card and makes use of a microfluidics chip to sift through blood samples and identify any signs of cancer.

Each microfluidics chip contains tens of thousands miniscule posts that are encased with a binding molecule. Different posts contain a different protein that is identified with different types of cancer. As such, if tumor cells are present in the blood sample, then they will stick to those posts that contain the matching binding protein. Based on this information, an identification of cancer can quickly be made.

Physicians and researchers are hopeful that the technology will not only ease diagnosis, but also assist in developing improved treatment regimens. This may be accomplished by routinely monitoring cancer cell counts to determine if a current treatment is offering positive effects. Additionally, the level of precision provided by the technology allows doctors to learn whether or not a specific tumor contains common genetic mutations that may warrant alternative treatment methods.

Though the current estimated cost of production is fairly expensive (each chip costs around $500), researchers are hopeful that the technology will one day be available on a global scale.

Ideally, the new blood tests will take a lot of the guesswork out of selecting a cancer therapy. According to Dr. Peter Ravdin, director of the Comprehensive Breast Health Center at the University of Texas Cancer Therapy & Research Center, current protocol requires doctors to “wait about three months and take an x-ray to see if the tumor has gotten smaller” once a treatment has been implemented.

With the help of Johnson & Johnson’s new technology, this wait-and-see timeline has the potential to be dramatically reduced.

Resources:
http://www.kens5.com/news/New-cancer-blood-test-could-revolutionize-treatment-112819334.html
http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/editors/26218/?nlid=3959

Hormone Receptor Identified as Potential Target for Cancer Treatment

At least 11 common cancers may be partially spurred by the presence of the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), according to research conducted at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research.

The findings suggest that cancer treatments that target FSH within cancerous tumors may serve as a viable method for both detecting early signs of cancer and treating the illness.

FSH is a receptor that is normally present within the blood vessels of reproductive organs. In woman, it contributes to the growth of ovarian follicles and production of estrogen. In men, the hormone assists in the production of spermatozoa.

Among organs outside the reproductive system, FSH is typically absent. However, analysis conducted by the Mount Sinai team reveals that FSH also pops up in blood vessels of certain types of cancer. The 11 cancer types linked to FSH include:

• Breast cancer
• Prostate cancer
• Colon cancer
• Pancreatic cancer
• Bladder cancer
• Kidney cancer
• Lung cancer
• Liver cancer
• Stomach cancer
• Testicular cancer
• Ovarian cancer

Interestingly, the presence of FSH was identified across all 11 cancers regardless of stage of the tumor. This fact indicates that FSH serves as a biomarker that can be used to facilitate early diagnosis.

According to the study’s lead researcher, Aurelian Radu, “This new tumor marker may be used to improve cancer detection. Tumor imaging agents that bind to the new marker could be injected in the vasculature and would make visible early tumors located anywhere in the body,” said Aurelian Radu of Mount Sinai, the study’s lead author.

These findings are based on research that examined biopsies of more than 1,300 cancer patients.

Beyond early detection, Radu and colleagues are hopeful that FSH can also be used as a successful target for treatment. Since the receptor is linked to growth of tumor blood cells, treatments targeting FSH may assist in:

• Blocking the formation of new blood vessels
• Inhibiting blood flow to tumors via coagulation
• Destroying existing tumor blood vessels

In all three cases, the desired outcome is a reduction of oxygen flow to the cancerous tumor. Ultimately, this outcome could result in reduced growth, shrinkage or altogether elimination of a tumor.

One major advantage of using FSH as a target for cancer treatment is that it is absent in most normal tissues. This means that FSH-related drugs may result in fewer side effects than current chemotherapy treatments.

Before treatment avenues that relate to FSH production can begin, the research team concedes that additional research is needed. Additionally, the team reiterates the need to search for the role of FSH beyond the 11 cancers already studied.

The Mount Sinai research was published in the October 21 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Sources:
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jehv-SS4E4K3anFw7-Qe3gFUl53A?docId=CNG.be1430cf7ec438b63479d0e3742332c8.921
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-10/ind-cdo102010.php
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http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/644667.html