Massachusetts Helps Vets Quit Smoking

State health officials in Massachusetts are developing measures to help the state’s military veterans quit smoking.  The new campaign is the second effort launched since 2008 to help veterans with this growing health problem.  Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray released a statement praising “the brave men and women” in uniform and said that the campaign would help to “provide (veterans) with the opportunity to live long, healthy lives”.

A report from the office of Governor Deval Patrick showed that nearly one-fourth of all Massachusetts veterans smoke cigarettes.  The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that less than one-sixth of all adults in the Bay State smoke.  A related report from the Institute of Medicine showed that nearly one in three people on active military duty smoke, with the number rising to half or more among those veterans who have been deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Coleman Nee, a veteran of the US Marine Corps during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, is now the Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Services.  Mr. Nee also spoke out about the anti-smoking campaign, saying that smoking among veterans is “a very serious problem”.  He said that smoking is an issue for veterans’ services agencies as well as public health groups.  He called the addiction to smoking among service members “a real shame”.

Mr. Nee recalled that, during his time in the Marine Corps, he and other service personnel would receive cigarettes and smokeless tobacco as part of their care packages from home, a tradition that started back in World War I.  He remarked that this practice has since stopped; especially in light of the numerous health problems that smoking is now understood to cause.

A report from the state public health office revealed that cigarette smoking is the number-one cause of preventable disease and death in Massachusetts.  The report also estimates that health care costs for smokers add up to over $4.3 billion annually.

The public awareness campaign for veterans includes a toll-free number that offers support and information on smoking cessation programs.  When the first campaign started in 2008, thousands of veterans called the support hotline and obtained nicotine patches to help them quit the habit.  Massachusetts State Representative James E. Valle, chairman of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, said that the program shows the state’s commitment to “helping those who have served” in uniform to lead healthier lives.

The moves to help veterans quit smoking come in light of a study commissioned by the Department of Defense in 2009.  The study examined the feasibility of banning smoking among all service personnel within the next decade.  All military bases prohibit smoking indoors, but the study also considers banning the sale of tobacco products on bases, as well as stopping troops in the field from smoking.

However, some military personnel are opposed to any ban on smoking.  Many see smoking as a stress reliever, especially during the heat of battle.  The Defense Department study also found that bases generate millions of dollars from tobacco sales, most of which goes toward covering the costs of programs for dependents and for recreation.

Sources:
http://www.wwlp.com/dpp/news/massachusetts/veterans-receive-help-to-stop-smoking
http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/03/08/veterans_get_help_to_quit_smoking/
http://articles.cnn.com/2009-07-12/us/military.smoking.ban_1_smokeless-tobacco-tobacco-sales-pancreatic?_s=PM:US

Personalized Vaccines May Help Fight Cancer

Individualized vaccines created from a patient’s own cancer tumor may help boost the immune system’s response to the illness, according to a study conducted at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Early trials of the innovative new treatment option suggest that patient survival can be greatly improved through such vaccinations.

For the study, researchers (led by Richard Barth Jr, chief of general surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock) used dendritic cells culled from a patient’s blood to develop a personalized vaccine. Dendritic cells are an integral part of the immune system that seek out hostile antigens. By programming these dendritic cells to target a patient’s unique cancer cell manifestation, the result is an induced immune response to tumors.

As witnessed in the study, the injection of such a vaccine resulted in an effective anti-tumor response in a majority of patients.

The study included 26 patients who had tumors that had spread from the colon to the liver. All patients were surgically treated to remove the tumors. However, metastasized colon tumors are notorious for spawning regrowth following surgery. In an attempt to reduce the chances for the cancer to return, Barth and associates injected the vaccine into patients one month after surgery.

Study representatives report that 60 percent of all patients who received a vaccination displayed a favorable T-cell immune response to their tumors. Of those with a favorable response, 63 percent were alive and free of any signs of cancer after five years of treatment.

In comparison, only 18 percent of patients who did not respond to the immunization were alive and free of cancer during the same time period.

The study shows for the first time that dendritic vaccines may be useful in the treatment of cancer. Previous research efforts have attempted to show that such vaccines may be helpful in fighting larger tumor deposits. While previously unsuccessful, the vaccines may be used in conjunction with surgery to improve a patient’s chances for survival.

Additional studies are required before the efficacy and effectiveness of the treatment option can be validated. According to Barth, “This study isn’t definitive enough for us to say that everyone with colon cancer that spreads to the liver should get the vaccine. A next possible step would be to compare this vaccine with just dendritic cells which have not been pulsed with tumor antigens as a control.”

Findings of the study were published in the November issue of Clinical Cancer Research.

Sources:
http://www.smartplanet.com/business/blog/smart-takes/a-personalized-vaccine-to-combat-cancers-tumors/12609/
http://thedartmouth.com/2010/11/29/news/cancer


Scientists Find Potential New Skin Cancer Treatments

Scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle have found a new method for the treatment for a common form of skin cancer. Researchers at the laboratory, under the direction of Dr. Valeri Vasioukhin, have detected that a protein, known as alpha-catenin, that functions acts as a suppressive agent for squamous cell carcinoma tumors. The research team has also discovered the process by which this protein keeps tumor cell growth in line.

Dr. Vasioukhin’s team studied mice that were genetically engineered not to create the alpha-catenin protein, which is typically found in hair follicles. The scientists noted that the mice without the protein developed squamous cell carcinoma tumors at a faster rate than the control group. Dr. Vasioukhin noted that the cells in the alpha-catenin-deficient mice grew at such a rapid rate that “they become very crowded in the Petri dish”.

The rapid rates of cell growth and proliferation are some of the primary characteristics of cancer cells. Dr. Vasioukhin also said that the fact that the mice without the protein experienced such accelerated rates of cell growth “is an important event in cancer development.” The research team found that alpha-catenin also limits the production of another protein, labeled Yap1. Scientists believe that the Yap1 protein acts as a triggering agent for cells to become malignant.

Dr. Vasioukhin also remarked on the connection between alpha-catenin and Yap1. He noted that, in the mice with alpha-catenin deficiencies, the Yap1 protein was activated. “Therefore, Yap1 is likely to be an excellent target for the treatment of patients with squamous cell carcinoma,” he said. If further tests are successful in isolating the Yap1 protein, future research efforts may be devoted to developing a treatment for squamous cell carcinoma patients based on the alpha-catenin protein.

What is squamous cell carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second-most common form of skin cancer, behind basal cell carcinoma and ahead of melanoma.  According to reports from public health officials, more than 700,000 cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year. The disease affects areas of the skin that receive more exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, including the face, arms, neck and legs.

Treatments for the disease range from topical chemotherapy and radiation therapy to surgical removal of the tumors. Dr. Ian Frazer, an Australian cancer researcher who helped develop the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, is also developing a vaccine to protect patients from squamous cell carcinoma. The vaccine is currently undergoing trials and may be ready for the mass market by 2020.

Sources:
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-05/fhcr-sdn051611.php
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squamous_cell_carcinoma
http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/2327/skin-cancer-vaccine-within-reach
http://www.imperfectparent.com/topics/2011/05/20/advances-in-skin-cancer-treatment-and-detection/