TAG: "Cancer"

Lactation may be linked to aggressive cancer in Mexican women

Breast cancer in women of Mexican descent occurs despite seemingly protective factors.

Maria Elena Martinez, UC San Diego

Maria Elena Martínez, UC San Diego

Scientific data suggest that a woman reduces her risk of breast cancer by breastfeeding, having multiple children and giving birth at a younger age. A study led by the UC San Diego School of Medicine and recently published online by Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, indicates that women of Mexican descent may not fit that profile. In fact, results suggest that women of Mexican descent with more children and those who breastfeed are more likely to be diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

During the four-year Ella Binational Breast Cancer Study, scientists assessed the association between reproductive factors and tumors subtypes in 1,041 Mexican and Mexican-American female cancer patients.

The study looked at the occurrence of three tumor subtypes: luminal A, HER2 and triple negative. The luminal tumor starts in the inner cell lining of the mammary ducts and is most common. The HER2 tumor is so-named because it is positive for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (or HER2) – a protein shown to play a role in aggressive breast cancer. Triple negative breast cancer does not have targeted treatment options, making it difficult to treat and giving it the worst prognosis.

“We found that breastfeeding in women of Mexican descent is associated with triple negative breast cancer,” said María Elena Martínez, M.P.H., Ph.D., UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center Sam M. Walton Endowed Chair for Cancer Research and co-director of the Reducing Cancer Disparities research program and lead author of the study. “This was quite surprising. No other study has seen this correlation before. Most studies show health benefits of breastfeeding.”

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Study finds link between high-fat, high-calorie diet and pancreas cancer

UCLA results support low-fat, low-calorie diet as preventive measure against disease.

Guido Eibl, UCLA

Guido Eibl, UCLA

Researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have found that mice made obese by high-calorie, high-fat diets develop abnormally high numbers of lesions known to be precursors to pancreas cancer.

This is the first study to show a direct causative link in an animal model between obesity and risk of this deadly cancer.

The study, published today (Sept. 30) in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, was led by Dr. Guido Eibl, a member of the Jonsson Cancer Center and a professor in the department of surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, or cancer of the pancreas, is one of the most deadly forms of cancer in humans. Overall five-year survival rates are approximately 3 to 5 percent, and the average survival period after diagnosis is just four to six months. It is a particularly aggressive disease, one that is often beyond the point of effective treatment by the time symptoms appear.

Since current treatments are limited in quantity and effectiveness, researchers are turning to prevention strategies to try to make headway against the disease before it reaches advanced stages.

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Global innovators to convene at ‘The Atlantic Meets the Pacific’ forum

UC San Diego co-hosts Oct. 2-4 event covering advances in technology, life sciences, health.

Calit2 Director Larry Smarr (right) at "The Atlantic Meets the Pacific" Forum at UC San Diego in 2012

Calit2 Director Larry Smarr (right) at "The Atlantic Meets the Pacific" Forum at UC San Diego in 2012

UC San Diego will again be the stage for globally important conversations about advances in technology, life sciences and health at the third annual “The Atlantic Meets the Pacific” innovation conference, set for Oct. 2 to 4.

Presented by UC San Diego in partnership with The Atlantic magazine, the acclaimed program brings together several dozen world-class innovators whose specialties range from advances in cancer treatments and longevity research to wireless health and brain mapping.

A limited number of one-day discount passes are available for as low as $50, including meals. To register for “The Atlantic Meets the Pacific,” please visit the registration site.

Among the more notable innovators who will participate are:

  • Deepak Chopra, best-selling author and founder, The Chopra Foundation
  • Craig Anderson, former editor of Wired and CEO of 3D Robotics
  • Roni Zeiger, former chief health strategist at Google, CEO of Smart Patients
  • Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer”
  • Clifton Leaf, Fortune magazine contributing editor and author of “The Truth in Small Doses: Why We’re Losing the War on Cancer (And How to Win It)”

Most of the conversations will take place at the Scripps Seaside Forum, the oceanfront conference center at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and also at Qualcomm Institute.

Presiding over a number of panel sessions will be The Atlantic’s leading editorial voices, led by  James Bennet, editor in chief; James Fallows, national correspondent; and Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large.

Also joining the conversations will be internationally recognized experts from UCSD, led by:

  • Clark Gibson, professor, UC San Diego Department of Political Science;
  • Scott Lippman, professor of Medicine, UC San Diego School of Medicine, and director of the Moores Cancer Center; and
  • Jacopo Annese, director of The Brain Observatory, UC San Diego School of Medicine

Open to the public, the series of thought-provoking presentations and panel discussions include:

  • What’s next in Medical IT: Wireless Health and Wearable Trends
  • Chronic Diseases: How Technology is Changing the Patient Experience
  • How Far Away is a Cure for Cancer?
  • Future Trends in Technology
  • Innovations in Longevity Research
  • Brain Visualization
  • Publishing the Frontiers of Neurology
  • The future of neurology and brain mapping

In addition, the event will include a day at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technologies (Calit2), as well as behind-the-scenes tours at Scripps Oceanography, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, Sanford Consortium, The Scripps Research Institute and the La Jolla Playhouse, bringing attendees and some of the world’s most creative scientists and artists together.

General admission, which includes access to all main-stage programming, a choice of lab tours, and a welcome dinner and subsequent meals, is $495.

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Pan-Cancer studies find common patterns shared by different tumor types

Findings may open up new treatment options.

Josh Stuart, UC Santa Cruz

Josh Stuart, UC Santa Cruz

Cancer encompasses a complex group of diseases traditionally defined by where in the body it originates, as in lung cancer or colon cancer. This framework for studying and treating cancer has made sense for generations, but molecular analysis now shows that cancers of different organs have many shared features, while cancers from the same organ or tissue are often quite distinct.

The Pan-Cancer Initiative, a major effort to analyze the molecular aberrations in cancer cells across a range of tumor types, has yielded an abundance of new findings reported in 18 forthcoming papers, including four published in the October issue of Nature Genetics. The initiative, launched in October 2012 at a meeting in Santa Cruz, California, is part of the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project led by the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Josh Stuart, professor of biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz, helped organize the Pan-Cancer Initiative and is lead author of a commentary in Nature Genetics giving an overview of the project and its initial findings.

“For years we’ve been looking at one tumor type at a time, but there are patterns you can only spot by making connections across different tissues and tumor types. Finding these similarities across tissues can have important implications for treatment,” Stuart said.

For example, some types of bladder cancer look very similar to certain lung and head-and-neck cancers, and recognizing those similarities may open up new therapeutic options. “This could allow oncologists to apply all they know about treating head-and-neck squamous cell tumors to the 10 percent of bladder cancers that have the same characteristics,” Stuart said.

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Cancer cells propagated from early prostate cancer

UC San Diego findings may have implications for earlier treatment and better outcomes.

UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center

UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center

A team of cancer researchers at UC San Diego has identified the existence of precursor cells in early prostate cancers. These cells are resistant to androgen-deprivation therapy, and may drive the subsequent emergence of recurrent or metastatic prostate cancer.

The scientists’ findings, suggesting that potentially lethal castration-resistant prostate carcinoma cells already exist in some cancer patients at the very early stages of their disease, will be published by PLOS ONE today (Sept. 25).

The work describes the isolation and propagation of the earliest prostate cancer cells yet identified in human prostate cancer biopsy samples, allowing the detailed molecular characterization of these very early-stage cancer cells, including analysis of gene expression and mutations.

“Full molecular characterization of the earliest prostate cancer cells will facilitate identification of pharmacological approaches which are not currently available,” said Martin Haas, Ph.D., professor of biology and oncology at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center.  “Development of such early-stage treatments could reduce the incidence of cancer progression to recurrent invasive or metastatic disease.”

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Putting the spotlight on global health

UC Irvine professor Brandon Brown is spreading the word about global health.

UC Irvine professor Brandon Brown (right)

UC Irvine professor Brandon Brown (right)

By Katherine Tam

Every few months, UC Irvine professor Brandon Brown returns to Epicentro Salud, a gay men’s community-based clinic in Lima, Peru, to help the staff brainstorm ways to encourage local men to get tested for HIV.

The stigma around homosexuality often deters the gay community from proactively getting tested in Lima, but Brown and clinic leaders have been working to change that these last three years. With Brown’s help, the clinic landed a USAID grant in October 2011 that provided funds to train HIV counselors and bought vital clinic and laboratory equipment.

“Epicentro staff did a lot of outreach to get started. We recruited on Facebook, on the streets, at bars, and were active in the gay pride parade,” Brown said. “We’re seeing more people visiting the center than ever. It’s a big asset for gay men and transgendered individuals in Peru.”

Whether it’s battling HIV stigma in Peru, finding new tools to diagnose malaria in Thailand, or improving sanitation in Kenya, Brown has made it his mission to spotlight the importance of global health and spread the word about the myriad opportunities here and around the globe that people can make a difference.

“Global health is an exciting field and there are lots of ways to get involved,” said Brown, who teaches global health, public health ethics, honors research, and epidemiology. “It’s easy for people to be comfortable in the bubble they’re in. But even if you’re studying say math, you can still be educated on things outside your area of expertise.”

That’s why two years ago, Brown launched a new initiative to put global health on more people’s radar at UC Irvine.

The initiative, Global Health Research Education and Translation (GHREAT),brings together researchers to collaborate on projects, and encourages students to get involved in global health. GHREAT offers courses students can take to earn a global health certificate. In addition, it also offers a global health mentorship program, seminar series and global health job opportunities.

Brown leads GHREAT on his own time and does not receive a salary for it. Neither do the motivated students and faculty who collaborate with him.

So far, students who have participated in GHREAT have become involved in a variety of projects here and abroad: studying how sanitation interventions can prevent contamination of the water supply in Kenya; investigating mental health issues of Iraqi refugees; identifying perceptions of genital warts in Peru; and producing a photo series chronicling the experiences of people living with HIV.

“I don’t think I could have asked for a better mentor,” said Karen Munoz, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in public health and will seek a master’s degree in the same field this fall. “He’s always willing to help, especially when it’s a student’s passion and has to do with global health.”

Munoz credits Brown with her ability to successfully secure a grant from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program for her project, which focuses on access to health care among low-income women in Southern California for early detection of the human papillomavirus and cervical cancer.

“When we were applying for grants for our projects, he helped us revise our papers and showed us examples of his so we learned what to do,” Munoz said. “Many of us had never applied for a grant before.”

UC Irvine professor Brandon Brown (center) works closely with the staff at Epicentro in Lima, Peru to help gay men in the community.

UC Irvine professor Brandon Brown (center) works closely with the staff at Epicentro in Lima, Peru, to help gay men in the community.

When he’s not teaching at UC Irvine or spearheading GHREAT, Brown continues to work on global health projects. In addition to weekly Skype calls, he returns to Peru during the year to continue his collaborations with Epicentro.

Jerome Galea, founder of Epicentro, said the grant Brown helped secure early on was instrumental in getting the clinic off the ground.

“Probably if it weren’t for Brandon, Epicentro would not have a clinic today,” Galea wrote via email. “I’ve worked with Brandon for about 10 years and have found myself looking for projects to do with him – even though we’re on different continents – since he’s one of those people that you know you’ll have a great work experience with.”

Brown is working simultaneously on three research projects, including a study on syphilis among gay men in Peru that could lead to better treatment. And he has partnered with a UC San Diego team to research cervical cancer prevention among female sex workers in Tijuana, Mexico.

He hopes more students will take an interest in global health, whether they choose it as their major or not. Eventually, he plans to ask the university to establish an organized research unit in global health, which would provide more funding for projects, synergize global health efforts, help support student travel, and make researchers less dependent on grants.

“Few know what’s possible in global health and how to get involved,” Brown said. “Making more people aware could mean a big difference for all of us globally.”

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Decade of planning coming to life at Mission Bay hospitals

Innovative design of UCSF’s new medical center includes input from staff and patients.

As summer transitions into fall, construction crews continue to work hard each day bringing the new UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay to life.

Years of collaborative planning with UCSF staff, patients and families will come to fruition on February 1, 2015, when the 289-bed hospital complex for children, women and cancer patients opens its doors. The project also realizes UCSF’s vision of building one of the world’s most innovative health care centers.

“I am incredibly excited for our team to work in this beautiful space that they have all had the opportunity to create,” said Kim Scurr, executive director of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and hospital operations planning at Mission Bay. “This is the ultimate employee engagement exercise, and I cannot begin to articulate the enthusiasm, pride and vision that every member of our team has for this new hospital. It’s a very emotional experience.”

One of the many members of the UCSF community who has been involved in the planning is Cassandra Robertson, a nurse and patient care manager for the pediatric operating room at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

According to Robertson, the entire OR was created with staff input, which resulted in a design that will truly serve the people going to work there each day. For example, the ORs are built around a central core where supplies will be stored and readily accessible, so that staff will not have to walk to several places gathering supplies for cases.

Robertson, who has spent her nearly 35-year career at UCSF, described her feelings about what will be the first dedicated children’s hospital in San Francisco in a recent video interview.

“I’m excited as I see the hospital take shape and walk through the space envisioning our team working and caring for patients in a place that was designed just for them,” she said.

“All of my career I’ve taken care of pediatric patients in a hospital that was designed to care for adults, and we’ve certainly made it work,” she added. “But children have special health care needs, and I believe we have captured that within our design of the building and the workflows we have established for Mission Bay.”

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Lifestyle changes may lengthen telomeres, a measure of cell aging

Diet, meditation, exercise can help key element of immune cell aging, UCSF scientists report.

A small pilot study shows for the first time that changes in diet, exercise, stress management and social support may result in longer telomeres, the parts of chromosomes that affect aging.

It is the first controlled trial to show that any intervention might lengthen telomeres over time.

The study will be published online today (Sept. 16) in The Lancet Oncology.

The study was conducted by scientists at UC San Francisco and the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, a nonprofit public research institute in Sausalito that investigates the effect of diet and lifestyle choices on health and disease. The researchers say they hope the results will inspire larger trials to test the validity of the findings.

“Our genes, and our telomeres, are not necessarily our fate,” said lead author Dean Ornish, M.D., UCSF clinical professor of medicine, and founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute.

“So often people think ‘Oh, I have bad genes, there’s nothing I can do about it,’” Ornish said. “But these findings indicate that telomeres may lengthen to the degree that people change how they live. Research indicates that longer telomeres are associated with fewer illnesses and longer life.”

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Cost-effectiveness analysis applied to state breast cancer screening program

UC Davis study conducted in response to recent government funding cutbacks.

Joy Melinkow, UC Davis

Joy Melinkow, UC Davis

When public health budgets are constrained, mammography screening should begin later and occur less frequently, a cost-effectiveness analysis for California’s Every Woman Counts (EWC) program concludes.

As outlined in a paper published in Value in Health, the analysis focused on several policy questions, including the effect on EWC program costs and outcomes of starting screening at age 50 years instead of 40 and of screening every two years instead of every year. The study was conducted in response to recent government funding cutbacks.

“This was not a clinical recommendation, but rather was intended to help a public health program use its resources to the greatest effectiveness,” said lead author Joy Melnikow, director of the UC Davis Center for Healthcare Policy and Research.

EWC, administered through the California Department of Public Health Cancer Detection Section, is one of the largest of 68 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded programs across the country. It reimburses providers at Medi-Cal rates (Medi-Cal is the California version of Medicaid) for screening and diagnostic services for breast and cervical cancers. It provides services to women who are not eligible for Medi-Cal, who otherwise lack coverage for breast and cervical cancer screening, and whose income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold.

The study, conducted by UC Davis and EWC researchers, was based on a sophisticated microsimulation model that projected outcomes based on existing program data. It found that starting mammography screening biennially at age 50 was strongly supported by the model results, given that program funding did not allow screening of the full population of eligible women beginning at age 40.

“Because breast cancer incidence goes up with age, using program funds to screen all eligible women over age 50 will have a greater impact on reducing breast cancer deaths,” said Melnikow.  “The goal was to advise a public health program in a timeframe that could be helpful, given that cost-effectiveness analysis typically takes a long time to conduct — often too long to be of use in a quickly changing policy environment.”

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‘Wildly heterogeneous genes’

New approach subtypes cancers by shared genetic effects.

Trey Ideker, UC San Diego

Trey Ideker, UC San Diego

Cancer tumors almost never share the exact same genetic mutations, a fact that has confounded scientific efforts to better categorize cancer types and develop more targeted, effective treatments.

In a paper published in the Sept. 15 advanced online edition of Nature Methods, researchers at UC San Diego propose a new approach called network-based stratification (NBS), which identifies cancer subtypes not by the singular mutations of individual patients, but by how those mutations affect shared genetic networks or systems.

“Subtyping is the most basic step toward the goal of personalized medicine,” said principal investigator Trey Ideker, Ph.D., division chief of genetics in the UC San Diego School of Medicine and a professor in the departments of medicine and bioengineering at UC San Diego. “Based on patient data, patients are placed into subtypes with associated treatments. For example, one subtype of cancer is known to respond well to drug A, but not drug B. Without subtyping, every patient looks the same by definition, and you have no idea how to treat them differently.”

Recent advances in knowledge and technology have made it easier (and less expensive) to sequence individual genomes, especially in the treatment of cancer, which is fundamentally a disease of genes.

But genes are “wildly heterogeneous,” said Ideker. It is in combination, influenced by other factors, that mutated genes cause diseases like cancer. Every patient’s cancer is genetically unique, which can affect the efficacy and outcomes of clinical treatment.

“When you look at patients’ data at the level of genes, everybody looks different,” said Ideker. “But when you look at impacted biological networks and systems, groupings do appear. No genes are mutated in exactly the same place, but the mutations do appear in the same genetic pathways.”

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Nanodiamonds used to deliver chemotherapy drugs into brain tumors

Method found to have greater cancer-killing efficiency than existing treatments.

These images show the retention of doxorubicin and ND-DOX in brain tissue, with light microscopic images (upper rows) and fluorescence images detecting fluorescence generated from doxorubicin (lower rows). The images show the distribution of unmodified doxorubicin and ND-DOX after convection-enhanced delivery (CED) at 6, 16, 24 and 72 hours.

These images show the retention of doxorubicin and ND-DOX in brain tissue, with light microscopic images (upper rows) and fluorescence images detecting fluorescence generated from doxorubicin (lower rows). The images show the distribution of unmodified doxorubicin and ND-DOX after convection-enhanced delivery (CED) at 6, 16, 24 and 72 hours.

Researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed an innovative drug-delivery system in which tiny particles called nanodiamonds are used to carry chemotherapy drugs directly into brain tumors. The new method was found to result in greater cancer-killing efficiency and fewer harmful side effects than existing treatments.

The research, published in the advance online issue of the peer-reviewed journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine, was a collaboration between Dean Ho of the UCLA School of Dentistry and colleagues from the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Ho co-directs UCLA Dentistry’s Weintraub Center for Reconstructive Biotechnology and is a professor in the division of oral biology and medicine, the division of advanced prosthodontics, and the department of bioengineering.

Glioblastoma is the most common and lethal type of brain tumor. Despite treatment with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, the median survival time for glioblastoma patients is less than one-and-a-half years. The tumors are notoriously difficult to treat, in part because chemotherapy drugs injected alone often are unable to penetrate the system of protective blood vessels that surround the brain, known as the blood–brain barrier. And those drugs that do cross the barrier do not stay concentrated in the tumor tissue long enough to be effective.

The drug doxorubicin, a common chemotherapy agent, has shown promise in a broad range of cancers, and it has served as model drug for the treatment brain tumors when injected directly into the tumor. Ho’s team originally developed a strategy for strongly attaching doxorubicin molecules to nanodiamond surfaces, creating a combined substance called ND–DOX.

Nanodiamonds are carbon-based particles roughly 4 to 5 nanometers in diamter that can carry a broad range of drug compounds. And while tumor-cell proteins are able to eject most anticancer drugs that are injected into the cell before those drugs have time to work, they can’t get rid of the nanodiamonds. Thus, drug–nanodiamond combinations remain in the cells much longer without affecting the tissue surrounding the tumor.

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UC Davis established endowed chair for clinical cancer research

Lung cancer expert Karen Kelly appointed to post.

Karen Kelly, UC Davis

Karen Kelly, UC Davis

Karen Kelly, associate director for clinical research at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, is the recipient of the university’s first endowed chair in cancer clinical research.

The Tegley & Harmon Endowed Chair is named in honor of Elizabeth Erica Harmon, who passed away at age 30, and her cousin, Jennifer Rene Harmon Tegley, who died at age 18, just one year after being diagnosed with a very aggressive throat cancer.

The Harmon family made a $765,000 gift to create the endowed chair to support the work of Kelly, who managed Jennifer’s end-of-life care and is building the cancer center’s phase one clinical trial program. The Harmon family gift was matched with funds from the UC Davis Health System’s Dean’s Catalyst Fund.

“With so many important advances in genomics and drug development, this is an exciting time to be engaged in cancer research,” Kelly said. “As the university’s first cancer clinical research chair, I am honored to lead our comprehensive cancer center team in bringing these innovative new treatments to patients.”

A private appreciation reception will be held tonight at the cancer center in honor of the Harmon family. UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi will address the group about the importance of the investment in cancer clinical research at a time of great promise and need for discovery.

The Tegley & Harmon Endowed Chair was the university’s 150th. Its establishment was celebrated in April at the annual UC Davis Endowed Chairs and Professorships gala.

The Harmon family also has contributed to the cancer center directly; in 2012 the family made a $1 million gift to support the cancer center expansion project. In recognition, the center’s lobby area was named the Jennifer Rene Harmon Tegley and Elizabeth Erica Harmon Pavillion.

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