Thursday, June 15, 2017

SUMMER RUN 2017


Saul

A nice young lady from the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research called me yesterday to urge me to enter a team in their 5 km Summer Rub & Walk, to be held in Seattle July 17th.  Many of you will recall that formerly I organized a “team” – Linda’s Team – and entered it, not in the Summer Run proper, but in an event I cooked up called Summer Run North; Hot dogs, beer, and good feelings, running or walking optional, here in Bellingham.  All to raise money for ovarian cancer research, of course. 

Well, sadly, I won’t be entering a team this year.  Age and existential exhaustion are the primary culprits of course, but I must admit to a little pique and exasperation as well.  I have been – nominally, I guess I still am – a volunteer with the Rivkin Center.  From time to time I have been asked for input, mainly in the form of writing.  In the past my contributions were taken seriously.  Lately, however, a new regime has taken over, and my little seeds of wisdom have languished in someone’s in box, or more likely in a round file.  I can’t even get them to correct an egregious error in their new web site!   So, nuts to them!

God, that sounds petty – and it is.  My bruised ego aside, the Rivkin Center is a marvelous institution.  Its founder (pictured above) has raised more than $10 million for ovarian cancer research – and, as a young man of only 81 (and thus significantly my junior) is still at it.  Better yet, the funds are dispersed by a process that evades the pitfalls of government funding, thereby providing enhanced opportunity for innovation.  (I wrote a Rivkin Center blog about that months ago.  Round file again, maybe.)

So what I really set out to say in this blog is that the Rivkin Center is holding its annual race, and you might consider participating, or donating.  For more information, consult their web site

As for me, I probably will give some money to Fred Hutch:




Sunday, June 11, 2017

ISN'T THIS OBVIOUS?


Linda with the Kalamazoo Kids

Here is a short, simple article on a new cancer treatment that is raising hope.  It involves using drugs FDA approved for cancer A on cancer B, based on the fact that the cancer-driving mutations in both are identical.  I would regarded this as an incontestable slam-dunk, but apparently it isn’t.  The clinical trial that established this protocal and the drug it features - Keruda - was funded privately.  Keruda will be supplied by Merck at an estimated cost of $156,000/year.  The article estimates that 60,000 people in the U.S. alone are potential patients.  That multiplies out to $6 2/3 billion per year.  Got Merck in your portfolio?

This tip came from my trusted research assistants, Joanne and Dick Ingwall, who are at this moment enjoying their garden on Cape Cod.  Thanks, guys.



Thursday, June 8, 2017

ASCO AND PROGRESS


At the Whitman Mission

ASCO codes for American Society of Clinical Oncologists.  ASCO recently held its annual meeting, in Chicago.  About 30,000 abstracts were submitted, from 80 countries around the world.  How many were accepted, I do not know, but I would guess – a slew.  In addition there were workshops, panel discussions, ceremonial dinners, etc.  Maybe even tickets to Wrigley Field.  In other words, ASCO is a big deal.

As you would guess, my OVCA news sources have been jammed with articles summarizing goings on at ASCO.  Many of them describe new drugs said to be “breakthroughs”, or at the very least important new developments.  Alas, on closer inspection most of these fall into the category “seven of ten women experienced significant PFS (Progression-Free Survival)”.  In other words, “this stuff looks promising.  Check back in a few years.”

As you might guess, lots of this chatter emanates from drug companies or stock-market analysts.  Nothing necessarily wrong about this; in fact, it can be useful, because these folks are trying to communicate with you and me, not cancer biologists.  The result often is something a person without an M.D. or PhD can hope to understand.  This is illustrated by the link below.  Notice that it was written by Fierce Biotech – definitely not a cancer research laboratory!

All that aside, I am encouraged that so many smart people are striving to cure cancer.  It will happen, piecemeal - all in good time.



Friday, June 2, 2017

BIOMATH

We had just been to Ecuador

Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) is located in New York City (NYC).  People must like NYC, because an awful lot of them live there.  Me, I would hate to live in NYC – but I would, if I had the training to work for MSK.  MSK must be the best cancer research center in the world.

NCI (National Cancer Institute) furnishes proof of what I just claimed.  To read it, go to


and you will learn a lot..

When I was in high school we had a science graduation requirement.  The sciences offered were physics, chemistry, biology, and general science.  You had to suffer through two of them.  Most kids who simply wanted to get out of school took general science and biology.  Kids who thought they might try college took biology and chemistry.  A few of us took chemistry and physics.  The ones who chose biology did so by reason of math anxiety.  The point is that biology was thought to be completely descriptive – no math, no formulae, only little knives and microscopes.  I regarded  bio types as nincompoops.

Well, it ain’t that way no more, Zeke.  At least it isn’t where cancer research is concerned.  MSK has developed a program they call MSK-IMPACT.  It involves rapid DNA sequencing of multiple cancer types and includes matching cancer mutations to “clinically actionable” drugs, as well as on-going or prospective clinical trials.  All this is a part of what has become known as “bioinformatics”, which seems to be a sort of polygamous marriage between technology, computer science, physics and math.  My cup of tea.

I’m not going to try to explain MSK-IMPACT and how it’s used.  If I did I would almost certainly screw it up.  Be satisfied to know that there are people out there who smile at the challenge of making sense of mountainous piles of obscure data.  And don’t let Donald Trump shut them down!


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

PREVENTING METASTISIS

If I were to sprawl out on the sand this way now - it would take four people to get me back on my feet!

Johns Hopkins University is in Baltimore.  Despite that disadvantage it has one of the best medical research facilities anywhere.  One of the biggest frogs in that large pond surely must be Dr. Denis Wirtz.  Dr. Wirtz is vice provost for research and director the Physical Sciences-Oncology Center for JHU.  He also has several other appointments and titles.  To verify that Dr. Wirtz is a big cheese I entered his name in Google Scholar, and got 12,500 hits.  (For comparison, I entered my own name – and got 498 hits.   And I worked pretty hard for a long, long  time!)     

One of Dr. Wirtz’s colleagues is Dr. Hasini Jayatilaka, a post-doc.  Dr. J is smart, gorgeous, and female.  Together Drs. W & J have published results of a study performed on animals (mice, almost certainly) that gives promise of a new weapon in the war against cancer.

Background in a nut shell:  When folks die of cancer it almost always is from a metastasis; only about 10% of cancer victims are done in by the primary tumor.  Apparently cancers secrete certain proteins that tell cancer cells to detach themselves from the main mass, make their way into the blood stream, and float off to do mischief elsewhere.  These proteins are “Interleukins”; members of a family that has many functions, mostly benign.  However, two of them act as signals to trigger metastasis.  It appears that Drs. W & J have identified two drugs already in existence that, in effect, clog up the receptors on a cancer cell and prevent the Interleukin signal from doing its job.  So – still not a cure, but a damned promising step forward none the less.

Trumps budget includes big cuts for medical research.  It probably is DOA.  Write your Congress persons to make sure.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

ARTIFICIAL OVARIES? Oh, come on!


Linda and Carolyn, 1951
I can't resist using this picture over and over again

Do you know how 3-D printing works?  Well, if you don’t, tough luck – I’m not about to explain it.  My ignorance of the nuts and bolts of 3-D printing is profound.  All I think I know is that it is possible to store information about some object in a computer, and for that computer then to guide a machine that squirts out some kind of malleable substance in such a way as to duplicate the original object.  If you know more than that, don’t laugh.  I know more Egyptology than you do.
I do find this NIH article mind-blowing:


As you will see if you click on this link, it is possible to construct ARTIFICIAL OVARIES (!) – ones that actually work.  It turns out that an ovary is merely a scaffolding designed to hold and protect things called ovarian follicles, each of which contains a blob of protoplasm which, when called into action, develops into an egg.  One egg is produced each menstrual cycle.  Somewhere I read that your average ovary contains about 400,000 such follicles.  That, in passing, amounts to a hell of a lot of menstrual cycles.

So, anyway, this team from Northwestern University took some mice, removed their ovaries, then installed 3-D printed artificial ovaries (made of what?), seeded these ersatz ovaries with mouse follicles, and turned the little boy mice loose on them.  Sure enough, several later gave birth.  (Did you know that baby mice are called “pups”?)

The Northwestern team plans to experiment with larger animals, and speculates that their work may be helpful to humans someday.


I am a bit skeptical, however.  It appears that the ovarian follicles, not the ovary itself,  are the crux of the matter.  So, say a woman has her ovaries removed for whatever reason, and then later wants to conceive.  They may be able to build her several crackerjack ovaries using 3-D printing, but where are the follicles going to come from?  No doubt they have thought of this and will tell us in due time.

Monday, May 22, 2017

MUSCAT?


Serious and sophisticated, at 14

Well, we don’t need to worry about ovarian cancer any more.  They have it all figured out, in Oman!  Or so reports the Muscat Daily News.


I found this bit of “news” in my daily Google summary of news about OVCA.  Its reportage underlines the fact that Google doesn’t do quality control; that’s up to you (me).  A fair bit of the stuff the Google program tosses at me is pure crap.  Also, much of it is repetitious - half a dozen riffs on the same tune.  But I’d be up the familiar creek if it weren’t for Google Alerts, imperfect though it may be.


The funny thing is, if you read this Muscat Daily article you will be impressed.  It is a fair introduction to ovarian cancer.  Nothing you faithful readers don’t  already know, of course, but overall pretty good.