Tuesday, February 20, 2018


                                                       The original "fraidy cat"

There is a type of OVCA known as “hypercalcemic small cell ovarian cancer” that is exceedingly rare, strikes young women, and (heretofore) had been considered incurable.  However, recently four desperate young victims “banded together”, via the internet, and demanded that their doctors try immunotherapy – despite the fact that medical science was certain that it wouldn’t work.  Well, what the heck – it DID work!  The young women are alive and prospering.  Now medical science is scrambling to understand why.  And “they” are testing some ideas.

We’ll beat the sombitch yet!

Monday, February 19, 2018

ONCOLYTIC VIRUSES: (now there's a sexy name)

Sure wish they were here now

Here is a meaty, somewhat lengthy, but quite understandable and even entertaining essay on using virus as a weapon against cancer.  Not just any old virus, obviously – specially selected or genetically modified virus called “oncolytic viruses”.  One, related to the herpes virus, is in present use against melanoma.  Another has been shown to be effective against glioblastoma (Senator McCain, take note).  Oncolytic viruses are a hot topic right now. 

It appears that an oncolytic virus (OV) introduced into a tumor cell will do the old virus trick; use the tumor DNA to manufacture millions of baby OV, eventually causing the tumor cell to burst, thus releasing more OV to attack more tumor cells.  And etc., etc., etc. 
But what about metastases? Well, it seems to transpire that  fragments of exploded tumor cell floating around in the blood stream somehow alert the immune system to the fact that something is wrong and – ideally – hunt down more such cells, and snuff them out.

Ideally.  Much work being done.  Cross your fingers.

Saturday, February 17, 2018


Linda and her cousin Elsie
On a so-so Borrego flower year
I guess this should have been obvious, but it certainly wasn’t obvious to me.  Men as well as women, can pass on an elevated risk of ovarian cancer.  They can’t get it, of course, but they can pass it on to their daughters.  Thus, if you are female and your PATERNAL grandmother had ovarian cancer, you need to be especially careful*.  As you all certainly know, males have one X and one Y chromosome, whereas females carry two X’s.  When a zygote forms. Mom contributes one chromosome (inevitably an X), and Dad provides another – and half the time it will be an X, too.  If you get two Xs you will be a girl, and if Dad inherited a mutated X from his mom, you will have it also. Bummer!
It turns out that the mutated X also makes a male more susceptible to prostate cancer.  Another bummer! There ought to be a law against this sort of thing.
*Obviously, if your maternal grandmother had ovarian cancer you should be equally cautious, or even more so.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


66 years later
  Do you hate cancer?  Do you have piles of money sitting around, waiting to be invested?  Well, if you are like me your answers will be” of course” and “get serious”.  However, if you can answer “yes” to both questions, it behooves you to read this article, from a recent Economist magazine:
The way things seem to work nowadays is that tiny firms are created to investigate and possibly exploit new research breakthroughs.  These little fish are then swallowed tail and chin whiskers by much larger fish – collectively known as Big Pharma.  These large fish have the resources to do the requisite clinical trials, and wrestle with the FDA over the results.  And, the article implies, the FDA is uncommonly quick to render a verdict on a cancer drug because, “people are dying, and they are dying now.”
All this takes money.  Ideally the Feds would allocate enough to support a healthy research program, but they don’t.  And, there aren’t enough Jeff Bezos’s and Bill Gates’s to go around.  To some extent, it’s up to us. We can give our money directly to research organizations, as I do with Linda’s fund at Fred Hutch, or we can invest it in little-fish firms doing development work.  Then, when (and if) our little fish gets engulfed by the likes of Pfizer or Merck we can invest our profits in another little fish.  Or, if your anti-capitalist soul rebels at profit, send the filthy stuff to me.  I’ll put it to good work!

Thursday, February 8, 2018


Linda in the San Juans
The first successful “sequencing” of the human genome was announced 16 years ago.  It had taken years, cost $400 million, and required a machine the size of a phone booth.  But science (well, technology) stumbles on.  An NIH Directors blog just announced that an even better job can now be accomplished using a device no bigger than the gadget I use to trim my beard.  Moreover, the cost now is about $23,000 and takes a matter of hours.  Hell, if you are an Alaskan (they can fix anything), with a Ph.D in physics, you can buy a kit for $1000 and build your own!
What does this have to do with ovarian cancer?  Not much, directly.  However, as genetic sequencing grows quicker and cheaper, the argument that wholesale testing of the entire female population for suspicious mutations grows progressively weaker.

Thursday, February 1, 2018


The second cutest picture ever taken
Now here is something I consider very good news; almost a “breakthrough”, in fact.
From the very beginning of this blog I have bemoaned the lack of a screening mechanism capable of detecting ovarian cancer at an early stage, when it is most curable.  The Fred Hutch team I endeavored to help was focused on that goal.  We learned some important bio-stuff and published some useful papers – but the test we sought eluded us.  Now, however, success is winking at us just over the hill.
People at Johns Hopkins have succeeded in devising a test involving blood samples that has shown some to positively great success in detecting eight kinds of solid tumors.  From my perspective the best news is that its sensitivity to OVCA is better than 90%!  And its specificity – meaning ability to avoid false positives – also is very high.
The technical details – how they do it – are left unexplained, which is fine because I doubt if I would understand them, anyway.  In brief, they scan for bits of tumor DNA, other bits of certain mutations known to be associated with cancer – as well as eight proteins that somehow are involved.  And all for less than $500, they claim.  At that rate you could do the whole damned country for less than about $150 billion.  Peanuts, these days.
So, there, Kristen, maybe your “simple blood test” is in the offing, at long last.  Of course, “more work needs to be done”, and more grant money provided.  But, I am optimistic. 

Monday, January 22, 2018


Linda in Thebes

Thank God I’ve found it!  There is an outfit called Two Minute Medicine that boils things down to such short-but-pithy, fact-loaded dimensions that even my fast-depleting store of energy can deal with them.  The article below tosses out some important facts that you all should  consider,  First, some background:
                Methylation:  An epigenetic process whereby a methyl group (CH3) is attached to the DNA molecule.  The effect of methylation usually is to prevent the proper functioning of a gene.
                Promoter:  A segment of DNA which tells the mechanism that translate the DNA sequence constituting a gene into RNA where and when to start.
                Familial cancer:  A cancer that “runs” in a family, with no known inheritable mutated DNA source.  (A purist might cringe at that definition.)

So what they have found is that women with unmutated BRCA1 genes may still be abnormally susceptible to OVCA IF the promoter region of their BRCA gene is methylated.  Sounds reasonable, right?  Furthermore, they have found that the condition of methylated BRCA promoters can be inherited.   Voila!  Familial ovarian cancer.

It seems to me that this discovery adds even more to the case for universal screening of female infants, as well as gives us one more thing to test for.

Read this: