Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Sorely needed

Quick, now – name your cousins or nephews or aunts and uncles, in order of age.  Even if you come from a large family you will do that easily, if you are, say, 65 or younger.  If you are my age – soon to be 84 – you are likely to first ponder the question “what is a nephew, anyway?”, then lose interest mid-way through the list.  Let’s face it: as we age our cognitive abilities deteriorate.  What we need is an Elixir of Youth.  One may be on the horizon.

It appears that some dudes from Stanford have discovered that they can make old mice behave like young mice, by injecting them with embryonic mouse blood!  It seems that this blood is rich in a particular protein that was known previously and had been studied for other purposes.  If they extract the protein from the mouse blood and inject it into old mice, they get the same rejuvenating effect.  (It must be disgusting to see all those wrinkled old mice chasing young females around the cage – and if the rejuvenated old mouse is female … too awful to contemplate.)  Anyway..
The Stanford group has gone still further.  Human afterbirth contains a few cc of embryonic blood, and that blood when injected into doddering, senile old mice also causes rejuvenation.  Nobody has attempted to inject young mouse blood into old humans – the FDA probably would be mightily displeased.  However, with a little imagination you might be able to see an Elixir of Youth just over the horizon.  And all kinds of problems.

I wrote about something similar, scornfully, a few months ago.  Silly me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Linda and brother Richard

I don’t get it.  I have been studying biology, especially cancer biology, for over five years now.  Admittedly, I started from an unmatched level of ignorance,  never having  had a formal course in biology, either in high school or in college.  Still, I did pay close attention to the Teaching Company’s excellent course on general biology – I went through it three times – and, as a geologist, I had to know a little about evolution.  And, of course, I have struggled through many hundreds, maybe a thousand or more, articles on cancer biology.  Notwithstanding, I still don’t get it.

What I don’t get is why cancers thrive.  The evolutionary model seems to tell us that biological changes occur because favorable random mutations increase the likelihood that a creature will survive and reproduce.  Cancers, however, may “reproduce” (metastasize) , but they always die – and their “offspring” with them.  They don’t pass on survival tactics to other cancers.  How, then, do the "evolve" tricks to deceive or combat the immune system, or sucker surrounding tissue into permitting them to acquire the blood supply they need for growth?  Time after time I have run on passages that suggest to me that a particular type of cancer is sentient, at least insofar as devising clever ways to grow and prosper.  Such nastiness can’t evolve, but there it is.  Like I said, I just don’t get it.

Maybe there is a Devil, after all.


Thursday, April 13, 2017


I have written about “chemo brain” a number of times, and even tried to con you into supporting basic research on the subject through “crowd sourcing”.  The NCI recently reported on a substantial study of chemo brain (they use a more dignified term, of course) in women who have been treated for breast cancer.  They found that it is real, and can result from all kinds of treatment, not merely chemotherapy.  Even anxiety plays a role.  As you know, not all BRCA patients experience the problem, and of those who do, some get over it quickly whereas for others it is a lifelong problem.  You will not be surprised to learn that differences in genetics play a role, nor will you be surprised to learn that the more the problem is studied, the more complicated it becomes.

Here is the article.  It is long, but easy going.

Monday, April 10, 2017


With Viv Hailwood, on a grassy hike
Yorkshire Dales National Park

Francis Collins is the Director of NIH (National Institutes of Health).  That makes him a very important man.  No doubt most of his time is taken up by mulling such questions as “How in hell are we going to survive Trump's budget cuts?”  However, he still has time to write an occasional blog explaining some new medical wrinkle to the likes of you and me.  His latest is quite interesting:

Nutshell:  Recently published research by biostat folks at Johns Hopkins teases out the role of random chance (aka bad luck) in acquiring cancer.  As you know, every time a cell divides and its DNA is duplicated, errors occur.  The body goes to heroic lengths to find those errors and fix them.  However, some get through.  If the error disables, say, a tumor-suppressor gene, a cancer may ensue.  Bad luck.

It turns out that bad luck is the major source of cancers:  66%.  Environmental factors (e.g., smoking) accounts for 29%, while heredity is responsible for only 5%.  Of course, that is for cancer sensu latu; individual cancers vary significantly.  Ovarian seems to be in the middle of the pack. 

Dr. Collins ends with an obvious observation: since we can’t prevent random mutation, we had better work hard on early detection and cure.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


The Joyce sisters, ready for a double date

Well, if you are obsessed, like me, this might be interesting.  If you’re not, just read my summary and get on with your life.

There is a guy named Sanjiv Gambhir, known universally as “Sam”, who runs a very productive radiology project at Stanford.  The people at Fred Hutch were always referring to him in hushed tones of respect.  Well, it appears that Sam and his people have developed a valuable diagnostic tool, in the form of tiny “microbubbles” – one to four microns in diameter, filled with harmless stuff – that will attach themselves to ovarian and breast tumors but not to healthy tissue.  Concentrations of these little bubbles can be detected by ultrasound.  This allows harmless lesions to be distinguished from harmful cancer cells – without surgery.  This helps minimize anxiety, discomfort – and money.  Good work, Sam.

Monday, April 3, 2017

# 500

Linda and Ella share the bald look

I guess I should congratulate myself on persistence, but perhaps not on accomplishment.  This is the 500th time I have posted to this blog, which is devoted to furthering research leading to the eradication of ovarian cancer.  The sequence began on March 3, 2012 – 1887 days ago.  Thus, I have posted on average every 3.71 days.  If the average post is 250 words – and many are much more – then I have written the equivalent of ( well, who cares?)  War and Peace.  Less royalties, though 

As the article noted below indicates, overall cancer survival rates have improved – in some cases, dramatically.  Breast and melanoma show conspicuous improvement.  Survival for racial minorities is catching up with that of whites.  So, most of the news is good, but…

When I started this pursuit five years ago it was common for research articles to begin with the words In America, 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, and 14,000 will die from it.  The exact same words appeared in several articles I have read in the last few weeks. OVCA survival rates have shown some improvement, but not much.

OVCA is a tough nut to crack.  But it will be cracked, someday.  I have faith.


Monday, March 27, 2017


Geez Louise!  A small, stumbling step toward the goal, I guess, but better than nothing.  The FDA has just approved a new drug, a PARP inhibitor (you know what that is) that improves PFE (progression-free survival) for many OVCA patients by a matter of months – more than a dozen months, in some cases.  Formerly I sneered at such “progress” – for me it was a cure or nothing.  (See, for instance, http://ljb-quiltcutie.blogspot.com/2014/06/incrementalism-zenos-paradox.html).  But I was wrong.  A few added months of healthy life would be indescribably valuable.  I might have taken Linda to Italy.  Or Iceland.  And I would have hugged her so many more times.
So, yeah, this drug is valuable.  It works in cases of epithelial cancers, which are very common.  It should make a valuable dent in that huge load of misery.
But if you read the FDA press release, be sure to notice the long paragraph describing potential side effects.