Saturday, October 22, 2016

PROFILES IN RESEARCH EXCELLENCE: Dr. Varatharasa Thiviyanathan

Linda and me, in Egypt
After chemo her hair grew back gray.  I really liked it.

Let’s get the name business over first.  Hereafter, in this essay, he will be known as Dr. T.  Some research this afternoon suggests that the name is Sri Lankan.  He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University and now works at the University of Texas Medical Center in Houston, where he has been since 1994.  He is a co-author of countless medical research papers (well, 27 since 2000).  More about his history I cannot determine.

As an aside, typing Dr. T’s full name into various search engines is laborious.  I can imagine the poor kid in grammar school, taking exams.  The other kids would be turning in their papers about the time he finished writing his name at the top of the answer sheet!

But who cares how tough his name is to spell; he is doing some great work.  Partially funded by the Rivkin Center, Dr. T is developing a novel sort of address label to deliver nanoparticles of death-dealing drugs directly to cancer cells.  His labels consist of short strands of RNA, especially constructed to zoom in on specific types of cancer cells and, binding to them, deliver their lethal load.

This line of research seems potentially fruitful to me; I have written about nanoparticles before.
However, always remember my abysmal ignorance of most things biological.  If you are curious, Google “aptamer” and go from there.  Me, I’m still tired from my recent trip.


Carolyn and Linda, with their mother

Carolyn has forwarded me this inspiring, even humbling, story of two ordinary guys using their ordinary talents to raise an extraordinary amount of money to fight ovarian cancer.  Makes me wish I were one of them.  Read it.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Wee1: A little bit of good news.

Taking it easy,  Heron Island, Maine
2008, I think

Man, if you need any additional proof that cancer biochemistry is complicated, just Google “Wee1 cancer” and try to read the Wiki entry that pops up!

Saul Rivkin is excited about the emergence of a “new tool” for use in combating ovarian cancer – and when Saul is excited, so am I.  This useful innovation involves a “nuclear kinase” called Wee-1.  As you all know, a kinase is an enzyme that enables anabolic reactions to go by slapping phosphate groups on the substrate – thereby adding energy.  (You did know that, right?)   Well, anyway, Wee1 is in part responsible for guarding the gate between cell-cycle phase G2 and mitosis; cell-splitting, to most of us.  If the cell is too small, Wee1 won’t let it split.  (If it did split, it would croak – to use a technical term.)

It seems that there is another checkpoint in the cell cycle; escape from Gap phase 1 to Interphase depends on the activity of a molecule named TP53, which is mutated (and thus non-functional) in >85% of ovarian tumors  There exists a molecule that “inhibits” Wee1.  So, Saul’s new tool: administer this inhibitor molecule (AZD1775 for the curious), possibly together with an anti-cancer drug.  Absent functional TP53 the cycle relies on Wee1 to prevent midget cells from passing into mitosis.  Apparently they can’t survive (this is my guess), hence are “apoptosed” and ground up for use as nuclear fertilizer.  Moreover, because cancer cells are so quick to multiply, maybe baby cancer cells are unusually small.

Hell, I don’t know – all I am sure of is that Saul thinks this is a very good thing.  I suspect it’s not an earth-shattering discovery – but it helps.

Oh, you wanted to know why the thing is “Wee”.  Well, it was discovered and named in Scotland, where wee means small.  Wee1 weighs 96 kDa.  Is that small?

Monday, September 26, 2016


my guess:
Carolyn's birthday celebration at The Ivanhoe
Ferndale, CA
maybe 2008
When I was in high school telephones were dial-up affairs on the wall, and in many cases required the assistance of a human being (the “operator”, for you under 40.)  It was common knowledge that (shudder?) pot was a sure road to hard-drug addiction, misery, and death.  Nobody drank in high school, only a few would-be hipsters smoked, and as for sex – then as now nobody thought of anything else - but very little occurred.  Oddly enough, the girls didn’t want to get pregnant.  

However, that was before THE PILL.  With the advent of oral birth control it became possible to safely do what nature so vigorously called upon you to do – and not risk the consequences!  To me and my male friends THE PILL was an innovation equivalent in importance  to electricity!*
Well, it happens that at that time I was a faithful attendant at several church-sponsored evening youth activity groups.  That was because they had singing, guitar music, apple cider – and girls.  Lots of girls!  At those evening sessions there invariably would be some kind of informal “sermon”, in general laid on by an earnest and devout, well-scrubbed college boy, most likely a seminary student.  Uniformly we hormone-wracked high schoolers were enjoined to lay off sex until we were married.   The poor girls in the group were threatened with societal rejection, not to mention eternal damnation, if they took THE PILL.

Well, some did and some didn’t.  And young married women who wanted a career took the pill, as did women who simply didn’t want any more babies.  THE PILL was even good for guys; we could save on condoms, and delay that inevitable vasectomy. Maybe it WAS more important than electricity!

It turns out that THE PILL brought with it another, entirely unexpected, benefit – it helped protect women from ovarian cancer.  The NYTimes article cited below states that the death rate from OVCA dropped by 16% between 2002 and 2012.  This, the article goes on to say, is the result of less use of hormone therapy – and increased use, many decades ago, of THE PILL!  So, those naughty girls of the 50s not only had more fun – they lived longer!  So much for Protestant orthodoxy.

The same article recognizes that there has been a little improvement in the treatment of ovarian cancer, but not enough to make much difference. And early detection is not even mentioned.

*Not that it did us much good.

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Hunsingers, Joyces, and Becks

Well, by God, good for Kalamazoo, Michigan!  As many of you don’t know – but should – September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.  I told you that weeks ago 
but only managed to give away four of my teal pins, so far.  However, folks in Kalamazoo managed to turn the whole town teal, or thereabouts.  Kalamazoo is the home if Linda’s brother and his family, which numbers eight (unless some new grandkids have been slipped in without my knowledge.)  All but the ones under six are energetic activists, so I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of the teal was laid on by members of the Joyce-Hunsinger clan.  Thanks.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016


What can I say?  I miss her

Here is an article that many of you won’t like.  It was written by a blogger who happens to be an attorney heavily involved in tort cases concerning the medical profession.  The specifics in this case concern lawsuits directed at Johnson & Johnson over talc and its relationship to ovarian cancer.  He seems to be somewhat skeptical of the way some courts have handled these suits.  His opinion seems to be that the role of the court should be that of “gatekeeper”; that is, they should determine which scientific evidence carries the presumption of validity – is based on experiments conforming to the accepted standards of the discipline.  This would seem to be a tall order for an elderly lawyer turned judge who flunked biology 101, but must be oerformed to prevent the jury (ALL of whom flunked biology 101) from tearing the defending party (often a hate worthy big corporation) into little pieces unjustifiably.  My take on this:

1)      Stop using talc, right now.  I suspect that it contributes to ovarian cancer, but I’m not sure – so don’t take the chance.
2)      If a company has reasonably good evidence that its product is harmful it should stop selling it and run an honest experiment to find out if and why.
3)      If a company knows that its product is harmful but does nothing about it, it should be sued out of existence and its CEO and Board tossed in jail.
4)      If a company sells a product (e.g., asbestos) in good faith, it should not be driven out of existence if, at a later date, harm is detected.  See Johns Manville as a case study.
5)      If I had it to do over again I would, of course, study cancer biology and go into research.  However, I would be sorely tempted to acquire both an M.D and a J.D.  Imagine trying a medical case with yourself as an expert witness!  Such people exist; all are rich and only die when they crash their Aston Martins into a bridge.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

BRCA, Rucaparib - and Clovis Pharmaceuticals

At the great Sisters, Oregon quilting frenzy
As no doubt you deduced many months ago, the oft-used acronym BRCA stands for Breast Cancer; medical researcher types seem to like to like to paste together the first two letters of words to designate something.  That, for example, the famous HELA strain of cancer cells received its name from an equally famous patient named Henrietta Lax. 

Anyway, you really don’t want mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, because they accompany (cause?) a high susceptibility to breast – and, as it turns out – ovarian cancer.  But, if you DO have OVCA (see: ovarian cancer, OVCA) you should then hope that you are  BRCA-positive, because (for reasons I don’t understand) BRCA-positive cases are easier to treat.  The article cited below relates how rucaparib, a PARP inhibitor developed by Clovis Pharmaceuticals has been so successful in treating women with advanced BRCA-positive OVCA that it has been granted fast-track status by the NCI and FDA.  If you know someone in that unfortunate category, tell them to hound their oncodoc to get them in a trial.

Yes, I thought I had read this “news” before – and written about it.  17 months ago!  Boy, Clovis must have a skillful publicity guy!