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Our 12th issue of “Act Against Cancer” hit mailboxes this past weekend, and we’re very proud of this edition.

We cover a lot of ground in this issue, with cutting-edge research, public safety, mentor/mentee relationships, and generous donors each receiving coverage.

In this issue:

Wear your vegetables: With skin cancer emerging as one of the world’s most prevalent forms of cancer, researchers are using every tool at their disposal to fight this disease. The tool of choice for Sally Dickinson, PhD? Broccoli.

Digging deeper: Uranium exposure has led to some devastating public health consequences, including potential increased risk for certain forms of cancer. It’s an issue that truly hits home for Monica Yellowhair, PhD.

Raising the bar: The field of cancer biology has taken incredible leaps forward in recent years, but these advances are just the first steps toward the ultimate goal of preventing and curing cancer. It will fall to the next generation of research scientists to turn that goal into reality.

Download the PDF version to read about our Protect Your Skin program, the latest Phoenix Friends of the Arizona Cancer Center event, the Ovarian Cancer Alliance, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Race Against Cancer, Better Than Ever, the Director’s Circle, and a message from UACC Director David Alberts.


 

 
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In the fight against cancer, many researchers are forced to think outside the box in order to battle this nasty foe.

Cancer is brutal and unpredictable, so scientists often explore seemingly wild ideas in order to level the playing field.

This week, we’ve seen encouraging cancer-fighting stories come from very unlikely sources: naked mole rats, and outer space.

Researchers at the University of Rochester have been analyzing the naked mole rat, an East African critter that has fascinated scientists for decades because it simply does not get cancer – or, at the very least, no scientist has ever observed a cancerous naked mole rat.

In an interview with ABCNews.com, biology professor Vera Gorbunova said that her students were “analyzing mole rat fibroblasts, connective tissue cells that secrete collagen protein,” when they discovered that the liquid containing the fibroblasts became uncommonly syrupy after a few days. This “goo” turned out to be “long hyaluronan molecules [that] told cells when to stop reproducing.” 

This goo, in fact, prevented the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells. It prevented cancer. More research is needed to see if this extract could work for humans, but these initial findings, published in the science journal Nature, are fascinating.


“We were very lucky in many ways,” Dr. Gorbunova said. “In my experience, the most important findings are actually when you work with something but things don’t go exactly as planned.

“We realized, wow, this goo is important.”

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As for outer space, the lack of gravity might provide an ideal environment for cellular analysis.

According to Popular Science, “biologists have found that microgravity research and other space-based experiments provide greater insight into abnormal cell behavior.

In Earth-bound labs, cells flatten out and can’t “fully mimic the three-dimensional architecture shaped by proteins and carbohydrates of a working human organ.” But in space, scientists might be able to get a much more accurate view of these cells.

“So many things change in 3-D, it’s mind-blowing — when you look at the function of the cell, how they present their proteins, how they activate genes, how they interact with other cells,” said Jeanne Becker, PhD, a cell biologist at Nano3D Biosciences in Houston and principal investigator for the CBOSS-1-Ovarian study. “The variable that you are most looking at here is gravity, and you can’t really take away gravity on Earth. You have to go where gravity is reduced.”

• Naked Mole Rats Have Cancer-Proof ‘Goo’ (ABCNews.com, June 20, 2013)
• The Cure For Cancer Could Be Found In Space (Popular Science, June 25, 2013)


 

 
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Yesterday, the Mayo Clinic released a study that caused a huge stir throughout every specialty in the medical field.

Mayo Clinic and Olmsted researchers determined that nearly 70 percent of all Americans are on at least one prescription drug. Even more eye-opening? More than half of Americans take at least two, with 20 percent of patients on as many as five or more different prescriptions.

That is a mind-blowing number of pills.

“Often when people talk about health conditions they’re talking about chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes,” says study author Jennifer St. Sauver, Ph.D., a member of the Mayo Clinic Population Health Program. “However, the second most common prescription was for antidepressants — that suggests mental health is a huge issue and is something we should focus on. And the third most common drugs were opioids, which is a bit concerning considering their addicting nature.”

This is important information for cancer patients and survivors, as well. One of the most important pieces of information a patient can give to his or her doctor is accurate, up-to-date prescriptions, as well as prescription-pill allergies. With the number of prescriptions skyrocketing in recent years, it’s more important than ever to be fully aware of what these pills can do, and what side effects they could potentially bring if combined with new medications.

• Nearly 7 in 10 Americans Take Prescription Drugs, Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center Find (MayoClinic.org, June 19, 2013)


 

 
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The National Cancer Institute released a pair of major news stories yesterday, each with potentially major benefits for patients.

First, researchers have found that antibodies against the human papillomavirus (HPV) may help identify individuals who are at greatly increased risk of HPV-related cancer of the oropharynx, which is a portion of the throat that contains the tonsils.

The findings in this study led researchers to believe that a blood test may eventually be available to identify patients, which could lead to advanced screening procedures.


“Although promising, these findings should be considered preliminary,” said Paul Brennan, Ph.D., the lead investigator from International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). “If the predictive capability of the HPV16 E6 antibody holds up in other studies, we may want to consider developing a screening tool based on this result.”

The results of this study, carried out by scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, in collaboration with the IARC, were published online June 17,  2013, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Second, the NCI announced that they plan to take serious measures to speed up the clinical trials process. This is a vital necessity, as trials that move slowly to register patients rarely succeed. Among the institute’s Operational Efficiency Working Group’s (OEWG) recommendations: 

  • the ideal, or target, time to open a clinical trial should be 210 days for phase I and phase II trials; and 300 days for phase III trials
  • absolute deadlines—which, when surpassed, lead to cancellation of the trial— should be set at 540 days for phase I and II trials; and 720 days for phase III trials.

The study showed that the OEWG recommendations resulted in a median 18.3 percent reduction (from 541 to 442 days) in the time it takes to initiate phase I and phase II trials. The decrease seen in phase III trials was even more encouraging, with a median reduction time of 45.7 percent (from 727 days to 395 days).

It still isn’t an ideal solution, as the deadlines are still a bit longer than most patients would like, but these are major steps in the right direction. This study of OWEG outcomes appeared online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, June 17, 2013.

• NIH scientists find promising biomarker for predicting HPV-related oropharynx cancer (Cancer.gov, June 17, 2013)
• Reforms speed initiation of NCI-sponsored clinical trials (Cancer.gov, June 17, 2013)

 

 
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Earlier this week, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that human genes cannot be patented.

This appears to be a big win for cancer research.

It’s too early to make any definitive statements on the impact of this ruling, but many experts see this is a “victory for doctors and patients, who worried that company patents could interfere with medical research.”

The case dealt specifically with a Utah-based company called Myriad Genetics. These were the folks who isolated the much-discussed BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and investigated their involvement in increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer. These are naturally occurring genes in the human body, and not synthetic DNA created in a lab, which provided the basis for the Supreme Court’s distinction in its ruling.


“Myriad did not create anything,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court. “To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.”

This ruling theoretically opens it up for labs across the world to run their own tests on these genes without interference from a private company or a patent office. Immediately after the ruling, the New York Times wrote that “at least three companies and two university labs said that they would begin offering genetic testing in the field of breast cancer.”

If these genes sound familiar, it’s likely because you remember reading about them in Angelina Jolie’s Op-Ed about her decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy. She possesses the mutation on the BRCA1 gene that gives her an 87 percent risk in developing breast cancer.

It will be fascinating to see how this decision impacts future genetic tests, but right now, it appears as if costs for some of these tests will decrease, while patient access will increase — a huge win for the public.

• Justices, 9-0, Bar Patenting Human Genes (New York Times, June 13, 2013)
• Supreme Court: Human Genes Not Patentable (Barron’s, June 13, 2013)
• Myriad Genetics shares retreat on Court decision (USA Today, June 13, 2013)

 

 
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Millions of dollars are spent each year by folks looking to reverse the aging process. From expensive creams to plastic surgery, people will try almost anything to appear younger.

A recent study shows that one of the most effective, safe, and cost-effective ways to slow aging is to wear sunscreen — not just at the beach or by the pool, but every single day.

According to CBSNews.com, this study “examined 903 people 55 and younger, to see whether daily sunscreen would stall their aging more than people who used the products at their discretion.” The findings were published June 3 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.


Researchers calculated the daily sunscreen group showed 24 percent less skin aging than those in the discretionary group by study’s end. Most of those in the daily sunscreen group ended up using it at least three to four times per week. Sunscreen’s anti-aging properties were observed in all participants who used it daily, regardless of age, meaning adults up to 55 were also protected.

Via Reuters: “This study effectively shows that daily sunscreen can reduce the signs of photoaging and photodamage,” said Dr. Brundha Balaraman, a dermatology researcher from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The research is led by Dr. Adele Green, a professor at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research at the University of Queensland in Australia, and a collaborator with University of Arizona researchers in the Pan-Pacific Skin Cancer Consortium.

In addition, The University of Arizona Cancer Center’s Skin Cancer Institute is among those looking into all the various benefits of regular sunscreen application. On Saturday, June 8, the SCI is hosting the Eighth Annual “Living in Harmony with the Sun” event from 4-8 p.m. at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Like them on Facebook to receive $4 off admission.

• Daily sunscreen slows skin aging, even in middle age: Study (CBSNews.com, June 3, 2013)
• Arizona Cancer Center to form Pan-Pacific Skin Cancer Consortium (Aug. 31, 2010)
• “Living in Harmony with the Sun”