New anti-PD-1 immunotherapies beating some cancers

They’re not quite ready to call it a cure, according to Dr. Susan Goodin of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium. But researchers are very excited about the number of seemingly complete and relatively long-lived remissions they’re seeing in certain kinds of cancers using this new immunotherapy. Used alone and sometimes in combination with other drugs or modalities, the drugs are forcing a certain percentage of melanomas and smoking-induced lung cancers to yield. Read more about how Johns Hopkins is moving ahead with anti-PD-1 research.

English: James Earl "Jimmy" Carter

English: James Earl “Jimmy” Carter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is revolutionary thinking about a new way to tap into the astounding power of our own immune system to fight cancer. It doesn’t yet work consistently with all cancers or for all patients, according to Dr. Jeffrey Sosman of Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. A lot more research is needed on how to identify who can benefit and how to translate the principle into drugs for other types of cancers. But its effects can be near-miraculous for some – in one such instance, 91-year-old President Jimmy Carter’s brain tumors disappeared.

Here’s Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Center’s quick-and-dirty cartoon video about how the anti-PD-1 drug hooks up with the PD-L1 expression on the cancer cell (antigen).

Cost is said to be staggering for these new drugs. But according to Dr. Sosman, the cost has nothing to do with the science involved. It’s more a function of what the market will bear. And he said there are ways to get the drugs for patients who desperately need them but can’t afford them.

More dramatic progress in learning how to work with nature rather than against it.

Text messaging apps can improve diabetes self-care

Person using cell phone while driving.

Person using cell phone while driving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regardless of how you feel about texting as a main source of communication between people, you may be glad to learn that that method of reaching out to people with diabetes can significantly improve several aspects of self-care.

The tests so far have involved thousands of subjects, and researchers are planning an even bigger study – 1 million people in India where diabetes is even more rampant than in the U.S. So far the results are impressive – participants in the daily  messaging programs get friendly, not pushy, reminders to take medicine, check their glucose, eat salads, avoid too much bread/rice, etc. And the programs are making a real difference. Read more about text messaging apps for diabetics on Philly.com.

Having a “good death” in America webinar Sept 29

Being Mortal book by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal book by Atul Gawande

Recently attended a 14-week course based on the book Being Mortal. In it we examined in detail all aspects of end-of-life scenarios, including the right to choose the timing of one’s own death.. It was a sobering look at how our health care system conspires to wrest from us the right to make independent choices for ourselves. In the U.S. we commit tremendous resources to extending life but pay comparatively little attention  to  planning and care that honors patients’ end-of-life wishes. As a result, too many people suffer unnecessary treatments and end up spending their final moments in hospitals instead of at home. A rising chorus of experts and authors say this needs to change.

The Center for Health Journalism will host a webinar on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET that will give an overview of the problem, discuss how changes to our health care system could help, and offer insights on how journalists might spur more conversations on how we approach death in America.
The panel will feature Prof. Leonard Schaeffer, the Judge Robert Maclay Widney chair and professor at the University of Southern California. Previously, Schaeffer served as the founding chairman and CEO of WellPoint (now Anthem), one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies. He’ll be joined by Ann Neumann, author of “The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America” (2016) and a visiting scholar at The Center for Religion and Media at New York University.
For more information and to register, click here.

Big Ten CRC collaboration targets cancer

They met last weekend in Indianapolis – twelve of the traditional Big Ten (actually 14) universities with active #cancer centers. The group calls itself Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium (BTCRC), and they are serious about combining their research data and working together to speed progress against cancer in all its guises.

Cancer cells fool the human immune system into not recognizing them as invaders. Dramatic research breakthroughs in immunotherapy are mapping out how to cut through that shield and let the immune system do its job.  Congratulations, members of the BTCRC. We can’t wait to hear more about how your collaboration is changing the game for cancer patients around the world.

Follow Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium on Twitter

Follow Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium on Twitter

 

Reducing falls in elders via treadmill training plus virtual reality

Omnidirectional treadmill immersive simulator

Omnidirectional treadmill immersive simulator (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over a period of two-plus years researchers tested two groups of older people (60-90 years) who’d experienced at least two falls prior to the start of the study, according to a recent Lancet article. One group received treadmill training only, three times each week. The other group received the same treadmill training but with an added component of virtual reality (VR) – audio/visual presentation of winding pathways, obstacles and other challenges that required the participant to pay careful attention.

Results showed dramatic improvement in the rate of falls in the months after the experimental training among those in the treadmill-plus-VR as opposed to a virtually unchanged rate of falls among those who had treadmill-only training.

So, it appears that having to navigate trails and overcome obstacles makes the mind-body unit more responsive to its surroundings – thus providing greater stability and protection for future ventures.

Who pays for medical breakthroughs?

So cool the discoveries/breakthroughs that are being made in medicine today. Who knows how many of us will die just before they invent the drug or procedure or protocol that will save the life of someone with the same condition ten years later? But how do we finance these breakthroughs?
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Besides the issue of getting new treatments through the R&D and approval process, there’s always the question of who will be willing to pick up the tab for them. As the U.S. moves to significantly reduce healthcare costs, everyone is worried that “the scientific trajectory towards more personalized treatments will be squelched by the countervailing pressure to pay only for treatments deemed most effective in large populations of patients.” How do insurance coverage decisions affect changes in the R&D and investment process? What influence can patient groups have on setting priorities in the research that may pit comparative treatment effectiveness against personalized medicine?
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Video: Plenary – Who will pay for tomorrow’s medical breakthroughs?  If you haven’t got a whole hour to listen, the segment from marker 30:00 to 51:16 covers a good amount of information.

 

More biomarkers making diagnostics better

The first time you learn about a biomarker being able to diagnose a condition, you hope it’s not you, getting diagnosed with congestive heart failure. If your doctor finds elevated levels of B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) in a blood test, she knows immediately to suspect heart failure.

Researchers are now discovering more biomarkers to help diagnose and manage a variety of conditions. Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) or concussion, for instance, can be easily confused with potentially passing phenomena such as intoxication or delirium, according to an article online in MedPage Today. But mTBI and concussion require urgent and decisive care. A new study has found that two biomarkers can be measured in order to differentiate mTBI or concussion from other conditions and thus signal doctors to institute appropriate treatment.

In a study of patients treated at a level 1 trauma center, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) beat out ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase L1 (UCH-L1) for detecting TBI, CT lesions, and neurosurgical intervention…reported online in JAMA Neurology.

Now they’re studying how quickly a marker can be detected and over how long a period it can be used so they can tell how accurately these biomarkers will allow doctors to gauge an injury.

Non-invasive. Always good news.

Save the date – Biotech & law conference May 5-7, 2016

The first annual Biotech & the Law Global Conference, May 5-7, 2016, takes place this year at the Monona Terrace Conference Center in Madison, Wisconsin. The conference constitutes an international gathering of biotech researchers, lawyers, and business leaders coming together to network across disciplines and make new professional connections.

Wisconsin, claiming a history of biotech innovation that reaches back more than a century, offers a unique culture of public-private tech transfer that supports over 1600 businesses and earns the state the moniker, “Biotech’s Third Coast.”

The conference presents a unique opportunity for professionals to earn continuing education and take advantage of the resources of Madison’s academic and business communities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Morgridge Institute for Discovery, and a host of private and public interests in the health care, agriculture, and environmental science fields.

Registration is now open for Biotech & the Law on the conference website.

Related articles

Marker in cells mutated back to stem-cell-state may be able to predict cancer

English: Pathway of stem cell differentiation

English: Pathway of stem cell differentiation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

News of a marker that may serve as a way to predict which cells will become cancer comes out of a recent study by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital. Scientists were able to isolate a substance that appeared in a cell that had reverted to its stem-cell-state and then became cancerous in zebrafish that subsequently developed melanoma.

“The spark for that change was in the crestin gene, which should only be active in embryonic tissue but became inappropriately activated again, resulting in melanoma,” according to the article online at www.newvision.co.ug/. One of the authors of the study said “the beginning of cancer occurs after activation of an oncogene or loss of a tumor suppressor, and involves a change that takes a single cell back to a stem cell state.”

Now a fish is not a human being, so this information is a long way from having practical application in your doctor’s office. But the principle behind this discovery will guide further research and additional hoped-for developments.

Non-depressed heart failure patients have 80% lower risk of early death

Millions of Americans suffer from heart failure, and it’s the leading cause of hospitalization for people over 65. It comes in four stages, from mild to severe, and is a progressive and always eventually fatal disease. But the course of the disease can be profoundly affected by other factors.

In an ongoing study of heart failure patients, after adjusting for factors such as sex, age, hypertension, severity of heart failure, and comorbidities, moderate to severe depression remained a predicting factor for all-cause mortality for heart failure patients. In other words, if you’re depressed and have heart failure, you’re five times more likely to die an early death than a similar patient who isn’t depressed.

Now, add that fact to this one: heart failure patients who exercise more have fewer hospitalizations and better outcomes on all scores. Another recent study examined how levels of social support and barriers to exercise affected heart failure patients’ willingness to keep up with exercise programs. Not surprisingly, when patients completed surveys about the types of support they received and their barriers to exercise, those who had worse situations in regard to finances, weather, transportation, and/or childcare had less success in adhering to exercise regimens. And those with reduced barriers did, in fact, exercise more and have better outcomes.

Medical experts can only surmise why exercise helps depression, but there’s clear evidence that it does. So, what is the cost of having millions of heart failure patients regularly re-hospitalized versus helping reduce those social barriers and giving them the chance to experience longer and better-quality lives?