Tag Archives: Cancer

Nanotechnology helps visualize how cancer cells spread

Golden silk spider Photo credit: Wikipedia
Golden silk spider Photo credit: Wikipedia

Cancer cells are incredibly flexible about promoting their own movement and growth in the body. They can travel through blood vessels as thin as spider silk. They even change their shape to do so, yet are still able to divide and cluster into colonies in those very skinny spaces. That spreading through the body is called metastasis, and it’s what makes cancer turn deadly.

Researchers are now putting nanotechnology to work to help decipher exactly how cancer cells perform this extraordinary feat. An article in Nanotechnology Now reports:

The researchers trapped live cancer cells in the tubular membranes and, with optical high- and super-resolution microscopy, could see how the cells adapted to the confined environment. Cell structures significantly changed in the nanomembranes, but it appeared that membrane blebbing — the formation of bulges — at the cells’ tips helped keep genetic material stable, an important requirement for healthy cell division.

For more details, check out this one-minute video on how scientists used microtubular membranes to study how cancer cells divide in capillaries.


Two-drug combo fights muscle loss and improves QOL for advanced cancer patients

English: Main symptoms of cancer metastasis. S...
English: Main symptoms of cancer metastasis. Sources are found in main article: Wikipedia:Metastasis#Symptoms. Model: Mikael Häggström. To discuss image, please see Wikipedia:Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Medicine/Archive 10#Illustrations of symptoms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found this study about treating symptoms of advanced cancer the other day. The study shows quality of life improvement for advanced cancer patients by using “a two-drug combination (including nutraceuticals, i.e. antioxidants) with carnitine + celecoxib for the treatment of cancer-related anorexia/cachexia syndrome” (cachexia means loss of lean muscle mass and decreasing strength). The treatment is about reducing inflammation, possibly improving muscle strength, and thus improving quality of life.

My friend took it to her doctor and her doc, who said she hadn’t heard of this, started her on a related medication. My friend now reports she sleeps better due to a significant reduction in spinal pain and other symptoms.

How good it is to learn that some research I reported on is helping someone I know.

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Danger from nanoparticles may depend on length of fibers

I’ve been worrying about potential danger from these guys ever since I first heard about them. Now comes some research indicating strongly that nanoparticles/nanofibers could be deadly to humans who are exposed to them. This particular research shows that it may be the length of the fibers that’s critical to whether they might eventually induce disease.

Some scientists set up the experiment with five types of silver nanofibers of various lengths and exposed mice to them. The mice developed inflammation in the pleura (the lining of the lungs) when exposed to fibers of a certain length—4 µm to be precise (that’s 4 millionths of a micron). We are talking tiny.

Asbestos fibres - a single fibre is believed t...
Asbestos fibres - a single fibre is believed to cause mesothelioma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the pleura is exactly the same part of the body that is attacked when asbestos is breathed or ingested, researchers concluded their research could be relevant for colleagues investigating malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), a deadly and aggressive type of lung cancer. Mesothelioma, as yet incurable, is the subject of lawsuits across the US and around the world because so many corporations either negligently or deliberately concealed from workers the dangers of inhaling or ingesting asbestos.

Asbestos was and is (in third world countries where it is still being widely used without regard for its danger to humans) a highly profitable substance. Its fire-retardant and heat-resistant properties, as well as its ability to be flexible and to strengthen other substances have made it much sought-after for hundreds of years. Profits grew even as those who worked with it were being sickened because of inadequate protections. And the long latency period before asbestos diseases manifest has helped camouflage the disregard for human safety—people may develop mesothelioma cancer as late as 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years after being exposed to asbestos. Who was going to connect a lung disease in a 60-something-year-old with what he did for a living 30 years ago?

This new research is the first solid evidence I’ve seen that nanofibers may hold the same type of danger to human health and life as asbestos. And heaven knows, nanotechnology is looking to be even more profitable than asbestos. The permutations of products made better, stronger, more flexible—almost more anything you want—with nanotechnology seem almost limitless. As may also be the greed of those who stand to make enormous financial gains from its use.

Let’s hope all the profits and material gains do not come at the price of ever more human suffering andEnhanced by Zemanta lost lives.

Even accepted targeted lung cancer therapies can miss the point

When a 61-year-old woman died recently after having received an accepted targeted treatment—known as stereotactic body-radiation therapy—doctors had to start re-thinking both the radiation dose and the treatment itself.

Non-small-cell lung carcinoma
Non-small-cell lung carcinoma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Months after she’d received the treatment for early-stage adenocarcinoma, a type of non-small cell lung cancer, the woman came back suffering. Doctors found not only that her cancer had metastasized but also that a large portion of healthy tissue in her airway had been destroyed by the radiation.  They then treated her with chemotherapy rather than radiation, but she died anyway a few months later.

Despite doctors following accepted protocol, the patient died. It took courage to report this case, according to the US News and Health article. Even though this incident is about a single patient, having it on the record can help other doctors think more carefully about how and how much to use this increasingly popular therapy.

Let us hope physicians are all as brave and forthcoming if and when they discover dangerous or devastating side effects from the new nanoparticle-based targeted cancer therapy techniques.

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Hybrid NOSH aspirin pairs H2S with nitric oxide to fight cancer

You’ve heard of hybrid cars, which combine power sources—gasoline and an on-board rechargeable energy storage system (RESS). Now there’s a hybrid aspirin that combines acetylsalicylic acid, nitric oxide (NO) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S). They call it the “NOSH aspirin,” and they’re saying it can stop cancer cells from growing.

Generic regular strength enteric coated 325mg ...
Image via Wikipedia

Cancer-fighting properties of the new hybrid aspirin are reported in the ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters. The same scientists had already developed a safer-on-the-stomach aspirin that used nitric oxide.

By adding hydrogen sulfide with its anti-inflammatory properties, the hope was that the aspirin would reduce the long-term inflammation that is thought to lead to abnormal cell growth and thereby contribute to a variety of cancers. Such long-term inflammation might come from infections or diseases such as HPV (can lead to cervical cancer) and hepatitis B (a precursor to liver cancer).

NO is important for a great many functions “in the gastrointestinal tract, including mucosal blood flow, maintenance of mucosal integrity, and maintenance of vascular tone,” according to the National Institutes of Health,

Scientists have for years been studying the role of hydrogen sulfide in the development of cancer prevention drugs. When they noted that cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, watercress and Brussels sprouts naturally protect against stomach and colon cancers, they decided to mix

NO and H2S in the hope of coming up with dual benefits. Voila, the NOSH aspirin.

Laboratory tests on animals show the aspirin inhibits growth of breast, colon, pancreas, lung, prostate and some types of leukemia cancer cells without damaging normal cells. NOSH preparations were recorded as being 100,000 times more effective against cancer than regular aspirin.


Other studies have shown even regular aspirin offers a significant reduction of chances of hereditary cancers. But regular intake of aspirin carries a risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and in somecases Reye’s syndrome.

So it will probably come soon. Clinical trials will see whether the cost-benefit ratio of using NOSH aspirin for cancer prevention gets up to where it needs to be for human consumption.


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How dogs tell sickness – can technology help us learn?

nose to nose
Image by pixieclipx via Flickr

Dogs can smell seizures, low blood sugar and heart attacks, and doctors are working to see if they can be trained to detect other diseases such as cancer. A recent study suggests we humans may soon begin to emulate their powerful scenting abilities—with technology, of course.

New hope for early diagnosis comes from an electronic nose, a version of which is already in use in the food, wine and perfume industries. It generates a pattern, or “smell print”, in response to a given odor, then researchers analyze and compare that pattern with stored patterns. They’ve developed one that can tell from a person’s exhaled breath if that person has pneumonia. Now they’re studying the e-nose in the hope they can one day make it detect ashtma and some versions of lung cancer. A test of an e-nose has already been done to detect malignant pleural mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive form of lung cancer.

I X Key _ 59 Pr
Image by I X Key via Flickr

So that’s how they can keep producing winning smells in food, wine and perfume! And here I thought it was magic—the way I used to think that music composition was the most wonderfully mysterious art of all, because I had no idea how they did it until I studied music. I remember the article in Time magazine a few decades ago that contained a dozen gorgeous abstract paintings—and explained that they’d been generated by numerical equations plugged into a computer.  It blew my mind to realize that math and art were not only not radically different but were merely two different ways of looking at the same thing.

Even as we begin to discover more and more ways to heal the human body using the gentle tools of the universe such as stem cells, rather than violating the body with cutting, assaulting tools such as surgery and chemotherapy, we can take comfort, too, in the idea that many of the mysteries of the earth might one day be translatable to and from mathematical equations.

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Nanoparticles: Magnetized in the fight to stop cancer from spreading

Most deaths from cancer come after the primary tumor has been treated—usually with some combination of surgery and chemo or radiation—when stray cancer cells from the tumor escape and spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).

Italiano: traduzione italiana di :File:Cancer ...
Image via Wikipedia

Since not all cells from cancer tumors behave the same way or have the same DNA, researchers have been looking for a way to study single cells. The problem was separating them. Now this new nanoparticle approach uses magnets to detect whether cells are growing, dividing or dying. It spins the cells in a magnetic field where each type rotates at a different speed. Larger, dying or dividing cells rotate more slowly and in specific patterns. so they can be separated into a group of single cells. Thus the researcher can focus on investigating the behavior of those particular cells.

One of the big promises of this approach is that scientists may now be able to test drugs on just the cells themselves instead of on the entire human organism—thus avoiding some of the worst side effects for patients. And, instead of throwing everything they have at the patient in hopes of affecting the disease, doctors can work with the cells and then with greater confidence prescribe medicine they’ve been able to test as working best for this individual person.

What a blessing for cancer patients this will be.

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Nanosponges harvest cancer markers

Molecular surface of several proteins showing ...
Molecular surface of several proteins
Image via Wikipedia

Imagine tiny little particles shooting through your bloodstream picking up samples of proteins. That’s what researchers have been able to do with a type of hollow nanosponge that contains “bait” molecules. One of the proteins these molecules attract is Bak, the increasing presence of which has a positive correlation with moles turning into melanoma.

Amazingly, scientists were able not only to capture bits of this rare protein—while keeping out the enzymes that would normally destroy those bits—but they’re also able to get the molecules to release those bits when it’s time to analyze the “catch.”

Given how critical early diagnosis is for successfully treating many types of cancer, this is promising work in nanotechnology.

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Stem cells as proving ground for cancer studies

Stem cell diagram illustrates a human fetus st...
Image via Wikipedia

We already know about a host of diseases we can hope to battle more effectively using stem cells. Now I’ve just read about another inspired use of the seemingly limitless power of stem cells to help human beings battle disease.

Scientists have discovered a gene that’s present in many forms of cancer, according to a report on Google news via AFP (an international online news source). In this recent study they’ve been able to use human stem cells as the testing ground to see how this new gene relates to cancer.

The gene FOXM1, injected at higher-than-normal levels into stem cells from an adult human mouth, encouraged abnormal growth that mimicked the abnormal cell growth common with early cancer.

There is evidence that environmental and behavioral factors like UV ray exposure and smoking—the same stuff we’ve come to understand can result in cancer—can lead to increased levels of FOXM1.

I know this study doesn’t say this, but I’m very excited about the possibilities. How much faster may we be able to get to clinical trials for various treatments and drugs by using easily and readily available human stem cells as proving grounds instead of having to first experiment on animals and, later, pray that we’re getting it right with human beings.

Talk about a promising study…

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