Cancer Currents: An NCI Cancer Research Blog
A blog featuring news and research updates from the National Cancer Institute.
- Chromosomal Instability Score May Predict Response to Cancer Treatment
A team led by researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has identified a new type of biomarker that may help predict prognosis and response to chemotherapy and radiation therapy for several types of cancer.
The biomarker is a score based on the expression levels of a set of genes involved in partitioning chromosomes during cell division. This score, the researchers found, could identify tumors that would likely not respond to certain treatments and those that would be sensitive. The score could also predict patients’ outcomes with or without treatment.
- Forging Collaborations to Spur Global Progress against Cancer
Cancer, like many other diseases, doesn’t exist within the geographic borders of any single country. Its burden is felt around the world and that burden is growing in many countries. According to the most recent estimates, worldwide, there were approximately 14 million new cancer cases in 2012. And that number is expected to swell by an additional 10 million cases over the next two decades.
In April, while speaking alongside Pope Francis at a Vatican event, Vice President Biden stressed the role that biomedical research can—and, indeed, must—play in addressing the impact of cancer and other diseases on global health.
- Meeting Patients Where They Are: Liberating Clinical Trials Data Under the Cancer Moonshot
Cancer clinical trials are a critically important step on the pathway for new or improved treatments to make their way to patients in clinics and hospitals in towns and cities across the country.
Patients and their loved ones are relying on these rigorous studies to determine whether promising new therapies and approaches might extend how long they live or improve their quality of life.
- The Impact and Future of the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study: An Interview with Greg Armstrong, M.D.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month, an opportunity to learn more about pediatric cancer. Thanks to treatment advances, 83% of children diagnosed with cancer will survive at least 5 years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, many of these survivors will experience late effects, health problems later in life that are related to the cancer treatments they received as children.
The NCI-supported Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS) has helped to identify late effects of childhood cancer treatments, and to develop strategies for preventing or better managing these effects, with the aim of improving survivors’ quality of life and long-term survival. In this interview, Greg Armstrong, M.D., of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, principal investigator of the CCSS, discusses some recent findings from the long-running study and its future directions.
- Pancreatic Cancer Cells May Obtain Nutrients from Neighboring Cells
Pancreatic cancer cells grow by instructing neighboring cells to provide them with nutrients, a new study published online August 10 in Nature has shown.
The researchers found that when grown together in culture, cancer cells prompted cells from the tumor microenvironment to degrade their own proteins and supply the cancer cells with the resulting amino acids. This external nutrient supply led to increased metabolism and growth in the pancreatic cancer cells. In separate experiments in mice, blocking the supply of nutrients from cells in the tumor microenvironment slowed pancreatic tumor growth.
- Blue Ribbon Panel Report: The Power of the Cancer Community Coming Together
Listening to the presentation of the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel report at the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) meeting earlier this week, I was moved and inspired by this culmination of 5 months of work. The report demonstrates the power of the cancer community coming together as it never has before to deliver a promise of progress against cancer. The time, energy, dedication, and ideas that went into the report’s creation have been nothing short of extraordinary, and I'd like to thank the cancer community for participating in this collaborative and important undertaking.
This report represents the collaboration of science, technology, advocacy, social science, and big data to solve some of cancer’s greatest challenges. At the core of the report are 10 bold yet feasible initiatives that can benefit patients by changing the trajectory of our understanding of how cancer develops, how to prevent it, and how to treat it. I am honored to deliver this compelling report to Vice President Biden and my federal colleagues on the Cancer Moonshot Task Force for inclusion in their reports to the President later this fall.
- Approach May Allow for Stem Cell Transplant without Radiation, Chemotherapy
In a proof-of-concept study in mice, researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine successfully performed hematopoietic (blood) stem cell (HSC) transplants (also called bone marrow transplants) without first using radiation or chemotherapy.
Instead of these toxic conditioning regimens, which are normally used to clear existing stem cells in the bone marrow before transplantation, the researchers used two biological agents that selectively eliminated HSCs in the host mice but left other tissues and organs undamaged.
- Engineered Stem Cells Help Identify Potential New Treatment for Medulloblastoma
In search of a better laboratory model for studying an aggressive kind of medulloblastoma, a group of researchers led by a team from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center has created their own system for studying this rare pediatric brain tumor.
The researchers engineered neural stem cells, which can develop into any type of brain cell, to carry mutations thought to drive this particular subtype of medulloblastoma. When implanted into mice, the engineered cells successfully replicated how medulloblastoma develops and spreads in patients.
- Tumor DNA in Blood May Signal Response to T-Cell Transfer Immunotherapy
A pilot study by NCI researchers suggests that tumor DNA circulating in the blood of patients with cancer might be a biological marker for determining, soon after the treatment has started, whether a form of immunotherapy is likely to work for a given patient.
- FDA Approves Pembrolizumab for Head and Neck Cancer
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) on August 5 for the treatment of some patients with an advanced form of head and neck cancer. The approval is for patients with recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) that has continued to progress despite standard-of-care treatment with chemotherapy.
This is the third indication for which the drug has been approved. Pembrolizumab, part of a class of drugs known as immune checkpoint inhibitors, has also been approved to treat some patients with advanced melanoma and lung cancer.
- Nanoparticle that Mimics Salmonella Counteracts Chemotherapy Resistance
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have designed a nanoparticle that mimics the bacterium Salmonella and may help to counteract a major mechanism of chemotherapy resistance.
Working with mouse models of colon and breast cancer, Beth McCormick, Ph.D., and her colleagues demonstrated that when combined with chemotherapy, the nanoparticle reduced tumor growth substantially more than chemotherapy alone.
- CA-125 Testing, CT Scans Still Used for Ovarian Cancer Surveillance Despite Lack of Proven Benefit
Despite evidence of no benefit from a 2009 randomized clinical trial, a new study shows that doctors appear to still routinely use the CA-125 blood test to monitor women for recurrent ovarian cancer. The findings, published July 21 in JAMA Oncology, also suggest that computed tomography (CT) scans continue to be routinely used to check for recurrences even though clinical practice guidelines discourage this practice.
Many women who are in remission after treatment for ovarian cancer will eventually have a recurrence of the disease. One approach doctors have used to monitor patients for a recurrence and make decisions about care is regular blood testing to look for a rise in levels of CA-125, a protein that may be found in high amounts in women with ovarian cancer. However, results of a randomized, phase III clinical trial reported at a national conference in 2009 and published in 2010 showed that CA-125 testing for early detection of recurrent disease increased the use of chemotherapy and decreased patients’ quality of life without improving overall survival.
- Adolescents Who Wouldn’t Have Smoked May Be Drawn to E-Cigarettes
Some adolescents who otherwise would never have smoked are using e-cigarettes, according to a study published July 11 in the journal Pediatrics. The findings suggest that adolescents are not just using e-cigarettes as a substitute for conventional cigarettes but that e-cigarettes are attracting new users to tobacco products.
E-cigarettes are electronic devices that create an aerosol by heating a liquid solution that often contains nicotine and flavorings, as well as other chemicals. They allow users to simulate smoking conventional cigarettes by inhaling the aerosol, which mimics combustible cigarette smoking. The Food and Drug Administration recently finalized a rule extending its regulation of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes. The rule went into effect this week.
- Mutations Linked to Immunotherapy Resistance
For many patients with melanoma whose tumors shrink after treatment with a class of immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, their tumors eventually grow back despite continued treatment. A new study has identified genetic mechanisms that may be responsible for this acquired treatment resistance in at least some of these patients.
The researchers found mutations in tumors from three patients with advanced melanoma that allowed the tumors to become resistant to the immune checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab (Keytruda®). Specifically, the mutations enabled the tumors to avoid recognition and attack by immune cells.
- Nanoparticle Delivers Cancer Drugs to Tumor Blood Vessels
In a set of studies in mice bearing human tumors, nanoparticles designed to bind to a protein called P-selectin successfully delivered both chemotherapy drugs and targeted therapies to tumor blood vessels. Targeting the blood vessels improved the delivery of drugs to tumor tissue, causing the tumors to shrink and improving how long the mice lived.
A tumor’s blood vessels can serve as a barrier to engineered drug-delivery systems like nanoparticles, which may not be able to cross the blood vessel wall. However, the same blood vessels may express proteins—such as P-selectin—that researchers can potentially exploit, by engineering their nanoparticles to recognize and latch onto those proteins, which enables them to reach the tumor.
- Partner-Aided Skin Exams Increase Early Detection of New Melanomas
People who have previously been treated for melanoma—and are therefore at high risk for developing a second melanoma—can team up with a spouse, family member, or a friend and be trained to find new melanomas successfully, a new clinical trial showed.
In the trial, patients and their skin-check partners who received training in how to find and track suspicious moles over time found substantially more early-stage melanomas than pairs who only received reminders from their doctors to perform regular skin self-examinations.
- Inherited Mutations in DNA-Repair Genes Found in Advanced Prostate Cancers
Nearly 12% of men with advanced prostate cancer have inherited mutations in genes that play a role in repairing damaged DNA, according to a new study. Inherited mutations in DNA-repair genes—including BRCA2, ATM, and CHEK2—are associated with an increased risk of several other cancers, including breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer.
“This finding offers a new window into understanding how metastatic prostate cancers develop,” said Peter Nelson, M.D., of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, who co-led the study.
- Olanzapine Helps Prevent Nausea and Vomiting Caused by Chemotherapy
A drug currently used to treat several psychiatric conditions can help prevent nausea and vomiting in patients receiving chemotherapy, according to results from a large NCI-funded phase III clinical trial.
Patients in the trial were being treated with chemotherapy agents that often cause substantial nausea and vomiting. Those who were randomly assigned to receive the drug olanzapine (Zyprexa®), given in combination with three standard antiemetic agents (drugs that help prevent nausea and vomiting), were far less likely to experience nausea, have vomiting episodes, or need “rescue” anti-nausea medications to treat nausea/vomiting than patients who received a placebo plus the three antiemetic drugs.
- Anthrax Toxin-Based Cancer Therapy Targets Tumor Blood Vessels
Armed with a greater understanding of the detailed structure and function of the deadly anthrax toxin, scientists have engineered components of the toxin as a potential therapy for solid cancers.
Now, NIH scientists developing the toxin-based therapy have shown that it works by selectively targeting and inhibiting proliferation of cells that line the inside wall of blood vessels that feed tumors and support their growth and spread. When given in combination with two drugs that can block the production of antibodies against the toxin, the treatment greatly suppressed tumor growth in mouse models of lung cancer and melanoma, the researchers reported June 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.