Archive for the ‘Cancer’ Category

I love Carl Zimmer.  I think he’s one of those people who just really get it… and not only does he get it, but he explains things in a way that makes other people get it.

Recently, he published an article on the Loom discussing whales and cancer, based around a recent review published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.  The basic premise of cancer works like this:

  • Over time, cells make mistakes in DNA replication
  • Mistakes accumulate and eventually, mistakes will affect some vital process
  • This causes cancer

This stands to reason then, that the more cells you have and the longer you live, the more mistakes you will have, and the higher likelihood that you will have cancer.

But if you looked at blue whales, they’re HUGE.  They have a lot of cells and they can live a long time.  Indeed, according to calculations, half of all blue whales should have colorectal cancer.  By the time they reach middle age, ALL of them should be cancer-ridden.  And that’s only one type of cancer!

However, this is not the case.  Indeed, across all studied species, including humans with our often-poor health choices, cancer occurs at a rate of about 30%.  So mice, with their rapid metabolism and short life spans, get cancer at the same rate as whales, with their much slower metabolism and longer life spans.

This suggests that larger animals have evolved mechanisms against cancer that have held it at the approximately 30% mark – regardless of cell number, age or size, which is contradictory to the current paradigms of cancer as a statistical inevitability.  And if that is so, we would be better off studying how larger animals cope with cancer rather than looking at cancer in mice.

That is not to say that we should suddenly be breeding captive whales for laboratory-style research – but so little is known about the health of these animals in the first place, despite the popularity of sea mammals as aquarium entertainment.  A well sequenced genome would be the first informative step – The authors suggest studying the genome to look at differences in cancer defenses among related species with a wide range of sizes, such as whales and dolphins.  Learning more about their health and biology of these animals may yield interesting new avenues in both human health research and animal veterinary medicine.

Zimmer ends his article eloquently:

“But such an undertaking would have to overcome a lot of inertia in the world of cancer research. Cancer biologists don’t look to big animals as models to study–which is one reason there’s not a single fully-sequenced genome of a whale or a dolphin for scientists to look at. For most cancer researchers, mice are the animals of choice.

But if we want to find inspiration for cancer-fighting medicines, mice are the last animal we’d want to consider. It’s like learning how to play baseball from a bench-cooler at a Little League game, when Willie Mays is waiting to dispense his wisdom.”

Again, find the original article at The Loom.

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I’ve been a bad blogger and have not been writing nearly as much as I should. 😦

This week and a bit has probably been one of my most unproductive since the summer, and for that I’m sorry. I’m a bit burned out I think with much writing, both coding and blogging. Hopefully a few days off at Christmas will recharge my batteries!

News the past week and a bit:

  • Shameless self-promotion: My latest blog is up on the Stem Cell Network and recaps the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.  Please check it out!
  • Earlier this year, Metropolis records released “Electronic Saviors”, a 4 CD collection of industrial music to benefit cancer research and patients.  On December 4, they presented the Foundation for Cancer Research and Wellness with a check for over $22k.  Angry music does solve problems!
  • It received limited coverage, earning only a brief mention in Scientific American, but this past Tuesday, the US Senate finally passed the Shark Conservation Act which bans the practice of taking fins from live sharks.  Shark fins are prized in soups and other delicacies, and unfortunately, many countries which profit from the trade still permit shark finning to occur despite the fragile state of many shark populations.  This is a long overdue step in the right direction.

I’m really going to try to push some posts out in the next few days.  Can’t say much more than that, as I have a crap load of stuff on my to-do list!  Stay tuned…

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From Dec 4-7, hematologists, scientists and trainees from around the world gathered in sunny Orlando Florida to discuss the latest in blood diseases and research. Over these three days, the Orange County Convention Centre was host to two poster sessions, presentations from clinical and academic leaders, and an impressive array of exhibitors.

I arrived late December 2 nd and spent the 3 rd shopping and exploring. Orlando is an odd place, with very little “natural” about it. Manicured lawns and carefully arrayed palm trees are the norm. Hotels and restaurants tempt the tourist crowds with ponds of koi, the fish sweltering in the heat and cooled down with influxes of cold water. It is a car city, with stores, hotels, and amenities spread far apart and divided by 6+ lanes of traffic. But it was bright, sunny and warm, and for that, I tried to overlook the funny taste of the water and the supreme lack of fresh food.

Things got going on Saturday with some sessions and breakfast talks already well on their way from as early as 7am. Exhibits opened at 10am sharp. Big Pharma was high in attendance, with appearances from Pfizer, Roche, Johnson and Johnson, and Genentech, to name only a few. Each company tried to out-do each other with high end “hospitality bars” which served gourmet snacks and coffee. Current clinical trials in the areas of leukemia/ myeloma diseases were highly touted, as well as advances in stem cell transplant techniques.

Over the next two days, there were scientific sessions and special lectures around the clock –far too many to attend, much less write about. There was a clear focus on clinical treatments and outcomes, not surprising when ASH caters primarily to clinicians. There were also a surprising number of studies on the usages of cord blood -a growing area for business and medicine. One special lecture of note was the Ham Wasserman lecture on stem cell mobility and homing. I will be writing about this topic in an upcoming Stem Cell Network blog! A few other lectures were interesting, mostly relating to genetic aspects of blood diseases, and I may touch on these topics in later posts.

I was a little disappointed in the poster sessions. Many posters did not have people available to answer questions, which sort of defeated the purpose of having a dedicated poster session. The food was also set up terribly, forcing people to line up even if they just wanted a bit of cheese and bread to nibble with their drink. On Sunday, I had the privilege of attending the President’s Reception, held in the Peabody Hotel. The Peabody is probably best described as a whole hearted attempt at grandiose elegance. I nearly had a heart attack when I entered the reception and saw that most people were seated –I went to the event knowing a grand total of ONE person. It didn’t help when the bartender asked me for ID. But, I eventually got connected with people, had some amazing food (though I didn’t eat as much as I would have liked, definitely the best food I had in Orlando!), and the open bar didn’t hurt either.

Post reception, I had drinks at Rocks, the hotel bar, where I learned that the hotel maintains a cache of special ducks which it parades out front once per day. Huh. Monday, I’ll be honest –I did very little. I was too lazy to get lunch so I grabbed food at the convention centre which subsequently made me violently ill. I have never been so happy to pack up and get to the airport!

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Only a week and a bit  before Florida!  AHHHHHH! I’m super excited to meet with people and get some writing in.

(Also more than a little excited about the Harry Potter theme park! *blush*)

So if anyone’s going to ASH, shoot me a message or a tweet!

Links that caught my eye this past week:

  1. This has been languishing in my “to do” list for a while – Check out this excellent imaging job of two cancer cells multiplying, reported on Gizmodo.  Amazing colour on that shot.
  2. National Geographic writes about the origin of whales – again, amazing photos.  Thanks to the Beaty Biodiversity Museum’s Facebook page for sharing that!
  3. Serious Monkey Business discusses a newly discovered population of yellow-tailed woolly monkeys.  For the charismatic animal lovers out there, these guys are pretty cute and, perhaps unsurprisingly, critically endangered.
  4. Nature News reports that South Korea is launching an inquiry following the deaths of two Koreans from “stem cell treatments” offered by questionable clinics.  While stem cell treatments are not legal in South Korea, a Korean-based firm has been formulating and marketing the stem cells, then sending them to satellite clinics located in other countries.  Shady business…

Coming up in the near future: In recognition of OceanWise month, I have one blog upcoming on bluefin tuna.  The rodent anesthesia blog is in-progress and I have a blog on wild tobacco that has been languishing and will hopefully be finished post-haste.

I also found a good reference for my post on laboratory rodent euthanasia.  From the Laboratory Animal Limited website, under Education and Training, you can find a huge repository of reviews and scholarly papers on the usage laboratory animals.  In particular, take a peek at the Euthanasia tab >  Newcastle consensus meeting on carbon dioxide euthanasia of laboratory animals PDF.  There wasn’t a direct link available, sorry! But this PDF article is full of really good data on the good and the bad of CO2 euthanasia.

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The BC Cancer Agency, with support from the Provincial Health Services Authority and Roche Canada, present the 2010 Community Cancer Forum this Saturday, November 27 at the Westin Bayshore Resort and Marina in Vancouver BC.  This free public forum caps off several days of events as part of the 2010 Cancer Conference for industry and health professionals in the field of cancer care, research and treatment.
Cancer patients, friends, family and supporters are invited to attend informational and interactive sessions and exhibits which run from 9:30am to 4pm.  Registration is not required!
Two midday sessions are running which offer three different presentations each, beginning at 10am. 
Session A is held in Salon 1 and covers:
·         What is cancer “Brain-Fog” anyway?
·         Moving forward after cancer treatment
·         Complementary Therapies
Session B is held in Salon 2 and covers:
·         Nutrition to feed the soul and nourish the spirit
·         A whole body approach – Engage the mind, body and spirit
·         A personal journal: Bif Naked
For more information about the presentations and the speakers, please visit: http://www.bccancer.bc.ca/HPI/ACC2010/communitycancerforum.htm

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Movember” is an annual charity fundraiser and awareness campaign originating in Australia and now found in many countries around the globe, including Canada, the United States, and Spain.  Each year during November, men will attempt to grow their manliest moustache.  It was originally intended to raise awareness for men’s health, but now focuses on raising money and awareness for prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer affects the gland in the male reproductive system which makes and stores seminal fluid. According to Prostate Cancer Canada, it is the most common cancer for Canadian men, with 1 in 6 men diagnosed with the disease over their lifetime and 4300+ expected to die from the disease each year.

Hefty risks, right?  Let’s take a closer look.

Depending on who you ask, the average age of diagnosis for prostate cancer is ~70 years old.  That alone suggests that prostate cancer probably shouldn’t be your first fear.  By the age of 70, most people have a plateful of health concerns to deal with: heart disease, mental health, and physical mobility issues.  Heart disease and stroke kills someone every 7 minutes – a total of 69 000 Canadians and 450 000 Americans.  Eep!  Many of these are within the 45+ age bracket of prostate cancer sufferers.

Prostate cancer is also, in general, a slow growing cancer.  While there are some extremely aggressive forms, most are not.  Here, there is a question of quality of life.  Does a 70-something year old want to throw his energy into battling a cancer which may or may not spread?  It’s not an easy answer, especially considering the heterogeneity of cancer in  general.  It may sound glib, but the best answer is often, “It depends”.  A younger man may want to battle the disease on all fronts if he is able to withstand treatment.  Certainly a man who has an aggressive form of the disease would want to do all that is possible to halt it’s course.  But many men with slow growing forms of the cancer actually benefit more from careful monitoring and “maintenance” of the disease rather than resorting to actual treatment, which usually involves surgery, followed by debilitating rounds of radiation or chemotherapy.

So where does that leave “Movember”?  It’s certainly a brilliant marketing strategy to highlight a men’s cancer.  That alone makes it a worthwhile endeavor – all knowledge  is worth having.  But is it a good use of donor money?  With so many causes every year which appeal to the pocketbook, I am not sure that I would choose prostate cancer as my first choice.  It is a highly curable disease when caught early, with some reports suggesting up to 90% of prostate cancers are curable if detected.

I guess in the end, I would want to know what the money is being directed towards.  As a disease which is very detectable and maintainable, I’d like to see the majority of money going towards patient care and comfort and the  refinement of detection methods.   Better facilities for imaging, detection and care in hospitals will help both patients with slow growing or faster growing forms of the disease.

And men… shave… please!


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Woops!  Attentive readers may have  noticed that this post went “live” a little sooner than intended before being quickly nuked by yours truly.  😉

So I had a bit of a stressful week and a bit.   CALAS is harassing me again (hey, they’re finally doing stuff that doesn’t seem to waste member money!!!  lol), but it seems to be under control.   Work has been awesome though – I implemented a neat search feature which allows for dynamic search and display of data tables.

Brain candy for the week:

  1. Search for CALAS Pacific in Google and I’m one of the top hits!  HAHAHAHA.  Thanks to everyone for making that happen!  Keep it up folks – lets direct people to a site that cares about animal welfare more than it cares about self promotion and protectionism.
  2. Nature News reports that although conservation targets were not met, efforts are still making an impact on preserving biodiversity. However, up to one-fifth of vertebrate species are still at risk, particularly the “uglies” like sharks and amphibians.
  3. Some cool research being done to grow human livers in the lab from researchers at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine.  Waiting for some entrepreneurial PI to start up “Liver Labs” – Your Source for Hepatic Pharmacological Testing.

Some upcoming posts – My thoughts on “Mo-vember”, CO2 as a method of euthanasia, and any neat biodiversity tidbits I come across.

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Please check out my latest blog for the Stem Cell Network!

In this post, I outline the process of preparing hematopoietic stem cells for patient transplant. Check out the previous post to learn more about why this type of transplantation is used in cancer patients.

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Today was the annual Terry Fox Run, supporting cancer research, awareness and care. As a general rule, I have very little sympathy for charities. Most support themselves by keeping enough cash flow to pay for their own employment and little else.

Don’t get me wrong – I think Terry Fox himself was courageous and most definitely a local hero – but I think the administrators of the Terry Fox Foundation are greedy and self-serving.

From the Canada Revenue Agency charity listings:
In 2009, the Terry Fox Foundation had:

  • 102 million in assets, held in cash and investments
  • 27 million in donations, interest, and government grants

This is in 2009 alone.  How much did they spend?  Where did they spend it?

  • 3.75 million on fundraising and management
  • 2 million on advertising and other office expence

But what about the research??? What about finding the “cure” for cancer??

  • 1.3 million spent for research funding and grants

Enough said.

Click here to investigate your favourite Canadian charity!

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The President’s Cancer Panel took a surprisingly strong stand against chemicals and toxins in our everyday life by recommending organic foods and filtered water in their latest report.

It’s an unsurprisingly bleak look at the chemical wasteland we find ourselves in today. It is difficult to navigate food, make-up and other every products without encountering something of questionable health value. Indeed, as NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff noted in his latest opinion piece, even newborn babies enter the world “pre-polluted” with an average of over 300 unnatural contaminants.

The articles offer a few pieces of advice:

  • Choose organic foods whenever possible
  • Drink filtered water
  • Avoid BPA-containing plastics when storing or heating food – ideally, use glass or ceramic

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