Cancer Watch - September-October 2004

Originally published in September-October 2004 icon

Cancer Watch eye

Gene therapy success

Back in 1997 Dr jack Roth of the MD Anderson Cancer Center pioneered work using a genetically engineered virus with human lung cancer patients. Five years on they are celebrating the results. Two patients (Alfredo Gonzalvo, now 78 and Bernis Teaters, now 84) became medical pioneers by having the treatment in conjunction with six weeks of radiotherapy. Roth used an adenovirus (the bug that causes the common cold) as a vector to take in healthy copies of the p53 gene, right into the lung cancer tumours. The therapy is currently on fast track FDA approvaL

The pioneering work started with a premise: The p53 gene, which normally acts to suppress uncontrolled cell growth, is missing or mutated in about 50 per cent of human cancers, and dysfunctional in the rest. So let’s get the p53 gene back inside the tumour to regulate the cancer growth and normalise the cells.

The therapy, called Advexin, has shrunk lung tumours in over half the patients trialled. Both the above named patients were treated in May 1999, and are celebrating their fifth anniversary. MD Anderson has run more than 20 trials to date, featuring 600 patients. Advexin has been used in lung, head and neck, breast and ovarian tumours, whilst other viruses have been tested with brain tumours and metastatic lung cancers.

The only hiccough to date has been a tendency for immune response in patients, but Roth is now using genes encased in liposomes which act like shrink-wrapping to get the active ingredient past the healthy cells and into the tumour.

UK trial for brain tumours

Notwithstanding the MD Anderson work, Professor Norman Nevin, chair of the UK gene therapy committee believes the UK is at the forefront of their type of work. His committee has given the go-ahead for a team at Glasgow University, led by Professor Moira Brown, to treat 100 patients with gliomas using a genetically modified form of the herpes virus.

In the normal brain, this virus can cause encephalitis. But this modified virus has a gene removed so that it leaves normal cells unharmed but replicates in a cancer cell, causing them to burst open and spread the disease to other cancer cells.

39 patients have been involved in three previous trials. Currently orthodox medicine has no cure for gliomas. But one is still alive from a 1997 trial and five from a more recent trial. All greatly exceeded their doctors diagnosis, as did a number of other patients in the trial. Brown added that this was the most advanced gene therapy trial in the UK.

New test for oesophageal cancer

With over 7000 cases per year, oesophageal cancer is the ninth largest cancer in the UK and growing fast (27 per cent in the last 15 years). A new test looks for a protein called Mcm5 and is 85 per cent accurate. Oesophageal cancer, hitherto, has been extremely hard to diagnose early. (Addenbrooke’s Hospital: Dr Stephen Middleton).

Flaxseed worsens prostate cancer

The American journal of Clinical Nutrition (July 2004: 80(i): 204-216) carries a study of 47,000 men where it was found that ALA omega 3 fatty acids seem to stimulate the growth of prostate cancer in men. Those men monitored who developed prostate cancer over the 14 years of trial seemed to have the highest levels of ALA in their blood streams.

(Ed note: If you read The Tree of Life: An anti-cancer diet you will discover a chapter on eicosanoids. Sir John Vane won a Nobel Prize and a knighthood in 1982 for his work. Although his work then was on aspirin and its effect on these very short lived hormones, it has since been shown that garlic, gingers and long-chained omega 3 has the same effect in turning off the enzyme that produces bad eicosanoids and thus a harmful environment for the cells.

We have said before that flaxseed contains the inert short-chain version of omega 3 and that research seems to indicate that only 14 per cent can be converted at most to long-chain. Hence it provides little protection. EPA and DHA are the effective active ingredients and there are very little produced from flazseed. It is slightly surprising that the research showed negative results, rather than just zero effect. Vegetarians should read it with interest. Meanwhile fish oils will give you your long chain omega 34.)

The world’s gone mad - official

What’s five in the UK and ten in France? The helpings of fresh fruit & vegetables the Government recommends you eat. But if you are confused by the size of a helping, or whether potatoes count, spare a thought for the Americans. The US Department of Agriculture, along with a Texas judge have decided that fresh vegetables should include batter coated French fries. French fries were actually already approved in the USA as fresh vegetables! (USA Today June 15th).

Mobiles reduce sperm count

A team led by Dr lmre Feies of Szeged University in Hungary studied 221 men for 13 months and found that those men who carried a phone with them on stand-by had sperm levels reduced by 30 per cent. Plus the sperm had reduced mobility or swimming ability. Men who made lengthy calls had even fewer rapidly mobile sperm.

Organic is better

The Soil Association has conducted a study which shows that organic foods had more vitamins and minerals in 21 of the foods tested.

Vitamin C levels were 27 per cent higher and magnesium 29 per cent higher in the foods tested. In organic livestock, higher levels of omega 3 and conjugated linoleic acid were found, than in processed-food-fed animals.

Equally important was the pesticide information which prompted Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the FSA, to admit that organic food did indeed have less pesticides in it.

The Soil Association has produced reports linking pesticides with Parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue, foetal abnormalities and cancer. One study showed women with breast cancer were five to nine times more likely to have traces of pesticides in their blood as women without cancer.

Vitamin A helps beat skin cancers

If you have sunburn, you may develop actinic keratoses later in life, which will result in lesions in the skin and may lead to basal cell cancer or non-melanoma squamous cell cancer.

Scientists of the Arizona Cancer Centre, University of Arizona, report in Clinical Cancer Research that vitamin A supplements significantly reduce this problem.

In fact having tested at different levels they concluded that 50,000 IU’s was the best daily dose. (It produces 81 per cent less skin damage). A good source would be cod liver oil. However synthetic vitamin A can be dangerous in high doses.

Ovarian Cancer Test

Dr Veenstra of Frederick in the USA has started using high-resolution mass spectrometry to spot cancer proteins from normal proteins and make a real step forward in ovarian cancer prediction. CRUK said it was still early days but the potential for screening all women was enormous. Ovarian cancer has been linked to chlamydia, synthetic oestrogen and synthetic progesterone and even talcum powder as risk factors.

Cancer is a modern disease

The National Geographic News (July 13th 2004) confirms what we all guessed anyway. A study of over 3000 human skeletons in Croatia dating from 5300 BC to the mid 19th Century hardly turned up one case of cancer

Eat tomatoes and broccoli together

Dr John Frdman presented results at The International Research Conference on Food showing that combined foods may indeed produce better results than individual ones. In his studies lycopene (from tomatoes) and glucosinolates (from broccoli) were fed to rats with tumours. Where both foods were used less tumour growth was noted. (Ed. So, food can help cancer survival rates!).

Kaposi’s Sarcoma origins

Cancer Research UK’s Professor Souhami said, following recent research that ’People with HIV or who are taking immunosuppressive drugs are particularly susceptible to cancer’ This followed the discovery that Kaposi’s Sarcoma is viral (the Kaposi Sarcoma herpes virus) and originates in the cellular lining of lymph vessels, where the virus reprogrammes cells to turn them cancerous.

New treatment for bladder cancer

ECG, a vaccine normally used against tuberculosis, has been in clinical use for bladder cancer for 30 years. But it doesn’t work in 30 per cent of cases and can have side effects. According to the International Journal of Cancer, researchers at St James University Hospital, Leeds added a gene to a strain of the bacteria to bolster the body’s immune response against the tumours. The added gene (a tumour necrosis factor) boosts the body’s ability to recognise the cancer cells.

Monkey Virus may be blamed for more cancers.

In tests by the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Simian Virus (SV4O) turned up in 33 of 55 tumours from people recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. "Is it merely a bystander or a cause?" That’s the question that needs answering.

In laboratory experiments with animals, it has been linked to tumours of brain, bone, chest membranes and lymphatic systems, but a clear causal link has proved elusive. Just as well, since the original Salk polio vaccine had its problems with monkey virus and was used with millions of Americans.

It is quite possible that some sort of "transforming event" is required, according to Dr Samaniego and his team.

Sloppy drug for leukaemia

Glivec or Gleevec, has a problem. It works on people with chronic myeloid leukaemia, but only for a while. The cancer cells become resistant to it by changing the enzyme upon which it works. So the drug does "fit" exactly. Now researchers led by Dr Charles Sawyers at the University of California have invented a sloppier drug, delicately name BMS-354825 which can even tackle the mutated enzyme.

However some cells are resistant to both. The researchers are conducting further tests "to make sure the drug is safe in humans".

Patients want more control

Sue Ziebland at Oxford University has recently completed a research study on cancer patients and their use of the internet. The findings were that:

  • Actually patients were very discerning about which sites they used and what information seemed good.

  • The web is treated as a huge medical library.

  • Some people use it to check the treatments offered by their doctor, others to find new and alternative therapies.

  • Most importantly the net empowers people and allows them to exert some degree of control over their treatment and disease.

Ed: And the site to go to is

Cancer Watch - November-December 2004
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