Monday, October 29, 2012

Arsenic Cancer Therapy

More famous as the poison of choice in murder mysteries due to its not so obvious symptoms, does arsenic has the potential for a more useful role in cancer therapy?

By: Ringo Bones

Since ancient times and until Victorian period murder mysteries, writers and murderers have often resorted to arsenic largely because its symptoms resemble that cholera. It wasn’t until the advances of analytic chemistry in the 19th Century that law-enforcement forensic teams have amassed enough knowledge to tell whether arsenic was used to poison someone. And given its role as a cure for venereal diseases before the advent of antibiotics and its recently reprised role as a cure for antibiotic-resistant venereal diseases does arsenic – or more accurately arsenical compounds – now have a role in cancer therapy?

In a pilot study during the late 1990s, it was shown that certain medical arsenic compounds is given in low doses to patients with a rare form of leukemia known as APL or acute promyelocytic leukemia, nearly all patients go into remission.  The treatment – using all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), a derivative of vitamin A,  is mixed with arsenic trioxide – has back then been found to have fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy previously used on APL using only ATRA.

APL or acute promyelocytic leukemia is a subtype of acute myelogenous leukemia or AML, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow – and it is also known as acute progranulocytic leukemia. Acute promyelocytic leukemia was first identified in 1957 and from then until the elucidation of its developmental mechanism by medical researchers during the 1970s, APL had a 100 per cent mortality rate as there was still no effective treatment. After years of further study, it was later found out that APL is unique among myeloid types of leukemia due to its sensitivity to all-trans retinoic acid or ATRA. But it wasn’t until the chemotherapy regimen consisting of ATRA and arsenic trioxide that was developed during the late 1990s that APL leukemia was no longer the death sentence it previously was. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Broccoli Based Cancer Therapy, Anyone?

It may be more infamous as one of the most despised vegetables by kids during mealtime, but does broccoli have something to contribute to humanity’s “war on cancer”?

By: Ringo Bones

 Imagine if you or someone close to you have just found out that they have cancer and the doctor recommends broccoli cancer therapy. Would they think that the cure is worse than the disease? Almost all of us at one time or another probably hate it as kids when we were quite almost literally forced feed it during mealtime and it is still an acquired taste for us when it is sautéed in some irresistible secret sauce in a typical Chinese haute cuisine, but did you know that broccoli might have something in it that can be used as a potential cure for cancer?

Dr. Ingrid Herr of Heidelberg University Hospital and her research team had just found out in a recent medical study that a chemical found in broccoli makes conventional chemotherapy more effective in treating ordinary cancer cells and even the more aggressive stem cell cancer cells. The chemical is called sulforaphane – an organosulfur compound that exhibits anti-cancer and antimicrobial properties. Even though sulforaphane was found to be effective in previous anti-cancer experimental models, the recent study by Dr. Herr was one of the first of its kind to be tried in a real-world scenario in conjunction with existing chemotherapy.

Sulforaphanes are not only found in broccoli but also in other cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and cabbages. It is produced, or “synthesized”, when the enzyme myrosinase transforms glucoraphanin – a glucosinolate – into sulforaphane upon damage to the vegetable’s cellular structure via chewing. Young sprouts of broccoli and cauliflower are particularly rich in glucoraphanin. In previous studies, consumption of broccoli sprouts had also been shown to be potentially effective at inhibiting the growth of Helicobacter pylori in our stomachs. Sadly, this is a further proof that most foods that are genuinely good for our health are the one’s we don’t particularly like. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Immunotherapy: Newfangled Cancer Therapy?

Medical science had been trumpeting for ages that the complete understanding of our bodies’ immune system will be the “Magic Bullet” when it comes to curing all known diseases. Can it be used to cure all forms of cancer, too?

By: Ringo Bones

Ever since the advent of advanced microscopy, medical researchers had been fascinated by the phenomena of Killer T-Cells attacking cancer cells and during the latter half of the 1990s, sophisticated medical scanning equipment had even observed – in real time – cancer cells being attacked by Killer T-Cells in a living subject as soon as they are formed. Given the fascinating capabilities thus observed so far about using the human body’s own immune system to cure cancer, how come is it still not a widely-used medical procedure?

In a BBC interview back in July 2012, Paul Werman – head of the Institute of Cancer Research – says that the lack of research funding is the biggest hurdle faced by immunotherapy researchers around the world from progressing beyond the experimental treatment phase. One common proven application of immunotherapy method is by growing the patient’s own Killer T-Cells in the lab. This method had been showing good results in cancer patients who are not responding well to current conventional chemotherapy regimens.

As commonly observed via advanced microscopy methods, Killer T-Cells usually surround near cancer cell clusters as soon as they form, but the Killer T-Cells only attack the cancer cells in fits and stops. Killer T-Cells only attack cancer cell clusters continuously only if enough of them surrounds a cancer cell cluster. But if improved on further, immunotherapy could prove very useful in treating inoperable tumors – i.e. tumors located in hard-to-reach parts of the human body and for use in patients who might not survive conventional aggressive chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment. And immunotherapy might not only be useful in cancer therapy, it can also be used to treat fast-mutating viral diseases like AIDS, avian influenza – and even the common cold.