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|Blueberry powder effective against aggressive breast cancer cells in lab|
Results of a recent study build further evidence for the cancer-fighting power of blueberries. The so-called “super food” showed significant activity against breast tumors, according to City of Hope scientists who reported their research in the October 2011 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.
Blueberries have long been deemed a potent part of the diet because of the brightly colored compounds called flavonoids and proanthocyanidins they contain.
Previous studies have shown that these compounds can affect growth and death in healthy cells as well as fight damaging chemical byproducts called free radicals. Scientists have speculated that these abilities might mean the compounds could be effective against cancer cells.
Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., director of the Division of Tumor Cell Biology at City of Hope and senior author on the paper, has shown in past studies that blueberry juice could inhibit cancer cell survival and growth in the lab.
The latest research went one step further and tested concentrated blueberry powder against aggressive cancer cells in mice.
Chen and the team performed two studies. In the first study, the scientists fed three groups of mice a diet that contained no blueberry powder, low levels of blueberry powder or high levels of it.
They found that tumor size decreased significantly in mice fed blueberry powder compared to similar mice that received none. Analysis showed that blueberry consumption altered expression of genes important to inflammation, cancer and metastasis (spread of cancer) in a way that would lower cancer risk.
The second study compared cancer metastasis among mice fed blueberry powder to metastasis in mice that ate none. The results jibed with the first study, showing a significant decrease in metastasis in mice that ate blueberry powder compared to those that did not.
The results are especially important because blueberry powder was effective against what scientists call “triple-negative” breast cancer, Chen said. Triple-negative breast cancers do not respond to common hormone therapies or to the powerful drug Herceptin.
“And what’s really exciting is that the amount of blueberry powder we used is one that could reasonably be consumed by women,” Chen added. “It’s equivalent to about two cups of fresh blueberries per day.”
|Leukemia stem cells remain despite Gleevec treatment |
At first, Gleevec seemed a miracle treatment for patients diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML. The oral medication appeared to vanquish the disease with unexpected ease.
Despite years of taking the drug, however, CML patients still face the threat of relapse if they stop their treatment, and City of Hope researchers now know why.
Scientists found that CML-causing stem cells linger in the bone marrow of patients even after years of effective cancer control with Gleevec, also called imatinib. Su Chu, M.D., staff scientist, and Ravi Bhatia, M.D., director of the Division of Hematopoietic Stem Cell and Leukemia Research, spearheaded the research.
CML is driven by an abnormal gene called BCR-ABL. Imatinib targets the protein that BCR-ABL produces, neutralizing the malignant cells that generate it and causing them to undergo cell suicide. In the recent study, the researchers collected bone marrow samples from CML patients after four or more years of imatinib treatment and found that patients in prolonged remission still had stem cells that expressed BCR-ABL. In addition, BCR-ABL expression did not further decrease over time.
The remaining leukemia stem cells also were capable of regenerating leukemia cells after transplantation into mice, showing that CML relapse remained possible despite prolonged leukemia treatment.
Bhatia sees the results as evidence that imatinib may never completely do away with CML-forming blood stem cells in most patients. His team has done extensive research with drugs that target residual leukemia stem cells, and their work has led to a clinical trial of one such drug, currently under way.
|Top treatment rate at spinal cancer program |
When cancer spreads, one of the most common destinations is the spine, and treatment often is complex and requires special expertise. Patients facing this challenge can turn to the physicians of City of Hope’s spinal cancer program.
Recent data from California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development show that the program surgically treats the most spinal cancer cases in Los Angeles.
City of Hope is the only Los Angeles-area institution with a program dedicated to spinal cancer, according to co-directors Mike Y. Chen, M.D., Ph.D., and Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D., both assistant professors in the Division of Neurosurgery.
The spinal cancer program focuses City of Hope’s diverse research and treatment expertise and brings a multidisciplinary team approach to treating cancer metastases to the spine, according to Jandial and Chen.
It also addresses the psychosocial needs of patients. Supportive care services include physical rehabilitation, pain management, clinical social work and spiritual care.
|Partners Clinic brings support to breast cancer patients |
Time after time, breast surgeon Courtney Vito, M.D., would see women come into the clinic with the same scared look.
Alone and freshly diagnosed with breast cancer, they sat fidgeting in the waiting room, clutching their medical records and anxious for reassurance.
Women should not have to go it alone, she thought. Why not recruit a woman’s spouse or partner to be an ally in treatment?
And so was born the Partners Clinic. In the once-a-week clinic, new breast cancer patients and their spouses or partners meet with Vito and clinical social workers to create a plan to battle cancer together.
During the visit, each couple first completes the SupportScreen questionnaire, a tablet-based tool that asks a range of quality-of-life questions and allows patients to identify their level of distress in areas such as anxiety and sleep problems.
“The SupportScreen results help me focus on issues that need to be addressed early, to ensure that patients are well-prepared for treatment,” Vito said, noting that the assessment has led to referrals to experts for help on concerns ranging from exercise plans to alcohol abuse.
After completing the SupportScreen, the patient and partner meet with Department of Supportive Care Medicine clinical social workers Courtney Davis, L.C.S.W., and Matt Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., Liliane Elkins Professor in Supportive Care Programs. They talk with the couple about effective problemsolving and building an emotional connection during cancer diagnosis and treatment. The social workers offer other helpful topics, as well: differences in how men and women communicate and cope; suggestions for partners about ways to be supportive to women with breast cancer; and how patients can get the support they need from their partners and families.
In turn, couples talk about the unique aspects of their own relationships and how to build on their partnership to stay healthy and happy during treatment.
Afterward, Vito meets with the patient and her spouse or partner to go over test results, answer questions, come up with the best medical strategy and start the treatment process. According to the social work team, the clinic is unique because few successful treatment models focus on identifying and building on contributions from each gender and making deep emotional connections during times of stress, when they are needed most.
PHOTOS: WALTER URIE; AP GRAPHICS BANK; FOTOLIA; P. CUNNINGHAM
SupportScreen is used to address patient issues.