Nearly 80 percent of cancer patients in the U.S. use complementary or alternative medicines, according to researchers, but scientific studies on these therapies are scarce.
Through a pilot grant program, City of Hope scientists are beginning to make inroads toward comprehending these treatments and their impact. City of Hope’s second annual Integrative Medicine Symposium, sponsored by the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center and the Integrative Medicine Task Force, shared findings from three investigators who received funding through the program in 2009-10. More than 100 City of Hope and community professionals attended the symposium on May 21.
Chinese herbs for liver disease
For 2,000 years, Chinese healers have combined several plant components into a tea to promote liver health. One version of the remedy, called yin zhi huang, mixes skullcap, rhubarb, gardenia and wormwood.
|Wendong Huang (Photo by p.cunningham)|
Wendong Huang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Gene Regulation and Drug Discovery, first published lab findings on yin zhi huang in 2004, demonstrating how it reduces jaundice. Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin resulting from accumulation of the pigment bilirubin in the bloodstream.
Huang and his colleagues discovered that yin zhi huang activates the constitutive androstane receptor, or CAR — a receptor they found is critical to the liver’s ability to clear bilirubin. CAR accelerates drug metabolism.
Now Huang is studying whether activating the same receptor can alleviate liver damage from alcohol.
Integrative medicine, quality of life and breast cancer
While scientists know many breast cancer survivors use herbal or other remedies, they have little data showing links between these therapies and outcomes. Huiyan Ma, Ph.D., assistant research professor in the Division of Cancer Etiology, aimed to shine more light on the field.
|Huiyan Ma (Photo by p.cunningham)|
Researchers in 1999-2000 interviewed 371 women in Los Angeles who had survived more than 10 years after breast cancer diagnosis, asking them about their quality of life and their use of herbal/alternative remedies. The most commonly used remedies were echinacea, gingko biloba and herbal teas.
The researchers followed these women through 2007. They found no evidence that herbal/alternative remedy use may benefit the survival or health-related quality of life among long-term breast cancer survivors.
Ma hopes to expand the research questions to more women through a larger study.
Glutamine and treatment-induced muscle loss
When patients undergoing bone marrow transplantation develop graft-versus-host disease, or GVHD, they often take prednisone, which belongs to a class of drugs called glucocorticoids, to suppress immune response. These drugs also can ease about 200 diseases including arthritis and asthma. But they have significant side effects.
For one, they cause certain types of muscle fibers — type 2 fibers with fast-twitching ability — to atrophy, explained Behrouz Salehian, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism. The drugs seem to increase the synthesis and release of a protein called myostatin, which puts the brakes on muscle fibers.
Salehian is studying whether the common supplement glutamine, an amino acid found in food or taken in capsules or powder, can counteract and slow that muscle atrophy. Studies in animal models have shown promise, so a phase I study on glucocorticoid muscle atrophy already is ongoing. He hopes to start a phase II study at City of Hope to see if glutamine can protect GVHD patients from this muscle mass loss.
He and his colleagues shared their presentations at Cooper Auditorium after a keynote presentation by Gary Deng, M.D., Ph.D., associate member and attending physician in the integrative medicine service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Deng described his institution’s offerings, including acupuncture, massage and nutrition.
For information about the Integrative Medicine Program, contact Lily Lai, M.D., ext. 65546, or Annette Mercurio, ext. 64888, co-chairs of the Integrative Medicine Task Force.