Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in men, with men having a one in six chance that they will get prostate cancer in their lifetime. While prostate cancer can be treated with surgery, a new treatment similar to radiation is being tested that may be able to more effectively target proteins on the surface of prostate tumors, providing hope even for patients with advanced prostate cancer.
Human prostate cancer cells can be recognized by overexpression of some proteins on their surface. The abundance of certain proteins provides a way to target these cancer cells by using antibodies. The antibodies will be binded to the isotope 212-lead, which is an altered form of the common element lead. When this antibody is injected into a patient’s veins, it will bind to a tumor’s surface and release particles and radiation that will destroy only the tumor cells.
Researchers in Zhongyun Dong’s laboratory at the University of Cincinnati are getting ready to test this new agent over the course of this year. They will measure how toxic and effective the treatment is in slowing down or blocking cancer cell growth. Then, the treatment will be used in clinical trials with patients with advanced prostate cancer.
Just last week (April 6, 2010), scientists at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago completed the second phase of trials for a very promising melanoma vaccine. The trial, which had stunning results, was conducted on 50 patients with metastatic melanoma, which is melanoma that had spread to multiple parts of the body. Currently treatments for advanced melanoma include chemotherapy and immunological drugs which are only effective 15 % of the time. This new vaccine is not only easy to administer, but it also appears to have a much higher response rate in patients, potentially making it the best treatment option for anyone with advanced melanoma.
Melanoma is a rare but deadly cancer that typically begins in a mole or other pigmented tissue and can easily be removed if caught early. If it advances it is much harder to treat and without treatment the patient usually has only a few years to live.
The vaccine being tested in this study is known as OncoVEX. OncoVEX is effective because it is composed of an oncolytic virus, or a reprogrammed virus that is made to attack cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells undamaged. The vaccine is injected directly into lesions that can be felt or seen, and its ease of administration allows it to be given right in a physician’s office.
According to Dr. Howard Kaufman, the director of the Rush Cancer Program, “The vaccine worked not just on the cells we injected, but on lesions in other parts of the body that we couldn’t reach.” He explains how these injections prompt an immune response that circulates through the bloodstream to other affected parts of the body.
In the second phase of trials for OncoVEX, 50 patients were given up to 24 injections of the vaccine over the course of several months, leading to 4 partial and 8 full recoveries. The scientists found these results very promising and Kaufman stated that, “These are the best results to date for any vaccine developed for melanoma, but they need to be confirmed in a larger population.”
To confirm these results, Kaufman is set to lead a third phase of trials which will enroll approximately 430 patients from cancer centers across the U.S. These patients will be tracked for two years after their first dose and if the results are anything like the previous trial, this vaccine could turn an advanced melanoma diagnosis from a death notice into a treatable disease.
Two weeks ago (March 19, 2010), scientists from the University of Michigan published a study about an ingredient known as BanLec which is derived from bananas and acts as a potent inhibitor of the HIV virus. What stands out about BanLec is that it is a cheaper form of therapy that may provide a wider range of protection when compared to current anti-retrovirals which are commonly synthetic and made ineffective after small mutations to the virus. The cost and effectiveness of BanLec make it a promising candidate for the future prevention of HIV and AIDS, giving it the potential to save millions of lives.
BanLec is a type of lectin found in bananas that can identify foreign invaders such as a virus and attach to it. A lectin is a naturally occurring chemical in plants that is of great interest to scientists because of its ability to halt the chain of reaction that leads to a variety of infections. The researchers in this study discovered that BanLec inhibits HIV infection by binding to the virus’s protein envelope, therefore blocking it from entering the body.
According to Michael D. Swanson, the lead author of the study, “The problem with some HIV drugs is that the virus can mutate and become resistant, but that is much harder to do in the presence of lectins.” He goes on to explain that the lectins work by binding to sugars found all over the envelope of the HIV virus, and because of this the virus would have to go through multiple mutations for the lectin to stop working. This makes drugs such as BanLec more effective than some current anti-retrovirals which could become ineffective after one mutation to the virus.
So far all tests have been conducted in the laboratory, but Swanson is currently working on making BanLec suitable for human patients. Its clinical use is still considered to be far away but researchers believe it could ultimately be used as a self applied microbicide for the prevention of HIV infection.
While BanLec is no cure to AIDS, the information gained from this study is very exciting because according to researchers, millions of lives could be saved over the course of a few years with just a moderately successful treatment.
The newest breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research is coming from an unlikely source–a sea squirt. Just this week (March 2, 2010) Mike Virata and Bob Zeller of San Diego State University believe thatCiona intestinalis, known commonly as the sea squirt, may be the perfect model organism for this disease.
The brains of Alzheimer’s patients are typically filled with tangles and plaques made of the protein fragment beta-amyloid. Alzheimer’s disease affects nearly 4 million Americans and an estimated 27 million people worldwide. It is the most common form of age-related dementia and has no cure. Current drug regimens only relieve symptoms and cannot halt the progression of the disease. Research in the scientific community is currently aimed at slowing the disease through drugs such as Aricept and Namenda which are focused on decreasing plaque accumulation.
Recently, research has shown the need for an improved model organism to aid in understanding the pathology of the disease. Currently, genetically modified strains of mice have been the organism of choice in the research of this disease. However, there are limitations in the use of mice including an extremely long waiting period for plaque development like those seen in Alzheimer’s brains. Also, these mice do not contain the same genetic mutations linked to hereditary risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Mice are also more costly to purchase and maintain for research.
Sea squirts are tunicates, marine organisms with a hard outer tunic and a soft body. They live on underwater structures and are filter feeders that eat small plant material. It has been suggested that sea squirts are actually our closest invertebrate relatives. As far as research benefits, sea squirts share nearly 80% of our genes and resemble vertebrates in their immature form. These animals are inexpensive to house and contain all of the genes needed for the development of Alzheimer’s plaques in humans.
Virata and Zeller found that by giving the immature sea squirt amyloid precursor protein, a mutant protein linked to hereditary Alzheimer’s, sea squirts developed brain plaques in a single day. Further, these plaques and the behavioral deficits seen in these animals were able to be reversed using a drug meant to remove plaques. Such techniques have been ineffective in all other invertebrate models, including the commonly used nematode, C. elegans. Now, investigators can be freed from genetic, time, and financial constraints. These findings provide a resource for an entirely new take on Alzheimer’s research…all because of a sea squirt.
This past Friday (February 26, 2010) a group of scientists led by a virologist from the University of Wisconsin published a study about a new antiviral, which was found to be highly effective against the pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus. What stands out about this new antiviral, known as CS-8958, is that it has been proven to be effective against Tamiflu resistant strains of H5N1. This makes it a promising candidate for the future treatment and prevention of the bird flu.
Antiviral drugs are used in the treatment of viral infections by inhibiting the development of disease causing pathogens, and are a vital component in the countermeasure against human influenza viruses. Recently many new strains have been emerging, which show resistance to Tamiflu, an antiviral that slows the spread of the influenza virus within the body. These resistant strains pose a threat and make the development of new antivirals a pressing issue.
Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka from the University of Wisconsin and his team of scientists tested a drug created from a novel neuraminidase inhibitor on mice in order to see its effectiveness against H5N1 strains of influenza. Neuraminidase inhibitors are a class of antiviral drugs that specifically target the influenza virus by blocking one of its proteins, therefore preventing its replication within the body.
They began their tests by giving a single dose of the CS-8958 antiviral drug nasally to mice, two hours after infection with the H5N1 influenza virus. The results showed that the survival rates were higher in the mice given this new drug when compared to mice given a standard five day treatment with Tamiflu. In another experiment, CS-8958 was found to be effective against highly pathogenic and Tamiflu resistant strains of H5N1, while it was also shown to protect mice against lethal H5N1 infection when it was administered seven days before infection with the virus.
With the information gained from this study, future treatment and prevention of H5N1 with this CS-8958 antiviral could be the most effective treatment to date due to its ability to eliminate newly emerging drug resistant strains in only one dose. While future studies still need to be conducted to make sure that these results are the same when tested on humans, the potential of this new antiviral is promising and could possibly put an end to the fear of the bird flu pandemic.