DAVID GRANOVSKY

Posts Tagged ‘illness’

STEM CELLS FOR CYSTIC FIBROSIS

In DISEASE INFO, HEALTH AND WELLNESS, SCIENCE & STEM CELLS on January 31, 2017 at 10:56 am

“[Bob]  received an infusion of cells called allogeneic human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC), adult stem cells collected from the bone marrow of healthy volunteers”

“CF’s main effect is on the lungs. They fill with a sticky mucus as a reaction – really an over-reaction – by the body’s immune system to bacteria. The lungs are the source for much of the illness and shortened lifespan seen in CF.”

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CYSTIC FIBROSIS The_fluorescent_microscopy_image_of_CFTR_tagged_with_EYFP

First stem cell study could lead to development of therapy to reduce inflammation caused by CF

Published on January 31, 2017 at 3:24 AM · 

A 39-year-old man with cystic fibrosis (CF) made history by becoming the first person to receive human adult stem cells in a new research study that researchers hope will someday lead to the development of a therapy to reduce the inflammation and infection caused by CF.

The pioneering subject in the study is Bob Held from Alliance, Ohio, who on Jan. 26 received an infusion of cells called allogeneic human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC), adult stem cells collected from the bone marrow of healthy volunteers. Mr. Held was diagnosed with CF when he was 16 months old.

Currently, there is no cure for CF, and life expectancy for patients who survive into adulthood is approximately 41 years of age.

“It was a very exciting day for us with the very first participant in the first stem cell trial for cystic fibrosis,” said James Chmiel, MD, the principal investigator of the study at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

The Phase 1 trial will assess the safety and tolerability of hMSCs in adult patients with CF.

“This is an early phase trial, and the most important thing is to ensure safety,” said Dr. Chmiel. “This study consists of a single infusion of stem cells. We will follow the study participants for a year to make sure it’s safe. Before applying any therapy on a broad basis, we want to make sure that it’s safe.”

While the goal of the study is safety, Dr. Chmiel hopes this is a first step towards the ultimate goal of developing a therapy to reduce lung inflammation and infection, resulting in longer and healthier lives for people with CF.

“While there’s been a tremendous increase in survival for people with CF from when I entered the field in the 1990s, that’s still not good enough,” said Dr. Chmiel, Director of the Cystic Fibrosis Therapeutics Development Center at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “While we’ve made great progress, we still have a long way to go.”
The stem cells that Mr. Held received were collected from the bone marrow of a healthy adult volunteer. UH is a national leader in the use of stem cell therapy with hMSCs. Researchers from UH, along with the CWRU School of Medicine, discovered hMSCs. The hMSCs possess many properties that are ideal for the treatment of inflammatory and degenerative diseases, and they possess natural abilities to detect changes in their environment, such as inflammation. The hope is that hMSCs can reduce the inflammation in the lungs caused by CF.

CF’s main effect is on the lungs. They fill with a sticky mucus as a reaction – really an over-reaction – by the body’s immune system to bacteria. The lungs are the source for much of the illness and shortened lifespan seen in CF.

“One of the issues in CF is that people with the disease get bacterial infections in their lungs, and these bacteria incite a vigorous and excessive inflammatory response,” explained Dr. Chmiel. “It’s actually the body’s inflammatory response that damages the lungs. The inflammatory response tries to eliminate the bacteria, but it’s not successful. Instead, the inflammatory system releases molecules that damage the individual’s own airways. The lung disease causes much of the illness and is responsible for the majority of the mortality of the disease.”

The stem cells are donated by healthy adult volunteers who go through a rigorous screening process. The stem cells are cultured in the UH stem cell facility. Volunteers with CF who are in the study receive an infusion through an IV.
“Once in the patient’s body, the stem cell tracks to the area where there’s a significant amount of inflammation, and they take up residence there. The stem cells then respond to the environment, and hopefully reverse some of the abnormalities,” said Dr. Chmiel. “We hope in future studies to demonstrate that the stem cells reduce the infection and inflammation and return the lungs to a more normal state.”

“This therapy aims to turn down the inflammatory response, not eliminate it because we still have to keep the bacteria in check. We want to reduce inflammation and the subsequent lung damage caused by inflammation without allowing the bacteria to proliferate,” said Dr. Chmiel.

A total of 15 clinically stable adults with CF will be enrolled in the study. Support for the study is from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The patient, Mr. Held, considers himself fortunate to be close to 40 with CF. When he was growing up, he said he’d miss 50 days of school each year because of the disease. Every day, he needs to breathe in aerosols for about two hours in the morning and 1-1/2 hours before bed to keep his lungs functioning. While he hasn’t been sick from the illness since his late teens, he does check himself into the hospital a couple of times a year for precautionary measures and to prevent himself from “getting into a valley” with CF.

His late wife, Michelle, died of CF seven years ago. They had met when they were kids, but didn’t get married until 2012. She died from the disease suddenly 28 days after they married.

“My only regret is that I didn’t ask her out sooner,” said Mr. Held.
He is participating in the study to carry on Michelle’s legacy, and “I am hoping the future generations of CF patients can get better treatments and that eventually a cure will be found for them,” he said.

WHY SMOKING CAUSES CANCER

In DISEASE INFO, HEALTH AND WELLNESS, SCIENCE & STEM CELLS on January 30, 2017 at 7:30 pm
Lung stem cells cultured in the laboratory. The green, blue and purple colors emerging from behind the orbs are a protein expressed by lung basal stem cells. Photo: Clare Weeden, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

For four years straight medical researcher Clare Weeden would go on alert whenever lung surgery was underway anywhere across Melbourne. No matter the time, she would have to be ready in her lab to receive samples of fresh tissue as part of a project to isolate and research the stem cells that repair our lungs as they constantly breathe in contaminants from air pollution to cigarette smoke.

She didn’t know it at the time, but she was hot on the trail of the lung’s basal stem cells that now appear to be the likely culprits that trigger a major lung cancer closely tied to smoking – squamous cell carcinoma. It is the second most common form of lung cancer.

Basal stems cells are very quick at repairing DNA damage caused by inhaled chemicals such as those from cigarette smoke, but they are prone to making mistakes. It means that the more repair work they have to do, the greater the chance of a cancer-causing mutation.

“What we have found is a genetic fingerprint in squamous cell carcinoma that has been left from basal stem cells in the lung whose repair work has gone awry and led to the cancer,” says Weeden, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne.

“It isn’t definitive but the evidence is that lung basal stem cells are the likely cells of origin.”

The unmasking of basal stem cells, published in the Public Library of Science: Biology, is the culmination of years of painstaking laboratory work and data-crunching that has now provided a crucial new target for developing drugs that may be able to turn off the progress of the cancer.

Weeden was sometimes up until to 3am at the Institute isolating and processing cells from the freshly operated-on lung tissue, especially when there was a flurry of samples in one day. It is a complex process that took up to six hours for each of the eventual 140 samples.

The Clue

But one day she came across a sample that she could barely get to grow at all.

Intrigued, she contacted the Victorian Cancer Biobank for basic information on the donor. It was likely that the donor was a smoker or ex-smoker since most people having lung surgery have a history of smoking. But this patient had never smoked. Sensing a possible link she went back to the Biobank to get information on all the previous tissue donors, and over that weekend plotted out a chart.

The correlation was stark. Samples from those that had never smoked had low basal cell growth, and the more heavily a patient had smoked, the higher the growth rate.

“It completely grabbed my curiosity,” she says. “I remember on Monday morning going straight into my supervisor’s office (Marie-Liesse Asselin-Labat) and putting the chart down in front of her. We both realized we were onto something significant. The question was what?”

By using the same process that Weeden had developed to accurately isolate lung stem cells, she and Asselin-Libat set to examine how the basal stem cells worked.

They discovered that basal stem cells were very efficient at repairing damaged DNA but that the process the cells use, called non-homologous repair, is prone to making errors that can lead to cancer-causing mutations. In non-homologous repair the break in a damaged DNA chain is simply closed over rather than copied. They also found evidence of the accumulation of mutations in the basal stem cells of the smokers.

“While we need more experimentation, this gave us a model of what may be happening,” says Weeden. “Our lungs are constantly being exposed to what we inhale. When we breathe in something like cigarette smoke that causes lung damage, these basal cells receive a signal to grow and repair the damage.

But they have to first repair their own DNA damage and the process they use is very quick. The advantage is that it helps the cells to survive, but the disadvantage is that they are prone to making errors that can lead to cancer.”

To test that model they turned to Institute bioinfomaticians Professor Gordon Smyth and Yunshun (Andy) Chen who used statistics and computer science to extract a genetic “signature” for lung basal stem cells. They then compared that signature with the genetics of various lung cancers.

clear evidence

They discovered that this same signature was highly correlated with lung squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of lung cancer and the most closely linked to smoking – some 96 per cent of people with lung squamous cell carcinoma are either smokers or ex-smokers. It was clear evidence that basal stem cells are the likely culprits in how the cancer is triggered.

By identifying a cell of origin Weeden says we now have a drug target to aim at that has the potential to stop the progress of the cancer. Previous Institute research in 2009 lead by Professor Jane Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman had similarly identified a likely cell of origin for inherited breast cancer, and last year that same team identified an existing drug, denosumab, that in laboratory models could switch off the problematic cell growth and curtail the cancer. Clinical trials are now underway.

“In the breast cancer research they similarly used correlations to identify a cell of origin like we have and now further work has solidified that,” says Weeden.

Does this mean that at some point in the future smokers could breathe easier by taking a drug that could stop the cancer being triggered? No. Weeden points out that if someone took such a drug and continued to smoke the damage could be even worse than the cancer.

“Basal stem cells have a job to do in the lung, they repair any damage. If a person was treated with a drug that turned off basal cells and continued to smoke, I would imagine that other lung problems may develop due to the inability of the stem cell to repair the lung airways from cigarette smoke-induced damage,” says Weeden. She points out that smoking also causes other lung cancers that don’t arise from basal stem cells.

She says the biggest beneficiaries of any such drug could be ex-smokers. “This is particularly relevant as lung squamous cell carcinoma can occur in ex-smokers who have quit perhaps 20 or 30 years ago.

“But the best way to reduce the risk of lung cancer is to simply quit smoking because no matter how long you’ve smoked for, the risk of lung cancer is reduced when you quit.”

NON SMOKERS GET LUNG CANCER

In DISEASE INFO, HEALTH AND WELLNESS, SCIENCE & STEM CELLS on January 26, 2017 at 2:00 pm

‘Lung cancer is almost always fatal because it is asymptomatic. “Symptoms of lung cancer (chronic cough, shortness of breath, phlegm in lungs) are very similar to common respiratory illnesses”’

Can people get lung cancer if they don’t smoke?

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Lung cancer is responsible for almost one-quarter of all cancer deaths in the nation.

Although this type is especially common in people who smoke cigarettes, it is possible for the disease to occur in non-smokers and yes, sometimes even in those who aren’t often breathing secondhand smoke.

A Texas A&M College of Medicine Radiation Oncologist breaks down the science behind lung cancer and the environmental hazards that could result in a diagnosis.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates 224,000 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in 2016.

“This means up to 13 percent of all projected cancers this year could be lung cancer,” said Niloy J. Deb, MD, Assistant Professor of radiology with the Texas A&M College of Medicine and Chairman.

“The leading cause of diagnosis is due to smoking cigarettes, but there are other instances where the cancer can occur.”

Secondhand smoke—like breathing car exhaust into your lungs

Do you live with friends or family who smoke cigarettes? If so, you’re at a much higher risk for developing lung cancer.

“Exposure to secondhand smoke is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers,” Deb said. “Non-smokers who are constantly exposed to secondhand smoke increase their likelihood of getting lung cancer by 20 percent.”

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So, how exactly does secondhand smoke up your chances for lung cancer? Deb said even smoke indirectly inhaled from a cigarette is damaging to the lungs.

“Chronic smoking impairs the tiny alveoli (small sacs that move oxygen and carbon dioxide between the lungs and bloodstream) in our lungs, and these alveoli start ‘trapping’ air,” he said.

“Cigarette smoke, with all the dissolved carcinogens, will then ‘sit’ in the alveoli, which causes the genetic mutations (changes) that cause cancerous transformation.”

Important to know: The most harmful part of cigarette smoke comes from the burning paper. This is because compounds are added to the wrapping to allow the tobacco and paper to burn at the same rate.

“To do this, companies add tar and other petroleum derivatives to the paper around cigarettes,” Deb said. “So, when you inhale smoke from a cigarette, it’s essentially like breathing car exhaust directly into your lungs.”

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Carcinogens activate the ‘switch’ for cancer cell mutation

Cancer happens when a cell’s DNA is changed, and there are certain known substances and exposures that can lead to cancer; these are called carcinogens.

According to the ACS, carcinogens don’t always cause cancer in every case, but they may predispose to cancer in other ways.

“Some environmental carcinogens like asbestos, silica, benzene, ethylene oxide, and exposure to nickel compounds and by-products of petroleum distillation from vehicle exhaust and fossil fuels, can lead to lung cancer,” Deb said.

“These substances flip the genetic switches in our body by turning on a cancer activator or turning off a cancer suppressor.”

For example: For a cancer cell to form in our lungs, there must be an on/off switch flipped in the genetic code of the lung cells. “When a carcinogen flicks the ‘on’ switch, it turns on a gene that converts a normal cell into a cancer cell,” Deb said.

“When a carcinogen hits the ‘off’ switch, it’s turning off a gene that has been preventing a cancerous process or cancer cell formation. These switches can be flipped because of exposure to environmental carcinogens.”

Why lung cancer is a killer

Lung cancer is almost always fatal because it is asymptomatic. “Symptoms of lung cancer (chronic cough, shortness of breath, phlegm in lungs) are very similar to common respiratory illnesses,” Deb said.

“Most patients (both smokers and non-smokers) do not know their symptoms may be caused by cancer instead of a relatively benign illness.”

Most people who are diagnosed with lung cancer live with symptoms for years before seeking any medical opinion, and by then, it’s too late.

“This is why most lung cancers are diagnosed at Stage 3 or Stage 4 and the reason approximately 158,000 people die from lung cancer each year,” Deb said.

“The death rate increases when you can’t catch the cancer at an earlier stage, when there are more treatment options available.”

$1.2M Grant for Stem Cells from Mental Patients

In ALL ARTICLES on October 23, 2011 at 2:26 pm

This is great news. I don’t know anyone with substantive research into stem cell treatment of mental illness or depression.  Autism of course has been treated for years – https://repairstemcell.wordpress.com/autismaspergers-stem-cells/

-David

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$1.2M Grant for Stem Cells from Mental Patients

Rutger’s University received a US$1.2 million grantfrom NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) to start research on adult stem cells.

The stem cells will be taken from people with mental health disorders such as major depression, attention deficit disorder and autism.

Rutger’s University already has the world’s largest repository of stem cell lines.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has this to say about adult stem cells:

…research on adult stem cells has generated a great deal of excitement. Scientists have found adult stem cells in many more tissues than they once thought possible. This finding has led researchers and clinicians to ask whether adult stem cells could be used for transplants.

These stem cells are found on various tissues and organs of the human body. Rutger’s University will gather stem cells from the skin of the patient.

The bulk of stem cell research is currently based on embryonic stem cells which researchers manipulate into other cell types. The foray into adult stem cell research has less restrictions that could hasten discoveries in disease treatment and control.

It is not stated whether the condition of the person, whether mental or physical, has any effect on the stem cell gathered.

Chronic illness, Heart attacks, Milk and Depression

In ALL ARTICLES on April 27, 2011 at 4:08 pm

WHO warns of enormous burden of chronic disease
LONDON (Reuters) – Chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes have reached global epidemic proportions and now cause more deaths than all other diseases combined, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday. | Full Article
Guidelines help prevent heart attack deaths
April 26, 2011 04:23 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – When doctors follow guidelines for treating patients after a heart attack, more patients survive, according to a new study from Sweden published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. | Full Article
China seizes 26 tonnes of melamine-tainted milk powder
April 27, 2011 02:26 AM ET
BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese police have seized more than 26 tonnes of milk powder tainted with melamine from a ice cream maker in a southwestern city, state media said, three years after milk tainted with the industrial chemical killed six and made thousands ill. | Full Article
Depression reported by 25 percent of caregivers
April 26, 2011 08:21 PM ET
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – One in four caregivers for ill or elderly relatives and friends said in a survey released on Tuesday that they suffer from depression, a figure far higher than for the U.S. population in general. | Full Article

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Higher bleeding risk seen in J&J, Bayer clot drug – Reuters Health Report

In OFF THE BEATEN PATH on April 5, 2011 at 9:43 pm
Higher bleeding risk seen in J&J, Bayer clot drug
April 05, 2011 09:35 AM ET
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – A blood clot preventer from Johnson & Johnson and Bayer caused a surprisingly high rate of bleeding in a trial of patients with acute illnesses, representing a significant setback for the drugmakers. | Full Article

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Gmail – Reuters Health Report – dsgrano@gmail.com.

HELP SUPPORT SUICIDE AWARENESS + PREVENTION

In OFF THE BEATEN PATH on March 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Please support me as I take an amazing journey. The Out of the Darkness Overnight Experience is a 18-mile walk over the course of one night. Net proceeds benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, funding research, education, and awareness programs – both to prevent suicide and to assist those affected by suicide.

CLICK THIS LINK TO MAKE A DONATION: http://bit.ly/suicide_awareness

 

FOR MORE DETAILED INFORMATION:

On the night of June 4-5, 2011, I will join thousands of other people on an 18-mile walk as part of the Out of the Darkness Overnight, an event that raises money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The goal of this journey, which will begin at dusk and finish at dawn, is to raise funds for suicide prevention, erase the stigma surrounding suicide and its causes, to encourage those suffering from mental illness to seek treatment, and to show support for the families and friends of the 30,000 Americans who die by suicide and the 20 million people that suffer from depression each year.

I am asking for your support of this effort.

I know from my own experience of losing my dear friend Steve Snyder to suicide that serious depression and other mental illnesses can be fatal. Steve struggled with depression and tried very hard to overcome his illnesses and move forward with his life. He was loved by many, many people who were devastated by his death and his suicide. I can say with confidence that had you known Steve, your life would have been enhanced by his friendship, intellect and character. Steve’s family and friends have been forever changed by his passing.  They will continue to miss him deeply for the rest of their lives and they wrote a few words I’d like to share with you:

  • I have no words to describe how devastatingly sad this tragedy is. Rest peacefully, dear friend. You were loved and you will be missed.
  • Steve was always one of the ‘good guys’!
  • Steve you were a great soul and someone people will miss.
  • I’m gonna miss running for a thesaurus looking to find words that you wrote.
  • Steve was extremely smart, funny, witty, good-hearted and caring. The world is a better place for his time with us, and we are all better people for the time we shared with him.
  • I’m deeply saddened by this tragedy… He was my cousin and my friend… I will miss him at family gatherings; I will miss his insights, his sense of humor, and our debates about law, politics, and economics… I don’t think that there is a simple rational explanation for what happened. He will be dearly missed by those he left behind.
  • His brilliant wit and raw dissection of life led us to question everything and everyone we took for granted. We will miss Steve’s humor, wit and zest for life.
  • I remember Steve’s keen intelligence and sharp wit.
  • The world is a worse place because he is gone and like so many people I will miss him for the rest of my life.
  • Good bye Steve the world is lesser place today, but heaven is better in welcoming you.

Mr. Rogers once said, “Anything that is human is mentionable. And if it is mentionable, it can be more manageable. When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”  Too few people were willing to talk about Steve’s depression and his suicide. That’s why I’m walking in Out of the Darkness Overnight, to raise awareness and let people know it is ok to talk about suicide and mental illness. I want to do my part to prevent this tragedy from happening in other families.

By participating in this event, I hope to raise awareness of the serious threat that mental illness can pose and the treatment options that can help people overcome it. If one person can be saved from the illness that killed Steve, my efforts to walk 20 miles and to raise money for this cause will be worthwhile.

Please take a moment to read the enclosed fact sheet about suicide and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is at the forefront of many research, education, prevention and survivor initiatives. I hope you will consider supporting my participation in this event. Any contribution will help the work of AFSP. Checks should be made payable to AFSP and are 100% tax-deductible. Donations can also be made online at http://www.TheOvernight.org (select “Support a Participant” and search for my name).  Your employer may augment your donation through a matching gift program – please check your company’s policy.
Please think about how much you can give to this cause and complete the enclosed donation form today.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and for being a part of my life.  You have been a source of strength and support for me both when Steve was alive and in the long months since he died. It is only through the love and support of family and friends that we all survive.

CLICK THIS LINK TO MAKE A DONATION: http://bit.ly/suicide_awareness

Mark Hyman, MD: Cancer Research: New Science on How to Prevent and Treat Cancer From TEDMED 2010

In VICTORIES & SUCCESS STORIES on November 8, 2010 at 4:00 am

For thousands of years, cultures throughout the world have treated the human body as a systemic or holistic whole. Conversely, traditional western medicine ignores both this healing concept and the patient.  Instead, western medicine attempts to fix isolated organs and diseases.

1. The good news is, there are doctors who embrace the holistic physiological treatment approach.
2. The bad news is, it’s taken western medicine so long to get here and it will take decades to revise the medical system, reliance on target drugs, etc. if it ever happens.  (it won’t)
3.  What seems ridiculous to me is that this “treat the system” synthesis paradigm, is being held up as avant garde, new and novel by many practitioners.

I don’t know…it sort of seems to me like they are showing up 2,000 years late to the party and wearing white after labor day.  But they are excited about this “new” direction and I guess that is a way better thing to focus on than the cries of patients getting pumped full of chemo or irradiated, the tears of the patient’s family as they watch their loved ones wasting away or the futility of repeating over and over (erroneously), “there’s nothing more we can do for you.”

So the body is a system and we should treat it as such.  Right on!  Now…if only there were something other than the drugs; drugs that do nothing for the entire body and only target the broken part.  If only there were something integral to the physiological system that functioned naturally and symbiotically with the system in it’s healing process.  If only we could help that system, help that healing device and help the patient to live more healthfully.  If only…

There are currently very successful cancer treatments and adult stem cell treatments that have treated 10’s and even hundreds of thousands of patients. If only these treatments were available in the US. – dg

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Cancer Research: New Science on How to Prevent and Treat Cancer From TEDMED 2010
Mark Hyman, MD Mark Hyman, MD, Practicing physician, Posted: November 8, 2010 07:00 AM

Conventional medicine has lost its battle with cancer. But that doesn’t mean the war is over. Let me explain why we may finally be heading in the right direction.

I just returned from TEDMED, an extraordinary gathering of brilliant minds from science, medicine, business and technology–a veritable intellectual orgy. During the conference, there was a theme that emerged: synthesis.

Instead of dividing everything into diseases and labels, emerging science is pointing to a different way of thinking about diseases. The thread that ran through the conference was that disease is a systemic problem and we have to treat the system, not the symptom; the cause, not the disease. This completely redefines the whole notion of disease. The landscape of illness is changing.

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At TEDMED I spoke about a new way to define disease, to navigate the landscape of illness. It is called functional medicine, which is a systems-biology approach to personalized medicine that focuses on the underlying causes of disease. That definition of functional medicine is a mouthful. But in a word, it is the medicine of WHY, not WHAT.

Conventional medicine is focused on naming diseases based on geography, body location and specialty, instead of by the cause, mechanism or pathway involved. Doctors say you have a liver, kidney, brain or heart disease. But this approach to naming disease tells you nothing about the cause, and it is quickly becoming obsolete as we understand more about the mysteries of human biology.

Instead of asking what disease you have and what drug should be used to treat it, we must ask WHY the disease has occurred–what are the underlying causes that lead to illness and how do we look under the hood to find out what’s going on. Modern medicine is like trying to diagnose what’s wrong with your car by listening to the noises it makes without ever looking inside to see what’s going on. Functional medicine allows us to look under the hood. It gives us a method for identifying the conditions in which disease arises and shows us how to begin changing those conditions.

This shift toward a more functional, systems-based, environmental approach to treatment is happening in cancer research right now, and this change was one of the main topics explored at TEDMED this year.

Looking at Cancer a New Way: Treatment in the 21st Century

The problem with conventional cancer treatment is simply this: We look at the disease the wrong way. This reality was illustrated over and over again by the leading thinkers in the field of cancer treatment at TEDMED.

For example, Greg Lucier, Chairman of Life Technologies, talked about how thinking about specific cancers is essentially flawed. How we label cancer is no longer synced up with what we know about the origins of cancer or the fact that two people who have cancer with the same name–like breast cancer–can have two completely different diseases which require different treatments. Just because you know the name of your disease, it doesn’t mean you know what’s wrong with you or what to do about it.

Classifying tumors by body site–lung, liver, brain, breast, colon, etc.–misses the underlying causes, mechanisms and pathways involved in a particular cancer. The fact that cancer appears in a given region of the body tells us nothing about why the cancer developed in the first place. What’s more it gives us no information about how it manifested in a given patient. Two people with cancers in different parts of the body may have developed it for same reasons. Similarly, two people with cancers in the same part of the body may have developed it for different reasons. A patient with prostate cancer and one with colon cancer may have more in common with each other than two patients who have colon cancer. Historically we have practiced medicine by geography–where a disease occurs in the body. That doesn’t make scientific sense anymore. Now we have the potential to treat illness by understanding the underlying mechanisms and metabolic pathways.

These and other misconceptions about cancer and cancer treatment are leading to terrifying results. From the perspective of curative and preventive therapy, we have lost the war on cancer. Clinton Leaf explained how fancy statistics manipulate the data to show that cancer deaths are going down, while they are in fact going up. Overall cancer rates or incidence is significantly increasing. Deaths from cancer are also increasing. In 2008, there were 565,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. One in three people will get cancer in their lifetime. While few are aware that solid tumors grow slowly for 30 years before they can be detected, 17 million Americans are walking around with cancer somewhere along the continuum from initiation of a cancer cell to detectable tumor.

In the “war” on cancer, we are fighting a losing battle for one simple reason: We’re focusing on the wrong target. As a physician I was trained to focus on the tumor–to burn, poison or cut it out, and then wait, watch and pray for the cancer to stay at bay. Newer gene-targeted treatments will help to improve chemotherapy and improve survival rates, but they won’t prevent cancer in the first place or even prevent it from coming back once you’ve had it. Hope is not the only way to straddle the scary territory between remission and recurrence. There is a different way of thinking about how to treat the system, not just the cancer that holds promise for a proactive approach to helping both prevent occurrence as well as recurrence.

Tending Your Garden: Treating the Soil in Which Cancer Grows

Dr. Anna Barker, deputy director of the National Cancer Institute, explained how new groups of researchers are collaborating to think differently about cancer–to understand and treat it as a systemic problem.

The problem with cancer–one which almost no oncologists think about–is not the tumor, but the garden in which the tumor grows. In caring for a garden, if the weeds get too big, we pull them out, just as we do with cancer using conventional therapies such as chemotherapy, surgery or radiation. But then what?

Traditionally, we have focused on late-stage curative care, and in doing so, we have missed the thinking and the treatments focused on changing the underlying conditions that led to the cancer in the first place. Diet, lifestyle, thoughts, and environmental toxins all interact with our genes to change the landscape of our health.

We have been asking the wrong question about cancer. We have asked “what”: What tumor do you have? What kind of chemotherapy, surgery or radiation is needed for that tumor? What is your prognosis? Instead, we need to be asking “why” and “how”: Why did this cancer grow? How can you change the conditions that feed and support cancer-cell growth? How did the terrain of your garden become a host to such an invasive weed?

Surprisingly, scientific literature is abundant with evidence that diet, exercise, thoughts, feelings and environmental toxins all influence the initiation, growth and progression of cancer. If a nutrient-poor diet full of sugar, lack of exercise, chronic stress, persistent pollutants and heavy metals can cause cancer, could it be that a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet, physical activity, changing thoughts and reactions to stress, and detoxification might treat the garden in which cancer grows? Treat the soil, not the plant. It is a foundational principle of sustainable agriculture, and of sustainable health.

In my oncology rotation in medical school, I asked my professor what percentage of cancer was related to diet. Expecting a gracious but insignificant nod to the role of diet as a cause of cancer, I was surprised when he said that 70 percent of all cancers were related to diet. The 2008-2009 report from the President’s Cancer Panel found that we have grossly underestimated the link between environmental toxins, plastics, chemicals, and cancer risk. They have yet to acknowledge how thoughts, emotions and overall stress impact that risk–but it is sure to come. The facts that gravitate around cancer support evidence that will motivate us all to take a deeper look.

Consider this fact: Sixteen percent of all cancers are new, primary cancers in patients who have already had one cancer, not recurrences. This means that people who have cancer are more likely to get a second and independent cancer. Could it be the garden? I recently saw a patient after her third cancer, wondering what she could do to prevent cancer rather than waiting around for another one.

Consider this fact: The lifetime risk of breast cancer of those with the “breast cancer gene” or BRCA1 or 2 is presently 82 percent and increasing every year. Before 1940, the risk of getting cancer for those with the cancer gene was 24 percent. What changed? Our diet, lifestyle, and environment–both physically and emotionally. Might these factors be a better place to look for answers on how to address our cancer epidemic?

Cancers arise from a disturbance in your physiological state. Addressing that disturbance is the foundation of future cancer care. This approach might be called milieu therapy. Rather than treating cancer per se, we treat the milieu in which cancer arises.

And this is manageable. We can enhance immune function and surveillance through dietary and lifestyle changes, nutrient or phytonutrient therapies. We can facilitate our body’s own detoxification system to promote the elimination of carcinogenic compounds. We can improve hormone metabolism and reduce the carcinogenic effects of too much insulin from our high sugar and refined carbohydrate diet. We can help the detoxification of toxic estrogens through modulation of diet, lifestyle and elimination of hormone-disrupting xenobiotics or petrochemicals.

We can also alter how our genes are expressed by changing the inputs that control that expression: diet, nutrients, phytonutrients, toxins, stress and other sources of inflammation. And we can focus on less divisive and more generative thoughts that, in turn, create more uplifting emotions–all good fertilizer for the soil in the garden of our body.

The future of cancer care must use medicine’s understanding of the mechanisms of disease and we must use this information to create physiologic and metabolic balance, to design treatments that support and enhance normal physiology. The future of cancer care lies not in finding the best cocktail of chemotherapeutic agents, the right dose of radiation, or a new surgical technique, (all of which are still important and will continue to be refined) but in finding the right way to personalize treatment according to the individual imbalances in each person.

The pieces of the puzzle that hold the answers for cancer prevention and treatment are strewn about the landscape of medical science. They need only be assembled into a story that can guide clinical care. The time is ripe to accelerate this process. Thankfully, more scientists are now exploring the story of how to tend the gardens of our body, mind and soul.

To learn more about how to tend your garden and create metabolic and physiologic balance for yourself see http://www.drhyman.com.

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD

via Mark Hyman, MD: Cancer Research: New Science on How to Prevent and Treat Cancer From TEDMED 2010.

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