Stinging for a Cure? Wasp Venom’s Anticancer Properties

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Anyone who has tried to enjoy the summer weather knows that wasps can be a menace to fun. If you’ve ever been stung, you know just how unpleasant these small winged creatures can be, especially if you are allergic. However, sometimes help comes from the most unexpected places and wasp venom might be the next great frontier in cancer research.

Researchers have shown how wasp venom from the Brazilian social wasp Polybia paulista contains the antimicrobial peptide Polybia-MP1, which has been shown to inhibit multiple forms of cancerous cells like prostate cancer, bladder cancer, and multidrug-resistant leukemic cells. While researchers discovered the use of MP1, they had yet to discover how it kills cancer cells until now.

The new study from Biophysical Journal reveals how MP1 is able to kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells unscathed. MP1 attacks lipids on the surface of cancer cells and creates holes that allow important cell molecules to leak out. One of the study’s authors, Paul Beales, explained how, “Cancer therapies that attack the lipid composition of the cell membrane would be an entirely new class of anticancer drugs. This could be useful in developing new combination therapies where multiple drugs are used simultaneously to treat a cancer by attacking different parts of the cancer cells at the same time.”

The reason behind MP1’s special effectiveness could be how cancer cell membranes differ from normal, healthy cell membranes. MP1 creates pores large enough for critical molecules to easily escape cancer cells. Going forward, the researchers plan to experiment with a different MP1 amino acid sequences to investigate how MP1’s structure relates to its function and potentially boost its anticancer properties for therapeutic purposes.

While exciting and promising advances are in progress for Cancer treatment, there are still options available now for patients struggling with a cure. If you or someone you love is battling cancer, and you’re looking for information or help, contact your doctor at the Medical Alliance of Southern New Jersey today to discuss finding the best options available today.





Can Beta Blockers do Double Duty?

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Beta-blockers are a type of medication typically used to reduce high blood pressure. However, a new study published in Cancer suggests that there may be a new way to use beta-blockers to treat patients. Drugs oftentimes have multiple treatment options and this discovery could be a coup for ovarian cancer research. The study discovered that beta-blockers may help women with ovarian cancer survive longer.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Anil Sood from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center said, “we found that patients taking a broad, or nonselective beta blocker were the ones who derived the most benefit compared with those who were not taking a beta blocker or those who were taking a beta-1 selective medication.” Previous research suggested that stress hormones could play a big role in the cancer’s development. While beta-blockers are typically prescribed to treat heart-related conditions, they can also impact the body’s response to stress.

In another study, “the effect of epinephrine in increasing the invasive potential of ovarian cancer cells was negated by a nonselective beta-blocker called propranolol.” While some studies investigating the use of beta-blockers have conflicting conclusions, many researchers attribute this fact to small patient numbers.

The new study under Dr. Snood analyzed 1,425 women from 2000-2010 who received treatment for ovarian cancer. Of those patients, 193 women were taking beta-1 adrenergic receptor (ADRB1) selective agents beta-blockers and 76 were receiving nonselective beta antagonists beta blockers. The median survival time for patients who did not receive beta-blockers was 42 months. Patients who received any form of beta-blocker survived 47.8 months. Among patients who received nonselective beta-blockers though, the median survival time was 94.9 months—significantly higher than the median survival time for patients receiving ADRB1 at 38 months.

Researchers also found that patients with hypertension typically survived for less time than patients without hypertension. However, even patients with hypertension had a longer median survival time among nonselective beta-blocker users compared to the nonusers. Dr. Sood explained that, “To our knowledge, the current study is the first to examine the relationships with patient outcomes based on specific types of beta-blockers.” There are currently two clinical trials underway to investigate the combination of chemotherapy and variable doses of propranolol on cancer biology alongside the impact that nonselective beta-blockers have on stress modulators in patients with diagnosed ovarian cancer.

While researchers continue to test the potential success of beta-blockers for ovarian cancer patients, your team at the Medical Alliance of Southern New Jersey is committed to helping you now. If you, or someone you love, is battling ovarian cancer, call your doctor at the Medical Alliance of Southern New Jersey today to discuss their treatment plan and ways to manage some symptoms.






Reprogramming Cancer Cells: New Possibilities

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A new study in Nature Cell Biology treats cancer like a complex software program where there is a code for normal cells and a code for abnormal cells. The study suggests that there may be a way to change this code to change cancer cells back into normal cells.

Senior investigator Panos Anastasiadis is a professor of cancer biology at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. Anastasiadis says that their, “findings represent an unexpected new biology that provides the code, the software, for turning off cancer.” This discovery is based on the role of adhesion proteins, which are effectively the “glue” that keeps cells together to form tissue. The study looked at how these adhesion proteins interact with microRNAs (miRNAs)—molecules that orchestrate cell programs by regulating gene expression.

The study demonstrates that when normal cells come together, a particular group of miRNAs suppresses genes that encourage cell growth. However, this process is disrupted in tumor cells, which leads to uncontrolled growth—a trademark of cancer. When researchers restored normal miRNA signals in cancer cells, they were able to reverse this process to prevent the growth from becoming uncontrollable.

Researchers originally thought that two specific adhesion proteins, E-cadherin and p120 catenin were important for normal tissue formation and were considered tumor suppressors for a long time. However, these proteins were still found in tumor cells and were important for tumor growth. Professor Anastasiadis said that this, “led [researchers] to wonder if the molecules have two faces—a good one that helps keep normal cells behaving correctly and a bad one that drives tumor growth.”

Researchers studied a new protein called PLEKHA7 that associated with E-cadherin and p120 and found the answer. “They found that the new protein is essential for ensuring E-cadherin and p120 maintain their “good face” and stick to their tumor suppression role.” When PLEKHA7 is lost, the adhesion complex that keeps E-cadherin and p120 suppressing tumors is disrupted and the miRNAs are unregulated.

Professor Anastasiadis says they believe, “this is an early and somewhat universal event In cancer.” In the majority of human tumor samples they examined, the researchers found the adhesion complex was missing while E-cadherin and p120 were still present. Anastasiadis adds that, “this is like a speeding car that has a lot of gas (E-cadherin and p120) but no brakes (the PLEKHA7 complex) and concludes by administering the affected miRNAs in cancer cells to restoer their normal levels, we should be able to re-establish the brakes and restore normal cell function. Initial experiments in some aggressive types of cancer are indeed very promising.”

Ultimately, this new study opens up a new field for cancer research and treatment. Meanwhile, as the research progresses, contact your doctor at the Medical Alliance of Southern New Jersey today for any questions or concerns about cancer and treatment.


New Discovery: Breath Test for Liver Disease Detection

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A new study released in the journal EBioMedicine could revolutionize liver disease treatment. The study, led by the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, suggests that high levels of a natural compound called limonene in the breath could be an early sign of cirrhosis in the liver.

Lead investigator, Dr. Margaret O’Hara, explained that, “we already know that the breath of people with liver disease has a very distinct smell, and they wanted to find out what causes it. Now that we have found a biomarker for the disease in limonene, we can continue to verify how good it is for diagnosing liver disease.”

Limonene is a natural compound found in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits like lemons and oranges. The compound is also used in cosmetics, perfume, cleaning products, and candles.

Patients with liver disease rarely find out during the early stages. The symptoms tend to begin as very vague and mild. As the disease advances and the liver becomes more damaged, the symptoms are still frequently mistaken for other diseases and conditions. Many times, the symptoms include fatigue, jaundice, bleeding, swelling, bruising easily, confusion, and nausea. Cirrhosis is what happens when continuous, long-term damage scars the liver so badly that it cannot function properly. As a result, the disease leads to liver failure and cancer. The only available treatment option for patients with advanced cirrhosis of the liver is an organ transplant.

In the United States, liver cirrhosis is the 12th leading cause of death overall and the fifth leading cause of death for people aged 45-54. A recent study by Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine found that liver cirrhosis is more common in the United States than previously thought. Researchers suggest that the disease affects 633,000 adults in the U.S. population, nearly 200 thousand more than originally thought. More importantly, 69 percent of adults with the disease do not realize the have it.

This latest study began by comparing breath samples from 31 patients with liver cirrhosis to those of 30 healthy control patients. Next, researchers compared breath samples taken before and after liver transplants. The before samples came from the same 31 patients as in the first phase, and the after samples came from 11 of those patients who had liver transplants. In phase one, patients with liver cirrhosis had significantly higher levels of limonene in their breath than the healthy control patients. The second phase of the study showed that the levels of limonene gradually dropped in the transplant patients in the days following their new organ. The researchers say the high amounts of limonene are because a diseased liver cannot fully metabolize the compound.

Identifying liver disease by measuring limonene is groundbreaking because it is unambiguously associated with liver disease. The researchers envisage a future device that is a small and portable breath analyzer that can be used by regular physicians and professionals to screen for early-stage liver disease. This would lead to significantly higher survival rates and earlier treatment.

As research continues to bring new liver disease treatment options to market, our team at the Medical Alliance of Southern New Jersey is prepared to help you with any health concerns you may experience. If you have a familial history of liver disease, feel free to contact your doctor at the Medical Alliance of Southern New Jersey today to discuss your concerns.


Prostate Cancer Findings Could Revolutionize Treatment

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Scientists have made a breakthrough discovery in prostate cancer treatment that could change the way the cancer is treated. The findings, published in the journal EbioMedicine, show how prostate cancer can be separated into five unique, separate, subgroups. The discovery could open a means for more tailored and effective cancer treatments. Previously, doctors could not distinguish between any different type of prostate cancer, which led to inconsistent effectiveness in treatments. Patients had a wide array of reactions to treatments.

Professor Malcolm Mason, from Cancer Research UK, explained, “the challenge in treating prostate cancer is that it can either behave like a pussycat—growing slowly and unlikely to cause problems in a man’s lifetime—or a tiger—spreading aggressively and requiring urgent treatment. But at the moment, we have no reliable way to distinguish them. This means that some men may get treatment they do not need causing unnecessary side effects, while others might benefit from more intensive treatment.”

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in American men, and is the second leading cause of cancer death among white, African-American, and Hispanic men in the United States. The American Cancer Society predicts 220,800 new cases of prostate cancer and 27,540 deaths from the disease this year alone.

This new study was inspired by a similar breakthrough in breast cancer research back in 2010. Scientists discovered breast cancer to be at least ten different diseases with unique genetic signatures. Researchers decided to apply the same technique to prostate cancer and tested 259 men. The study found five distinct types of cancer, each with a genetic fingerprint, while studying samples of healthy and cancerous prostate tissue. The study helps predict the most aggressive cancers.

Researchers plan to confirm the study with an even bigger test group. By carrying out more research, they may be able to develop more effective ways to treat prostate cancer in the future and save more lives. In the meantime, if you are concerned about a familial history of prostate cancer and your risk, contact your doctor at the Medical Alliance of Southern New Jersey today to discuss your health history and future.



Pancreatic Cancer Urine Test Could be a Game-Changer

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Pancreatic cancer has a long history of difficulty to detect early, and treat effectively as a result. It is often very advanced by the time doctors discover it, and only 3% of patients are alive five years after diagnosis. However, a new discovery may be a big coup for doctors and patients. Doctors have found a protein “signature” that is only present in people with the disease. Cancer charities are buzzing after the findings were published in Clinical Cancer Research. The protein signature could be detected in a simple urine test.

The scientists from the UK and Spain who developed the test hope that if its early promise is realized, it could potentially diagnose patients much earlier and offer them more treatment. More than 80% of people with the disease are diagnosed when it has already spread, so they are not eligible for surgery to remove the tumor, which is the only potential cure. The new research looked at 500 urine samples. Just under 200 of the samples were from patients with pancreatic cancer, 92 from patients with chronic pancreatitis, and 87 were from healthy volunteers. The remaining samples came from patients with benign and cancerous liver and gall bladder conditions.

Out of 1500 proteins found in the urine samples, three—LYVE1, REG1A and TFF1—were seen at much higher levels in the pancreatic cancer patients, providing a “protein signature” that could identify the most common form of the disease. The signature was 90% accurate. More research is planned and scientists will focus particularly on people whose genes put them at particular risk of pancreatic cancer. People at higher risk include those with a family history of pancreatic cancer, heavy smokers, obese people, and people over 50 who are newly diagnosed with diabetes.

Co-author Professor Nick Lemoine from the Barts Cancer Institute said, “it’s really exciting because for the first time we might be able to bring forward the window of opportunity for patients with pancreatic cancer—from something that is advanced and late stage to something that is early stage and potentially curable by surgery. Patients are usually diagnosed when the cancer is already at the terminal stage, but if diagnosed at stage 2, the survival rate is 20% and at stage 1, the survival rate for patients with small tumors can go up to 60%.”

While more research is necessary and in progress, our doctors at the Medical Alliance of Southern New Jersey are excited about new breakthroughs in cancer treatment and diagnosis. If you are concerned about a family history of cancer, please contact your doctor at the Medical Alliance of Southern New Jersey today to discuss risk factors.