February 2012 Archives

Progress in Pain Relief Research, Inspired by the Children

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By Howard Gutstein, M.D.,


About 20 years ago, I started medical practice with no intention of pursuing research.


 As the most junior person, I was asked to take care of children with cancer pain. I quickly realized that this was because no one else wanted to do it. The agony that these children endured could be incredible.


124705_Gutstein_H web.jpgSome patients were nearly impossible to treat. In a few cases, children effectively had  to be put under general anesthesia to relieve their suffering.


I decided to try and do something more to help these kids. I moved to the University of Michigan and while continuing to take care of children, became a postdoctoral fellow in the research lab of Huda Akil, Ph.D., a noted pain researcher. Many years with her taught me not only research methods, but how to rigorously, creatively, and fearlessly approach even the most daunting scientific problems.


From that time forward, I focused my energies on trying to find more effective ways to relieve pain and suffering.  Today, I'm a professor in MD Anderson's Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine with an appointment in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.


For thousands of years, the most effective treatment for severe pain has been opioid narcotics such as morphine.





The Sixth International Conference on SUMO, Ubiquitin, UBL Proteins:  Implications for Human Diseases was held at the Dan Duncan building at MD Anderson Cancer Center from Feb. 8 to 11, 2012.  This biennial meeting has been organized by Edward T.H. Yeh, M.D., Chair of the Department of Cardiology since 2002.

Yeh SUMO post.jpgMore than 275 scientists from 18 countries participated in this exciting event that is internationally recognized as the most distinguished SUMO meeting.  

SUMO (small Ubiquitin-like modifier) was discovered in Yeh's laboratory in 1996 and has become a major post-translational protein modification pathway that plays an important role in cancer, inflammation, heart and neuro-degenerative diseases.

"There used to be so little known about SUMO. Now, a protein is assumed to be SUMOylated until proved otherwise," Yeh said.

MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D., welcomed the participants with his vision on cancer research and the bold endeavor that MD Anderson is undertaking. 

Nobel Laureates Avram Hershko, M.D., Ph.D., and Aaron Ciechanover, M.D., Ph.D., both of the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, winners of the 2004 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their discoveries in ubiquitin, discussed their latest research. 

High Platelets = Lowered Survival for Ovarian Cancer Patients

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It started with a clinical observation: Why do so many ovarian cancer patients have such high levels of circulating platelets?  As it turns out, this characteristic of cancer patients in general has been noted one way or another since 1867.  But no one had explained it until now.

In this week's New England Journal of Medicine, Anil Sood, M.D., professor in MD Anderson's departments of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine and Cancer Biology, and colleagues report the details of a vicious cycle: Tumors set off a chain reaction that spurs production of platelets, which in turn feed tumor growth, and so on and on.

"Our collaborative study not only identified a mechanism that explains platelet count elevation, but also connects this state, called thrombocytosis, to the severity of ovarian cancer," Sood said. "This suggests drugs that interfere with coagulation might be a useful addition to conventional therapies."

Of 619 ovarian cancer patients, 192 (31 percent) had thrombocytosis. Importantly, less than 2 percent of those had an iron deficiency or a non-cancerous inflammatory condition, the two most common causes of elevated platelet levels.

Patients with thrombocytosis survived for a median of 2.62 years, compared to 4.65 years for those with normal platelet counts.

grandjean ovarian GE.JPG

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center graduate student Geoffrey Grandjean's image of ovarian cancer cells is visually striking, scientifically important and coming soon to Times Square in New York.


Grandjean, a graduate research assistant in Experimental Therapeutics and an artist, won a national contest sponsored by GE Healthcare with the image, which features cell nuclei stained red entangled in microtubules - the scaffolding of cells - stained green.


His image, and those of the winners from Europe and Asia, will be shown repeatedly on the NBC Universal HD screen April 20-22. View image 


"Geoff is a talented, unique individual," says Garth Powis, D.Phil., professor and chair for Experimental Therapeutics and Grandjean's mentor. "He is a graduate student working to discover new cancer drugs and as a hobby he paints oil paintings. His creative eye combined with his scientific knowledge allowed him to capture this great image using cutting-edge optical equipment from GE, which, incidentally, is helping us in our quest to develop new cancer treatments for our patients."


A doctoral student in The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Grandjean submitted an image of ovarian cancer cells after a gene involved in cell division has been blocked by small interfering RNA (siRNA).


The incidence of testicular cancer has increased steadily in recent years, but the cause has been elusive. MD Anderson Cancer Center scientists published research in mice Monday indicating that DNA-damaging agents might be the culprits.

Male fetuses of mothers exposed to radiation during early pregnancy had an increased chance of developing testicular cancer, according to their article in the online journal PLoS ONE.

The study is the first to find an environmental cause for testicular germ cell tumors. "This discovery launches a major shift in the current research model, placing DNA-damaging agents in the forefront as likely mediators of testicular cancer induction," said corresponding author Gunapala Shetty, Ph.D., assistant professor in MD Anderson's Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology.

Discover's top 2011 stories include new melanoma therapy

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By Leslie Loddeke, Publications Coordinator, Melanoma Medical Oncology Department

Read between the lines and you'll find an MD Anderson Cancer Center connection to one of Discover's top 100 stories of 2011, announced in the magazine's January-February 2012 special issue.

The connection lies within top story No. 60, "New Treatments Slow Deadly Skin Cancer," summed up in Discover's words: "Two treatments that boost the immune system improve survival rates and slow cancer growth in late-stage melanoma patients." #60: New Treatments Slow Deadly Skin Cancer | Cancer | DISCOVER Magazine

The second therapy is described as "a separate clinical trial (that) paired a novel melanoma vaccine with an immune-stimulating agent called interleuken-2," whose "net result, published in June," showed that "the combination therapy increased survival by about six months compared with interleukin-2 treatment alone."

MD Anderson Experts Review Leukemia, Lymphoma, Multiple Myeloma Progress

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Andrew Schorr is a pioneer in health communications and patient education and, along the way, became a patient himself. Andrew was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, in 1996 and participated in a Phase II clinical trial at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Andrew's mission is to help patients and family members learn more about their health concerns so they can make informed decisions and feel in control. His Patient Power web series is a reflection of his passion.

Andrew interviewed four  MD Anderson physicians at the 2011 American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting held December 10-13 in San Diego. Interviews have been posted online periodically through Feb. 7.

Robert Orlowski, M.D., head of the myeloma section in MD Anderson's Department of Lymphoma and Myeloma, details a number of updates from the meeting. He explains data presented regarding newer drugs carfilzomib and bortezomib and a range of studies looking at consolidation and maintenance therapy following a stem cell transplant.

Dr. Robert Orlowski also talks about MEK Inhibitors for Multiple Myeloma

Update on Kinase Inhibitors for CLL: Where Are We Now?
 Kinase inhibitors, a newer approach to fighting blood cancers, have been making major strides throughout 2011 for the treatment of CLL. Susan O'Brien, M.D., professor in MD Anderson's Department of Leukemia and an investigator of this approach, gives an update on the ongoing trials for CAL-101 and PCI-32765. 


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