By Jenny Montgomery
After a long day of helping MD Anderson's researchers pursue a cure for cancer, Jared Burks, Ph.D., relaxes by custom crafting his own LEGO minifigures.
For Burks, the biggest problem with LEGOs is the limited selection of minifigures. Where's the Dr. Who collection? How about some zombie-fighting "Walking Dead" characters?
Burks' solution is to custom-craft his own minifigures. In fact, he's created thousands of them.
Life outside the leukemia research lab
An assistant professor in Leukemia and co-director of the Flow Cytometry and Cellular Imaging Core facility, Burks oversees expensive equipment shared by researchers around MD Anderson. These machines allow researchers to see, sort and analyze thousands or even millions of a person's cells very quickly.
But at the end of the day, Burks' idea of relaxing is focusing on something bigger than a cell. Like a light saber the size of a toothpick. Or a pair of goggles smaller than a thumb tack.
Recently in Cancer Research Category
By Jenny Montgomery
by Jacqueline Mason
If you've been in the dark about advances in cancer surgery, look no further than the emerging field of minimally invasive operations aided by fluorescence.
New technologies make it possible to highlight and eradicate more cancer cells in real time using fluorescent dyes and endoscopic instruments with filtered light. Patients hardly can tell the difference from traditional surgery, especially when they're spared future recurrence from otherwise hidden cancer cells.
While fluorescence isn't appropriate for every case, surgeons in Urology and Gynecologic Oncology are especially excited about two new uses.
New hope for bladder cancer patients
H. Barton Grossman, M.D., clinical professor in Urology, helped prove the effectiveness of fluorescence cystoscopy as principal investigator of a large, randomized study of bladder cancer patients in 2007.
By Jenny Montgomery
When Sara Souto Strom was growing up in Argentina, she wanted to be a mathematician. But she became a marine biologist instead. Then a cancer researcher.
That's what can happen when nothing much daunts you, not even pursuing a Ph.D. or two.
Now an associate professor in Epidemiology, she's followed a career path that looks a lot like an expedition.
Call of the wild
Strom recalls having a scientific, inquiring mind even as a child in Buenos Aires. Whether exploring the patterns of numbers or nature, Strom was drawn to discovery. When her twin sister was getting interested in boys, Strom was getting serious about zoology.
It wasn't merely the dispassionate interest of a scientist.
"I still like any animal that moves," she says. "Jellyfish, lizards, horses. Human beings, too. They all need help."
Eventually Strom set her sights on marine biology, and she spent seven years earning bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Buenos Aires.
Her research as a marine biologist led her to the discovery of a new species of one-celled protozoa -- and to her future husband. She was studying plankton on a research vessel off the coast of Antarctica when she met Gary Strom. He was the American-born first mate.
This Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General's 1964 Report on Smoking and Health, the first major statement in the United States linking smoking to lung cancer.
With more than 200,000 people diagnosed with lung cancer each year in the United States and smoking contributing to 87% of lung cancer deaths and 30% of all cancer deaths, this landmark report and the 30 subsequent Surgeon General's Reports on smoking have greatly influenced what we do here at MD Anderson.
Here are four ways the Surgeon General's Report has impacted our work and -- and our cancer patients and their families.
1. We've hired more researchers focused on smoking and cancer.
"The 1964 Surgeon General's Report set the stage for extraordinary increase in knowledge and research on tobacco and cancer that's occurred since then," says Ellen R. Gritz, Ph.D., chair of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson and an author and/or editor for nine Surgeon General's reports on smoking and tobacco.
In 2013, we shot videos covering everything from groundbreaking research to wisdom from our patients and caregivers to MD Anderson's hidden gems and major milestones. We even recorded our first music video.
Here are our five most-watched videos from the past year.
"Hold On" -- a message of hope for cancer patients
One of our doctors, Greg Lizee, Ph.D., has written and recorded a song of hope called "Hold On." We've dedicated the song to all those touched by cancer.
Watch Dr. Lizee's "Hold On" music video:
Moon Shots Program 1-year milestones
When we launched our Moon Shots Program in Sept. 2012, we vowed to significantly reduce cancer deaths for several cancers and ultimately find cures for these and other cancers. Learn about the progress we've already and what's ahead for our efforts to end cancer.
Watch the Moon Shots Program 1-year milestones video:
At MD Anderson, we're constantly looking for innovative new ways to provide the best possible cancer treatment options for our patients as we work toward our mission of Making Cancer History®. To help with this, we've enlisted a cognitive computing system powered by IBM Watson.
This technology, known as Oncology Expert Advisor™ (OEA), will soon be used by our doctors and researchers as part of our Moon Shots Program, starting with our fight against leukemia. Ultimately, we hope to use the OEA in all of our clinics to help our patients regardless of their cancer type.
By pulling together and analyzing vast amounts of information from patient and research databases, the OEA is expected to help our care teams identify and fine-tune the best possible cancer treatments for our patients, while also alerting them to problems that arise during a patient's care. The OEA is also expected to help our researchers advance new discoveries in our fight against cancer.
We recently spoke with Courtney DiNardo, M.D., assistant professor in Leukemia, who's been testing the OEA before it debuts in our leukemia clinic. Here's what she had to say.
What are the benefits
of using the OEA to organize and collect data about
The OEA can extract patient information from various data sources and synthesize all available medical records into a clear, concise and accurate synopsis. It can analyze clinical information, medical history, as well as leukemia-related information, such as specific genetic and molecular features, and look at all available information in the context of published evidence-based guidelines and available clinical trials.
by Michael Keating, M.D.
This ambitious and innovative program seeks to significantly reduce the mortality rates for several cancers -- including melanoma, triple-negative breast, high-grade serous ovarian, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), lung and prostate -- and ultimately find cures for these and other cancers.
Over the last year, the Moon Shots Program provided a tremendous boost to cancer research. My colleagues at MD Anderson and I have spent the last 12 months collaborating to make significant advancements for our patients as well as those patients not yet diagnosed.
Meaningful progress made in the
The Moon Shots Program became a reality after MD Anderson's president Ronald DePinho, M.D., issued a formidable challenge to our doctors and researchers: to develop a comprehensive action plan to significantly increase survival rates of cancer patients in the near-term and accelerate cures in the long-term.
Thyroid cancer is the number one fastest rising cancer in women. Although it accounts for about 1% of all cancers, it is becoming much more common. At least 450,000 people in the United States have completed treatment or are living with thyroid cancer.
We recently spoke with Steven Sherman, M.D., chair of Endocrine Neoplasia and Hormonal Disorders, about the rise in thyroid cancer cases, thyroid cancer symptoms, thyroid cancer diagnosis and thyroid cancer treatment. Here's what he had to say.
About 75% of people diagnosed with thyroid cancer are women. Why are women more likely than men to develop this disease?
Doctors aren't sure why more women develop thyroid cancer. All thyroid diseases are more common in women than men.
But when it comes to thyroid cancer, the difference of occurrences in gender disappears for children who have not entered puberty and older adults. So, thyroid cancer may be related to female hormones.
By Linda Ryan
Recently, I had the honor of participating in a tour of MD Anderson's campus and research facilities. I learned about the many services available to patients.
I now know that I did not fully utilize the services that were available to me when I was a cervical cancer patient. The likely reason for that is simply geography. I flew to MD Anderson for my chemo treatments and then home.
If I lived closer, I would have participated in more of the programs that I learned about, such as services offered by the Integrative Medicine Center, which range from nutrition lectures to Pilates and yoga. The patient services are endless. They also offer quiet rooms where you or your caregiver can sleep, as well as a library where patients can research their specific diagnoses. The goal seems to genuinely be to help the patient navigate cancer with many tools in their arsenal.
Learning about cancer prevention at MD Anderson
I recently read about the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Science in the most recent issue of MD Anderson's Conquest magazine.
So, I was happy that our tour took us to the Cancer
Prevention Center, which includes the Behavioral
Research and Treatment Center. They are studying how certain behaviors have
an impact on cancer prevention and recurrence. I am most interested in the
research they are doing regarding exercise and its impact on cancer.
by Mike Snyder
By nature, clinical drug trials are something of a gamble. Since the drug itself is either brand new or being used in a brand new way, there's no guarantee of the drug's effectiveness or favorable results.
This is something that we cancer patients understand from the start. In my case, the decision to participate in a clinical trial for cancer treatment wasn't tough. It was my only remaining option. My chondrosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, was inoperable, so a clinical trial was my only cancer treatment option.
Here's what some people don't realize about clinical trials: they can be stopped at any time for many reasons. Maybe the drug just isn't working, or maybe the side effects are too much of a burden. Or perhaps the drug company isn't seeing enough positive results. That's why my first clinical trial ended. The drug company found that the results from the actual drug wasn't yielding better results than the placebo.
Reasons to be hopeful
after changing clinical trials
I was actually relieved when that clinical trial ended. I'd actually been thinking about withdrawing because the side effects were brutal and my tumors weren't shrinking or stabilizing.
By Erica Quiroz, MD Anderson staff writer
Although Jamie Gilmore's cancer has relapsed three times, she's hoping the fourth time will be the charm to finally beat it.
Gilmore was first diagnosed at 14 years old with acinic cell carcinoma (ACC), a rare salivary gland cancer. But her most notable experience with ACC happened when she was 20.
She had pain on the left side of her face -- the exact spot where she had a mass removed six years earlier -- and was scheduled for surgery.
A happy surprise
"This time the tumor was all around my facial nerves," Gilmore says. "The surgery was going to be five to six hours for removal of the tumor and then another five to six hours for reconstructive surgery."
As Gilmore's husband and family waited, the anesthesiologist noticed her hormone levels were elevated.
"My mom had me on a lot of natural remedies, and I thought that was why," she says. "When the anesthesiologist came in and said I was pregnant, I was shocked."
By Val Marshall
Val Marshall's cancer journey began in May 2009, when her son Addison was diagnosed acute lymphocytic leukemia. A visit to the family doctor for what they thought was a simple high school football injury turned out to be much more.
Inspired by her son's strength and hope, Val strives to be a voice that connects other parents on this journey. Her series shares insight into her life as a mom of a typical teenager who just happens to be fighting leukemia.
Addison Marshall crush cancer
Friday, Sept. 21, was a special day, as I was invited to two very different events.
MD Anderson hosted a press conference highlighting the new Moon Shots Program, boldly defining the next frontier of cancer research. Eight diseases (lung, melanoma, breast/ovarian, prostate and several blood cancers) have been sniper-targeted for eradication in the coming decade.
True to form, MD Anderson invited family and caregivers to meet with MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D., before the press conference and be awarded assigned seats. I'm not sure if I would be impressed meeting Lady Gaga, but I was gaga over meeting Dr. D.
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- Leukemia researcher by day, LEGO designer by night
- Highlighting hope for bladder cancer, cervical cancer and endometrial cancer with fluorescence
- From cancer researcher to stomach cancer survivor
- 4 ways the Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health impacts our work
- Our 5 most-watched videos from 2013
- The future of cancer treatment and research: What IBM Watson means for our patients
- A year of progress for our Moon Shots Program
- Thyroid cancer diagnosis and treatment: What you should know
- What I learned about cancer research advances during my tour of MD Anderson
- Changing clinical trials for cancer treatment: A cancer patient's perspective
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