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School of Medicine
Conquest - Advances in Cancer Research, Treatment and Prevention
Making the Connection 2001-2008
Advances in Cancer Research, Treatment and Prevention
Date: April 20, 2010
CRF Making Headlines in 2004
DHMH STUDY REPORTS DROPS IN SMOKING RATES
Smoking rates for Maryland’s adults and teens declined significantly over a twoyear
period, according to a study by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Among those under 18, smoking dropped by 14 percent. For adults, smoking declined by 9 percent. Study results were reported in the Baltimore Sun on January 15, 2004.
For their report, department of health researchers interviewed more than 66,000 middle and high school students and 15,000 adults statewide between 2000 and 2002.
“Maryland is one of the most progressive states in tobacco prevention,” said FRANCIS STILLMAN, a CRF investigator focusing on smoking cessation. “The smoking decreases the study identified were significant, particularly among young people.” According to the
study, just under 20 percent of Maryland adults smoke, about 3 percent lower than
the national average. For those under 18, smoking rates dropped from 21.4 percent
in 2000 to 18.4 percent in 2002. Maryland’s tobacco control programs are supported by the Cigarette Restitution Fund. ?
MARYLAND’S ELECTED OFFICIALS HONOR TOBACCO SETTLEMENT
An article in the January 15, 2004, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine
reported on many states use of tobacco settlement funds to fill budget gaps. “It’s moral treason,” said Mississippi attorney general Michael Moore. “It’s unfortunate that more states were not committed to cancer control. The losers are the people in states were legislators have chosen to spend the money on budget deficits instead of long-term investment in health.” Maryland used the settlement as it was intended, and is seen as a national model, establishing the Cigarette Restitution Fund to for cancer research, education and screening. ?
REPORT ON BREAST CANCER
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies released a new report: Saving
Women’s Lives: Strategies for Improving Breast Cancer Detection and Diagnosis.
The report, authored by a diverse committee comprising the world’s leading
experts on breast cancer detection, including Kimmel Cancer Center director and CRF co-director MARTIN ABELOFF, M.D. , is the most in-depth examination to date of what can be done to improve breast cancer screening and detection services in the United States. The committee’s recommendations provide a blueprint for expanding and
enhancing the quality of breast cancer screening. ?
TAKING THE CRF MESSAGE TO THE HILL
CRF investigator LES HANAKAHI, PH.D. , was part of a Hopkins delegation to travel to Capitol Hill for Science Coalition Day. She pleaded the case for basic science, as well as the CRF, to Maryland’s senators and representatives. Hanakahi has received a CRF grant to study a DNA repair mechanism believed key to maintaining genetic integrity.
She is using what she’s learned about this biological process, called non-homologous
end joining, to make cancer DNA unstable and more susceptible to death. Hanakahi told lawmakers that continued research is key to controlling cancer incidence and death rates in Maryland. ?
ELLEN SILBERGELD IS NOT “TOO CHICKEN” TO TELL IT LIKE IT IS
ELLEN SILBERGELD says the poultry industry’s widespread use of drugs to raise
chickens is exposing people who eat them to more arsenic than previously reported.
The May 4, 2004, Baltimore Sun reported on the findings of CRF investigator Ellen Silbergeld, a toxicologist who won the MacArthur Foundation “genius award” for prior work linking mercury poisoning with infectious diseases. Arsenic-laced drugs, designed to keep chickens healthy, might increase cancer risks for consumers and create manure
that is contaminating Maryland’s Eastern Shore ground water, according to Silbergeld’s research. Despite disagreement from the government and poultry groups, she’s not about to let up. She charges that the USDA underestimated the amount of arsenic found in chickens and used outdated data to estimate the health risks of ingesting arsenic in a
report issued last January. While a spokesman for the poultry industry calls Silbergeld’s concerns about arsenic unfounded, Silbergeld says they could have major implications for the Eastern Shore, where 10 percent of the nation’s poultry is raised.
MOLECULAR “MAGNET” MAY BE NEW DIAGNOSTIC TOOL FOR CANCER
A new molecular tool dubbed “LigAmp” appears to be able to pinpoint DNA mutations among thousands of cells, making it possible to detect microscopic cancer and even HIV drug resistance. The test works by creating a molecular “magnet” that attaches itself to DNA mistakes known as point mutations. Once attached, it inserts a bacterial gene
that produces a fluorescent color visible to physicians through special computerized
equipment. “The molecular code of normal cells may look identical to cancer cells except for a single rung in the DNA ladder structure. This test finds that one defective rung,” says CRF investigator JAMES ESHLEMAN, M.D. , P H . D. , an expert on DNA diagnostics. Eshleman says such a test would be useful in monitoring for cancer in high-risk patients, detecting cancer recurrences early and treating HIV patients.
DRUG STABILIZES SPREAD OF PROSTATE CANCER
CRF investigator MICHAEL CARDUCCI , M.D. , reported that the drug atrasentan
stabilizes the spread of cancer in many men with advanced prostate cancer who have stopped responding to hormone therapy. The three-year international study of more than 1,000 men opens the door to potential new treatment options for this subset of patients. “Some of these men are looking for less-toxic alternatives to chemotherapy at this point in their lives,” says Carducci. “By keeping the cancer from spreading to the bone, atrasentan
can help prevent their pain and potentially postpone when they will need more aggressive treatment,” he says. ?
HIGH BLOOD TESTOSTERONE= INCREASED PROSTATE CANCER RISK
Men over 50 years of age with high blood levels of testosterone have an increased risk of prostate cancer, according to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging. The finding throws some doubt on the safety of testosterone replacement therapy, the investigators say. The researchers, including CRF investigator
ELIZABETH PLATZ, PH.D. , measured several forms of testosterone in almost 3,000 blood samples collected over a 40-year period from 759 men in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging, of whom 111 were diagnosed with prostate cancer. One form of testosterone, called free testosterone, which is biologically active and can actually be used by the prostate, was found to be associated with increased prostate cancer risk. ?
BLOOD TEST FOR LIVER CANCER RISK
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center scientists led by JOHN GROOPMAN, PH.D. , Johns Hopkins CRF co-director developed a blood test that can predict some future cases of liver cancer in hepatitis B patients. The test is based on a biomarker that detects mutations in the hepatitis B virus (HBV) that tend to speed up cancer development in people who test positive for the virus. “We can use this biomarker to identify patients who
may be good candidates for liver cancer prevention studies,” says Groopman. ?
SWITCHED-OFF GENES PUT BRAKES ON CANCER
CRF researcher STEPHEN BAYLIN, M.D., and team identified a switched-off family
of genes that may put a significant and early dent in a colon cell’s anti-cancer armor. The inactivated genes, called SFRPs—for secreted frizzled-related protein—put the brake on a pathway of cell-growth genes that is an early step in the cancer process.
Because of the way SFRP genes are altered—through the attachment of socalled methyl groups—it is reversible, the findings, reported in the March 14, 2004, advance online edition of Nature Genetics, also suggest potential anti-cancer value in green tea and other compounds that affect methylation. ?
NEW CANCER GENE TARGET
A CRF investigator identified mutations in a gene known as PIK3CA and linked them to the progression of colon and other cancers. Their discovery identifies this gene as one of the most highly mutated genes in human cancer that could serve as a target for new cancer
therapies and diagnostic tests. The PIK3CA gene is part of a family of genes that encode lipid kinases, enzymes that modify fatty molecules and direct cells to grow, change shape or move. “Kinases have been the focus of recent drug development strategies, with some kinaseinhibiting compounds, like Gleevec and Herceptin, already being used in patients
to block tumor growth,” says VICTOR VELCULESCU, M.D. , who led the study.
Velculescu and team are now studying the role of the gene in tumor progression more
closely and working to identify drugs to target tumors with the mutation. ?
INFLAMMATION MARKER PREDICTS COLON CANCER
C-reactive protein (CRP)--a marker of inflammation circulating in the blood already associated with increased risk of heart disease—can also be used to identify a person’s risk of developing colon cancer, according to a Johns Hopkins study directed by CRF investigator THOMAS “TATE” P. ERLINGER, M.D., M.P. H . Results of the study, published in the Feb. 4, 2004, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that over an 11-year period, people with higher levels of CRP in their blood (a
median of 2.44 milligrams per liter) were more likely to develop colorectal cancers than those with low levels of CRP (a median of 1.94 mg/L). It’s not clear yet how or whether
measuring C-reactive protein would fit into current screening and prevention strategies for colorectal cancer. Further studies are aimed at answering these questions and helping to clarify the mechanism by which inflammation increases the risk of cancer.