Mitomycin, an anti-cancer drug, at 10x magnification. By Margaret Oechsli, of Jewish Hospital, Louisville, Kentucky. Won 7th place in the 2008 Nikon Small World Competition.

Mitomycin, an anti-cancer drug, at 10x magnification. By Margaret Oechsli, of Jewish Hospital, Louisville, Kentucky. Won 7th place in the 2008 Nikon Small World Competition.

In this scanning electron micrograph, a small cancerous tumor covered in microvilli, microscopic hairlike structures which enable absorption and secretion, is shown within a human lung. (via National Geographic)

In this scanning electron micrograph, a small cancerous tumor covered in microvilli, microscopic hairlike structures which enable absorption and secretion, is shown within a human lung. (via National Geographic)

This is a photomicrograph at 1000x magnification of malignant lymphoma tumor, which displays large, loosely cohesive lymphoid cells. You can particularly see the difference in size between the lymphoma cells and the endothelial cells towards the center. (via)

This is a photomicrograph at 1000x magnification of malignant lymphoma tumor, which displays large, loosely cohesive lymphoid cells. You can particularly see the difference in size between the lymphoma cells and the endothelial cells towards the center. (via)

The Body’s Countdown to Death or Cancer
Described by some as a “doomsday clock”, every cell within the human body has a limit to the number of times it is able to safely divide, due to the telomeres on the ends of each chromosome. These telomeres act as caps on the tops of the chromosomes to protect the precious genetic material from fraying, but with every cell division these telomeres are shortened. 
Upon shrinking to a certain point, the telomere’s function is critically impaired. Technically, at this point the cell is supposed to die; however, when it continues to live, it proceeds as a cancerous cell. Now, based on recent research, scientists are hypothesizing that a drug could be developed to control the telomeres, effectively treating both cancer and aging diseases.
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The Body’s Countdown to Death or Cancer

Described by some as a “doomsday clock”, every cell within the human body has a limit to the number of times it is able to safely divide, due to the telomeres on the ends of each chromosome. These telomeres act as caps on the tops of the chromosomes to protect the precious genetic material from fraying, but with every cell division these telomeres are shortened. 

Upon shrinking to a certain point, the telomere’s function is critically impaired. Technically, at this point the cell is supposed to die; however, when it continues to live, it proceeds as a cancerous cell. Now, based on recent research, scientists are hypothesizing that a drug could be developed to control the telomeres, effectively treating both cancer and aging diseases.

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A Melanoma Cell, with mitochondria in pink and endoplasmic reticulum in yellow, surrounding a dark nucleus. Donald Bliss and Sriram Subramaniam of the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine created the image by “sandblasting” the cell with ions of the element gallium.
Won an honorable mention in National Geographic’s Science Image of the Year, 2008.

A Melanoma Cell, with mitochondria in pink and endoplasmic reticulum in yellow, surrounding a dark nucleus. Donald Bliss and Sriram Subramaniam of the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine created the image by “sandblasting” the cell with ions of the element gallium.

Won an honorable mention in National Geographic’s Science Image of the Year, 2008.

It’s nothing less than amazing what our bodies can do.

Silver as a Chemotherapy Drug
The value of silver has long been known for its beauty in jewelry, utensils, and its conductive properties. But a new property in making the headlines. Researchers have now found that the metal is just as effective as leading chemotherapy treatments, yet greatly reduces the side effects. 
Currently, cisplatin is the main drug used in the treatment of a wide range of cancers. The drug contains platinum with groups of molecules attached, creating a complex that reacts with DNA in cancer cells. These molecules that surround the platinum atom are the determining factor in how reactive and effective the treatment is. However, platinum is toxic to our systems, causing the many of the chemotherapy side-effects.
Basing her hypothesis off of previous studies indicating that silver compounds could be effective in killing cancer cells, Charlotte Willans from the Univerity of Leeds, along with her colleagues, created compound with silver atoms replacing platinum atoms. Upon attaching different types of carbene ligands to the silver atoms, the team incubated the compound with breast and colon cancer cells for almost a week, testing different concentrations of the substance.
The new compound based off of silver was concluded to be just as effective as cisplatin when it came to effectively attacking both types of cancer cells. Silver complexes which contained a ligand with two bonds proved more effective than those with a single bond, probably because they are more stable.
When implicated in biological functions, silver is far less toxic to healthy cells than platinum, making this study an important step in finding effective, non-toxic cancer treatments.

Silver as a Chemotherapy Drug

The value of silver has long been known for its beauty in jewelry, utensils, and its conductive properties. But a new property in making the headlines. Researchers have now found that the metal is just as effective as leading chemotherapy treatments, yet greatly reduces the side effects. 

Currently, cisplatin is the main drug used in the treatment of a wide range of cancers. The drug contains platinum with groups of molecules attached, creating a complex that reacts with DNA in cancer cells. These molecules that surround the platinum atom are the determining factor in how reactive and effective the treatment is. However, platinum is toxic to our systems, causing the many of the chemotherapy side-effects.

Basing her hypothesis off of previous studies indicating that silver compounds could be effective in killing cancer cells, Charlotte Willans from the Univerity of Leeds, along with her colleagues, created compound with silver atoms replacing platinum atoms. Upon attaching different types of carbene ligands to the silver atoms, the team incubated the compound with breast and colon cancer cells for almost a week, testing different concentrations of the substance.

The new compound based off of silver was concluded to be just as effective as cisplatin when it came to effectively attacking both types of cancer cells. Silver complexes which contained a ligand with two bonds proved more effective than those with a single bond, probably because they are more stable.

When implicated in biological functions, silver is far less toxic to healthy cells than platinum, making this study an important step in finding effective, non-toxic cancer treatments.


Test tubes surround a doctor doing cancer research in 1950.

Test tubes surround a doctor doing cancer research in 1950.

Melanoma Drug’s Link to Other Skin Cancers
The recently approved drug vemurafenib (Zelboraf) has been hailed as a breakthrough in the treatment of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. But roughly one-quarter of patients who take the medication develop a troublesome side effect: secondary skin cancers called squamous cell carcinomas.
Now, a new study by researchers at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues identifies the specific genetic mechanism that causes this side effect.
"What we found is that vemurafenib blocks the mutation that makes the melanoma grow, but when patients have skin cells with another mutation that’s probably induced from sun exposure, there the drug has the exact opposite effect and causes these squamous cell cancers to grow," said Dr. Antoni Ribas, co-senior author of the study and an associate professor of hematology/oncology at UCLA.
What’s more, the findings suggest that combining vemurafenib, a BRAF inhibitor, with a drug called an MEK inhibitor — which blocks the other mutation — may not only prevent this side effect, but may also lead to an even more effective melanoma treatment, Ribas said.
"It needs to be demonstrated in clinical trials, but the theory is that if we give these two medications together up front, we will be punching the melanoma where it really hurts twice, and also preventing the growth of secondary skin cancers," Ribas said.

Melanoma Drug’s Link to Other Skin Cancers

The recently approved drug vemurafenib (Zelboraf) has been hailed as a breakthrough in the treatment of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. But roughly one-quarter of patients who take the medication develop a troublesome side effect: secondary skin cancers called squamous cell carcinomas.

Now, a new study by researchers at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues identifies the specific genetic mechanism that causes this side effect.

"What we found is that vemurafenib blocks the mutation that makes the melanoma grow, but when patients have skin cells with another mutation that’s probably induced from sun exposure, there the drug has the exact opposite effect and causes these squamous cell cancers to grow," said Dr. Antoni Ribas, co-senior author of the study and an associate professor of hematology/oncology at UCLA.

What’s more, the findings suggest that combining vemurafenib, a BRAF inhibitor, with a drug called an MEK inhibitor — which blocks the other mutation — may not only prevent this side effect, but may also lead to an even more effective melanoma treatment, Ribas said.

"It needs to be demonstrated in clinical trials, but the theory is that if we give these two medications together up front, we will be punching the melanoma where it really hurts twice, and also preventing the growth of secondary skin cancers," Ribas said.

Synthetic Windpipe Is Used to Replace Cancerous One
Surgeons in Sweden have replaced the cancerous windpipe of a Maryland man with one made in a laboratory and seeded with the man’s cells.
The windpipe, or trachea, made from minuscule plastic fibers and covered in stem cells taken from the man’s bone marrow, was implanted in November. The patient, Christopher Lyles, 30, whose tracheal cancer had progressed to the point where it was considered inoperable, arrived home in Baltimore on Wednesday. It was the second procedure of its kind and the first for an American.
 
“What we did is surgically remove his malignant tumor,” Dr. Macchiarini, director of the Advanced Center for Translational Regenerative Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said. “Then we replaced the trachea with this tissue-engineered scaffold.” The Y-shaped scaffold, fashioned from nano-size fibers of a type of plastic called PET that is commonly used in soda bottles, was seeded with stem cells from Mr. Lyles’s bone marrow. It was then placed in a bioreactor — a shoebox-size container holding the stem cells in solution — and rotated like a rotisserie chicken to allow the cells to soak in.
 
After two days, it was installed in Mr. Lyles during an elaborate operation in which it was sutured to his throat and lungs. All told, the treatment cost about $450,000, Mr. Lyles said.

Synthetic Windpipe Is Used to Replace Cancerous One

Surgeons in Sweden have replaced the cancerous windpipe of a Maryland man with one made in a laboratory and seeded with the man’s cells.

The windpipe, or trachea, made from minuscule plastic fibers and covered in stem cells taken from the man’s bone marrow, was implanted in November. The patient, Christopher Lyles, 30, whose tracheal cancer had progressed to the point where it was considered inoperable, arrived home in Baltimore on Wednesday. It was the second procedure of its kind and the first for an American.

“What we did is surgically remove his malignant tumor,” Dr. Macchiarini, director of the Advanced Center for Translational Regenerative Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said. “Then we replaced the trachea with this tissue-engineered scaffold.” The Y-shaped scaffold, fashioned from nano-size fibers of a type of plastic called PET that is commonly used in soda bottles, was seeded with stem cells from Mr. Lyles’s bone marrow. It was then placed in a bioreactor — a shoebox-size container holding the stem cells in solution — and rotated like a rotisserie chicken to allow the cells to soak in.

After two days, it was installed in Mr. Lyles during an elaborate operation in which it was sutured to his throat and lungs. All told, the treatment cost about $450,000, Mr. Lyles said.

15 Top Killers of Americans (as reported by CNN)
Diseases of heart
Malignant neoplasms (cancer)
Chronic lower respiratory diseases (such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma)
Cerebrovascular diseases (stroke)
Accidents (any injuries that are unintentional)
Alzheimer’s disease
Diabetes mellitus
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis (kidney disease)
Influenza and pneumonia
Intentional self-harm (suicide)
Septicemia
Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis
Essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease
Parkinson’s disease
Pneumonitis due to solids and liquids
The leading killers of Americans continue to be non-infectious diseases like heart disease, strokes and lung diseases. But one of the perpetual causes of death fell off the top 15 list this year: Homicides.
“Most of the changes were positive,” said Sherry Murphy, a statistician at the National Center of Health Statistics and one of the authors of the annual mortality report.  “Homicides fell from among the 15 leading causes for the first time since 1965.”

15 Top Killers of Americans
(as reported by CNN)

  1. Diseases of heart
  2. Malignant neoplasms (cancer)
  3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases (such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma)
  4. Cerebrovascular diseases (stroke)
  5. Accidents (any injuries that are unintentional)
  6. Alzheimer’s disease
  7. Diabetes mellitus
  8. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis (kidney disease)
  9. Influenza and pneumonia
  10. Intentional self-harm (suicide)
  11. Septicemia
  12. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis
  13. Essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease
  14. Parkinson’s disease
  15. Pneumonitis due to solids and liquids

The leading killers of Americans continue to be non-infectious diseases like heart disease, strokes and lung diseases. But one of the perpetual causes of death fell off the top 15 list this year: Homicides.

“Most of the changes were positive,” said Sherry Murphy, a statistician at the National Center of Health Statistics and one of the authors of the annual mortality report.  “Homicides fell from among the 15 leading causes for the first time since 1965.”

Could the US Have Given Chavez Cancer? 
Five South American presidents and former presidents, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, have been recently diagnosed with cancer. Chavez speculated that US agents may be inducing the disease in South American leaders by feeding them or injecting them with an unspecified substance. The state department has rejected Chavez’s insinuation.
Can you give someone cancer? Not reliably. Injecting cancerous cells into a person isn’t enough to give him the disease. The abnormal tissue has to penetrate and grow in other areas of the body. If you injected someone with live cancer cells, their immune system would almost certainly attack and destroy the foreign tissue. In theory, secret agents might be able to induce cancer in a leftist South American president with a severely weakened immune system. Or perhaps they could harvest tissue from him, expose it to a carcinogen, and then reintroduce it into his body. As far as we know, however, these techniques have never successfully caused cancer in a human.
While it’s tough to induce cancer in an enemy, it’s certainly possible to increase his chances of developing the disease. The most effective option would be radiation. Oncologists implant radiation-emitting devices the size of a seed into some patients to combat existing cancers. It’s hard to say just how much the device would increase a healthy individual’s risk of cancer, but leaving a high-intensity model inside the body for weeks or months would result in a significant dose of radiation. The victim would likely notice the implant, though. They’re too big for an ordinary needle, and need to be inserted through a catheter.
You could, alternatively, contaminate the victim’s diet with high levels ofaflatoxin, which is associated with liver cancer. Or you could infect her or him with any of a number of cancer-causing biological agents. Helicobacter pyloricontributes to the development of gastric cancer, and human papillomaviruses can cause cervical, anal and a few other forms of cancer. But these tactics probably wouldn’t produce cancer in the short term and aren’t guaranteed to have any effect at all. In countries with high aflatoxin exposure, like China and parts of Africa, fewer than 1 in 1000 people develop liver cancer.
Most of the research on infusing cancer into humans is decades old. In the 1950s, Chester Southam gained notoriety by injecting hundreds of cancer patients and healthy prison inmates with live cancer cells. Southam wasn’t trying to give his subjects cancer. Rather, he was testing the efficiency with which the patients’ immune systems would reject the cells. He was so confident that the patients would fight off the invaders that he thought it unnecessary to tell them what he was doing. None of Southam’s patients seems to have developed metastatic cancer from his injections, and most modern oncologists believe the experiment posed little risk to the subjects. (One of the patients showed signs of a potentially spreading disease before dying of a separate illness.) Southam was sanctioned for fraudulent practices, however, and the case helped establish modern informed consent standards.
Southam’s experiments were abandoned in the 1950s, but he wasn’t the last doctor to inject a patient with live cancer cells. In 2009, a Taiwanese doctor was accused of implanting cancerous uterine cells into healthy patients as part of an insurance scam. While the insurance companies were out more than $660,000, none of the victims developed cancer.
Today, ethical physicians inject live cancer cells only into laboratory animals such as mice and rats. In most cases, the animals’ immune systems are compromised, or the rodents have been genetically engineered to rapidly spread mutant cells.

Could the US Have Given Chavez Cancer?

Five South American presidents and former presidents, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, have been recently diagnosed with cancer. Chavez speculated that US agents may be inducing the disease in South American leaders by feeding them or injecting them with an unspecified substance. The state department has rejected Chavez’s insinuation.

Can you give someone cancer? Not reliably. Injecting cancerous cells into a person isn’t enough to give him the disease. The abnormal tissue has to penetrate and grow in other areas of the body. If you injected someone with live cancer cells, their immune system would almost certainly attack and destroy the foreign tissue. In theory, secret agents might be able to induce cancer in a leftist South American president with a severely weakened immune system. Or perhaps they could harvest tissue from him, expose it to a carcinogen, and then reintroduce it into his body. As far as we know, however, these techniques have never successfully caused cancer in a human.

While it’s tough to induce cancer in an enemy, it’s certainly possible to increase his chances of developing the disease. The most effective option would be radiation. Oncologists implant radiation-emitting devices the size of a seed into some patients to combat existing cancers. It’s hard to say just how much the device would increase a healthy individual’s risk of cancer, but leaving a high-intensity model inside the body for weeks or months would result in a significant dose of radiation. The victim would likely notice the implant, though. They’re too big for an ordinary needle, and need to be inserted through a catheter.

You could, alternatively, contaminate the victim’s diet with high levels ofaflatoxin, which is associated with liver cancer. Or you could infect her or him with any of a number of cancer-causing biological agents. Helicobacter pyloricontributes to the development of gastric cancer, and human papillomaviruses can cause cervical, anal and a few other forms of cancer. But these tactics probably wouldn’t produce cancer in the short term and aren’t guaranteed to have any effect at all. In countries with high aflatoxin exposure, like China and parts of Africa, fewer than 1 in 1000 people develop liver cancer.

Most of the research on infusing cancer into humans is decades old. In the 1950s, Chester Southam gained notoriety by injecting hundreds of cancer patients and healthy prison inmates with live cancer cells. Southam wasn’t trying to give his subjects cancer. Rather, he was testing the efficiency with which the patients’ immune systems would reject the cells. He was so confident that the patients would fight off the invaders that he thought it unnecessary to tell them what he was doing. None of Southam’s patients seems to have developed metastatic cancer from his injections, and most modern oncologists believe the experiment posed little risk to the subjects. (One of the patients showed signs of a potentially spreading disease before dying of a separate illness.) Southam was sanctioned for fraudulent practices, however, and the case helped establish modern informed consent standards.

Southam’s experiments were abandoned in the 1950s, but he wasn’t the last doctor to inject a patient with live cancer cells. In 2009, a Taiwanese doctor was accused of implanting cancerous uterine cells into healthy patients as part of an insurance scam. While the insurance companies were out more than $660,000, none of the victims developed cancer.

Today, ethical physicians inject live cancer cells only into laboratory animals such as mice and rats. In most cases, the animals’ immune systems are compromised, or the rodents have been genetically engineered to rapidly spread mutant cells.