Monthly Archives: April 2008

See you on May 6th!

Hi everyone! I almost certainly won’t be posting anything or answering any e-mails until May 6th, after we return from our UK holiday. I asked my UK blog readers if they thought there might be an Internet cafè in Rothbury (Northumberland), and their peals of laughter floated all the way from London to my home in Florence. One of them, funny guy, said I might be able to find a telephone up there (haha!).  Okay, so no Internet café. No access to Internet for the next, gulp!, ten days or so…yikes!

Sherlock has kindly agreed to monitor my blog during this short period (so spam folks, stay away! Sciò!).

So far, the only ones who are not happy that we are going off on holiday are my four beloved cats. Especially Priscilla (my second-youngest), see photo. Oh no, she is definitely not pleased.

But we have so many friendly cat-lovers lined up to visit and feed and take care of them that I am sure they will be fine.

Take care, everyone! Ci vediamo il 6 maggio!

Qigong moves

Well, Stefano and I are leaving tomorrow (early afternoon) for Northumberland. Ooooh, I am sooooo excited!!! Puffins, here we come!  No Internet until we get back, probably. That will be hard!

Last night Peekaboo entertained us with a series of qigong moves of her own invention. I thought I would share some of the photos I took (when will I learn to take a video with my digital camera???).

First though, a couple of words on the meaning of qigong (which I practice, by the way). 

From Wikipedia:

Qigong (or ch’i kung) refers to a wide variety of traditional “cultivation” practices that involve movement and/or regulated breathing designed to be therapeutic. Qigong is practiced for health maintenance purposes, as a therapeutic intervention, as a medical profession, a spiritual path and/or component of Chinese martial arts.

The ‘qi’ in ‘qigong’ means breath or gas in Chinese, and, by extension, ‘life force’, ‘energy’ or even ‘cosmic breath’. ‘Gong’ means work applied to a discipline or the resultant level of skill, so ‘qigong’ is thus ‘breath work’ or ‘energy work’.

The first (above, left) depicts her meditation pose. Before doing any qigong exercises, she indictates, it is important to relax and meditate for a little while. 

So do some deep abdominal breathing exercises and push the negative energy downwards and away from your body, as she demonstrates with her paws in photo number one.

Then shift slowly to one side, then to the other (see photo number two, above, right) in order to relax your paws…or arms…thereby increasing your life force.

Photo number three (above, left) gives a demonstration of just how far to the side you can go with this particular qigong exercise. By the way, I would not recommend it to those who suffer from sore backs… 

Photo number four (on the right) is Peekaboo’s final move, which provides instant relaxation: 

stand on the tip of your toes, pull your paws/arms up, focus on an invisible adversary, whatever that may be (an evil cancer stem cell, perchance?) and…POUNCE!!! 

Stem cell article

Sherlock and I went to the hospital lab for blood tests very early this morning. We have been testing EGCG (in association with the ever-present curcumin) for the past seven weeks or so. Test results in mid May.

I made several (vain) attempts to answer a few e-mails and continue reading a study that I am very interested in, but I just can’t seem to wrap my brain around anything that requires any amount of intellectual effort this afternoon. Well, after all, this morning quite a bit of blood was taken out of me. Hmmm, I wonder if some of my brain cells ended up in the test-tube, too…yawn… Anyway, I will have another look at the study tomorrow morning, as I begin quietly, so as not to freak out the cats, assembling the stuff we need to pack for our trip to the UK (we leave on Friday!).

In the meantime, here is the link to a rather interesting "Economist" article (thanks, Nat!), for those of us who are interested in stem cells: http://tinyurl.com/4b86b8 Myeloma is also mentioned…

Okay, enough, my brain is fried. I need a juice. More tomorrow! 

Reviving the dead…

Life returns to normal, after a long and rather tiring weekend spent on a translation from English to Italian, which is not my forte, by the way (I do much better from Italian to English). Stefano helped me A LOT (what a guy! ). We finished at 11 p.m. last night. I think I noticed a few more white hairs than usual in the mirror this morning …but anyway, the main thing is that we did a good job and will be paid well. Indeed.
 
So I took the morning off…and went to the supermarket where I bought a TON of cat litter that should last for weeks (and we will be gone only ten days…) and then to the cat store where I spent a bucket of money on cat food.
 
Later on I am going to read at least one study, but for now I will report on a bit of quick and easy news that I read this morning in the “Times of India” (http://tinyurl.com/4tyq5v). Another discovery about the wonders of curcumin: Researchers at New Delhi’s Jamia Hamdard University have successfully used curcumin – extracted from turmeric and broken into nano form – to control and cure cirrhosis of liver in an animal model experiment. “Nano,” huh?  How “nano” were these nanoparticles, I wonder? Well, even though the jury is still out on the nano-stuff, in this case the nanocurcumin appears to have worked. Interesting.
 
And here is another interesting bit: It was found that when used in large doses, turmeric wasn’t particularly useful. But broken into nano particles, it worked wonders. It even reversed cirrhosis which is incurable,” said S Ahmad, vice-chancellor of Jamia Hamdard.
 
It reversed the…irreversible? Wowie! I imagine, by the way, that the researcher was referring to “curcumin,” not “turmeric.” Well, I suppose I will have to read the study at some point.
 
Then we read: The curcumin extract is an anti-oxidant that helps revive dead cells. It acts as a repairing agent and can regenerate cells that have broken up into nodules..
 
Helps revive dead cells, huh? Well, well…well!

At the finish line!

Well, another couple of hours, and I should be done. This was a team effort, actually, since Stefano did all the graphics for me. I merely (!) translated the text. Now we have to reread it and make sure it makes sense. The worst is over.

So things should be back to normal tomorrow. I feel as though I have run a marathon, but it was worth it. And I have learned a lot about market strategies and trends…outsourcing…quotas…ZZZzzzzzzzzzzz…!

Pazienza!

Yesterday I was offered a big translation that I couldn’t refuse to do. Mainly, let’s be honest, because we need the extra bit of money (all that cat food adds up, y’know ). This means, though, that I won’t be doing much, if any!, research from now until May 5th, which is the day Stefano and I get back from our British holiday (we leave next Friday, April 25th, yippee!).

So if I don’t answer your messages promptly (or at all!), please excuse me. I am simply a bit overwhelmed at the moment.

And who knows? I may translate faster than I think…hmmm, but the English text (that I must translate into Italian) is all about marketing and sourcing…things about which I know zilch. I had a slight panic attack yesterday, in fact, but I know how bad stress is for us (myeloma folks), so I have simply decided that I will meet the deadline, and all will be well. Punto e basta.

Okay, off I go. I have work to do! Thank you for your patience! 

Notching cancer stem cells

A few days ago I made some connections between a couple of items that I read online and an "old" post of mine. I am still in the "could this possibly be true?!" stage (more like a daze, really). At any rate, I will anticipate a few of my findings today, even though I have only just begun my research on this topic and still have a few things up my sleeve. But let me proceed in chronological order.
 
On April 12th and then on April 14th, I read two Science Daily articles (http://tinyurl.com/4gcjyc and http://tinyurl.com/5h9jom) that reminded me of a rather superficial post I had written on Notch signalling last fall. That’s what started it.

But first, what is Notch signalling? The Science Daily articles tell us that the Notch pathway sends signals from a cell’s surface membrane into its nucleus. Those signals activate genes that instruct the cell to make proteins that perform various tasks. It helps regulate fetal development and is active in most organ systems throughout a person’s life.

A 2005 Science Daily article (http://tinyurl.com/55xlyx) discusses the role of Notch signalling in the development of T cells: no Notch = no T cells, it would seem. So this is a vital pathway. That is, as long as it doesn’t go whacky. But it does, sometimes.

Abnormal increases in Notch signalling can give rise to T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemias, and these increases are present in other cancers as well (myeloma is no exception, hah, figures!): Prior work has shown that increases in signals generated by Notch are important in certain human tumors, particularly some kinds of childhood leukemia, making Notch an attractive target for new cancer therapies.
 
Big problem, though: researchers were concerned that Notch inhibition might have a negative effect on the normal functioning of the healthy stem cells present in the bone marrow. Another “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation? Would the inhibition of Notch end up actually destroying the bone marrow? A very scary thought, based on the fact that Many scientists have long assumed that blood-forming stem cells need Notch signals to function properly. But let me note that this sentence was written a couple of years ago. Things have changed in the meantime.
 
A group of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and colleagues has recently demonstrated that inhibition of Notch signalling will not mess up our healthy stem cells. They discovered that the Notch signaling pathway, which determines the development of many cell types, and is also implicated in some cancers, is not universally essential for the maintenance of stem cells. In fact, adult bone marrow stem cells do not require Notch signals. Super!

The University of Michigan Medical School has therefore begun a “groundbreaking trial” that combines chemotherapy with Notch inhibitors: The aim is to use so-called Notch inhibitors to attack cancer stem cells, the small fraction of stem cells inside a tumor that help it survive and that fuel its growth.

Let me highlight this sentence: Notch inhibitors attack cancer stem cells.

Okay, and here is my bombshell of the day…

Curcumin inhibits Notch signalling.  

Blast, heat and cook…

Even though it may seem that I am beginning to be obsessed with the evils of nanotechnology, I want to post about a story I read when I got back from work today. A story that concerned me. In fact, the more I read about nanoparticles and nanotechnology, the more I feel troubled. Things are just happening too quickly. We start with probably toxic nano-socks and stain-resistant nano-khakis and end up with nanoparticles being shot into tumours, which are then “cooked” with “harmless radio waves.” But are these waves really so harmless? And what about the nanoparticles travelling through us?
 
I went to read the story (the link was provided by a myeloma list member, by the way): http://tinyurl.com/4ldegs This page also provides a link to another page, which lists the potential dangers of nanotechnology: http://tinyurl.com/52xrge (Oh, and this story, that I learned about through a different list member/also friend, was featured on 60 Minutes on April 13th, see here: http://tinyurl.com/4buscb)
 
Let’s look at the first link…first. This type of cancer treatment is said to be noninvasive, and uses nontoxic radio waves combined with gold or carbon nanoparticles, which have a long history of medical use. A long history of medical use? Really? Let’s read on: Nanoparticles made of gold, carbon and other materials can move through the bloodstream and through cell walls, allowing for efficient drug delivery, or to act like a homing devices for research purposes.
 
Now, I don’t know about you, but I am not thrilled at the idea of any of these itsy bitsy particles travelling through my bloodstream. Hmmm. 
 
Then, When the gold nanoparticles are inside the malignancy, a blast from a radio-frequency generator causes them to heat and cook the cancer cells. Blast, heat and cook? Am I the only one who finds this alarming?
 
The lead researcher thinks that human trials could begin within three years. The cancer treatment thus far has been tested only on animals (sigh!) and human cells. It apparently ignores healthy cells, but that depends on the type of cancer. There were also no “noticeable” side effects. Well, duuuh!, that’s because the side effects were…nano-effects! 
 
The second link takes us to an article written in 2005 about the potential hazards of nanotechnology. A scary (to me) sentence depicts these particles as just atoms wide and small enough to easily penetrate cells in lungs, brains and other organs.
 
A lot of money is being invested in this technology (the U.S. federal government was spending about $1 billion/year on nanotechnology back in 2005, I tremble to think of what that amount is today), but how much is being invested in safety tests? A fraction, apparently.

The other day I read a Science Daily article on the dangers posed by nanotubes, and it just so happens that today’s article points out that these nanotubes have been found to be toxic to animal cells and that There are fears that exposure can cause breathing problems, as occurs with some other ultrafine particles, that nanoparticles could be inhaled through the nose, wreaking unknown havoc on brain cells, or that nanotubes placed on the skin could damage DNA. Aren’t we surrounded by enough human-created pollution? Why introduce more of it into our bodies…?

Not to speak about the possible, indeed probable damage to the environment.

But who cares about the environment? So what if this nanostuff gets into our water, into our food and, indeed, under our skin (via innocent-looking sunscreen; by the way, for a list of sunscreen products that contain or may contain nanogunk, go to http://tinyurl.com/3vz5rc, which is also the website from which I got the image on the left)?

After all, the goal of business is to make a profit, right?

Immortal?

My blog reader/friend Paul raised a very interesting question, for which I didn’t have a satisfactory answer, so I asked the general MMA myeloma patients list (link here on the right-hand side). Based on his comment (see my recent post on zerumbone), my question was: do cancer stem cells die?

I received more or less the following answer (in italics; I edited small parts of it) from a list member/doctor who takes cyclopamine and knows a lot about stem cells:

Stem cells, whether healthy or cancerous, are supposed to last a lifetime. Do some die off? Yes. For instance, the main reason people age is that they gradually lose their healthy stem cells.
 
But cancer stem cells have a lot of telomerase, which keeps their telomeres long, and keeps them essentially immortal. Cyclopamine (extracted from the corn lily, see photo) causes the cancerous stem cells to differentiate and turn into mature cancer cells without making more copies of cancer stem cells. (Aha!)
 
Now, mature cancer cells (plasma cells in myeloma) do die off. They are not immortal. So, in theory, if you kill off all the cancer stem cells, then eventually the cancer cells die, too. This is the basis of using cyclopamine
 
Some research shows that some cancer cells may be able to turn back into cancer stem cells. That could be a problem, but if you target both the cancer stem cells and the mature cancer cells, then the problem is solved. Of course, continuous treatment of the cancer stem cell would also take care of the problem.
 
In a nutshell, then, cancer stem cells are immortal. But if we manage to block certain signalling pathways, we can turn them into mortal cancer cells. My haematologist said that myeloma cells may live for weeks or even months. That depends on a lot of factors. But eventually, they kick the bucket. This makes me wonder if zerumbone has the same effect that cyclopamine has on cancer stem cells…that is, does it turn them into regular cancer cells? Good question. No answer…yet.

Fascinating topic. In addition, Paul’s comment led me to make a series of connections that I had begun to make some months ago, but then had set aside only to rediscover this morning. Thank you so much, Paul!

Oh, I do hope my current bit of research will lead to some useful information. Okay, I have to go feed my cats now.

Conventional doctors turn holistic

I am taking a break from zerumbone today, except for leaving a few comments on yesterday’s post. I will instead have a look at a recent Cancer Compass article (http://tinyurl.com/4a4wxe), which begins with the description of a Reiki session. I have never had any formal training in meditation or participated in a Reiki class, but I have created my own form of meditation and sometimes use Reiki music to help clear my mind of the daily clutter. Very helpful.
 
As the article suggests, Reiki is part of what is called complementary treatment or integrative medicine, which combines conventional and alternative treatments. Some hospitals are now offering complementary and even alternative treatments to patients. Extraordinary, don’t you think?
 
And some doctors are following courses in integrative medicine, like Dr. Edward Planz, a heart surgeon, who graduated from an Internet-based two-year fellowship in integrative medicine through the University of Arizona. What inspired him to explore this field were his bypass patients’ questions about supplements and other forms of alternative medicine. Since he couldn’t give come up with any answers, he studied mind-body interactions, nutrition and botanicals. A doctor after my own heart (pun intended…)! This proves how vital it is for us (patients) to ask our doctors challenging questions.
 
There is another good example in the article. Dr. Edmond Zlotea, whose approach is to take care of the whole person — structural, nutritional and emotional. […] Stress, he said, is one of the major causes of illness. […] "It’s like peeling layers of an onion," Zlotea said. " … The onion’s not too healthy on the outside, but it is on the inside. You just have to peel the layers of stress from the onion."
 
The article points out that taking this attitude, a holistic attitude, gets doctors into trouble with the pharmaceutical industry. As Dr. Zlotea points out, pharmaceutical companies have turned something that’s supposed to be about healing into a business." No kidding. 
 
Well, the times, they are a’changing…or at least may be a’changing…after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day…!