Monthly Archives: September 2011

Cytomegalovirus and myeloma…

Today I got caught up with my Science Daily articles, one of which triggered my curiosity: http://goo.gl/Ogr7B Now this is really really REALLY interesting: if you TREAT cytomegalovirus, a really crappydappydangerous type of virus that 70-75% of us adults have inside of us (luckily, it remains dormant in most cases), you can REDUCE the growth of brain tumours. Note: 92% of brain tumours are infected with cytomegalovirus, or CMV. Wow…as soon as I read that, I rushed to consult PubMed, the main source I use in my research. Not surprisingly, when I did a search for CMV and myeloma, I found some interesting abstracts…

It turns out that myeloma patients who have received chemotherapy treatments and stem cell transplants are at risk of awakening this terrible virus. The consequences can be scary, even devastating…

Here follows a selection of some of these studies…

This one concerns patients who have received chemo treatments but not stem cell transplants: http://goo.gl/WXOO7 

Infections in myeloma patients undergoing stem cell transplants are discussed here: http://goo.gl/IWfc9

This full study shows how different treatments put patients at risk for different infections: http://goo.gl/VTqWg

A fatal case of myeloma and CMV (full study): http://goo.gl/z2Npw Scary…

I’ll stop here, but you can find other studies on PubMed if you’re interested in the topic…

The viral connection pops up again…and again…When I get back to Florence, I have some work to do…

UPDATE: as I was fishing around on PubMed for natural ways to combat CMV, I found an abstract on the wonders of caprylic acid, which I’d never heard of before but apparently can be found in the milk of some mammals and in coconut oil…Here is the link: http://goo.gl/UNZsn Note: this stuff is used to treat candida (Paul, what do you think?)…Hmmm…

Bits and pieces here and there…

Some blog readers have been sending me, or I’ve come across on my own, some interesting titbits…Completely different topics, as you will see. Lots of food for thought, today…

The first, http://goo.gl/Mfllc, is a link to an article announcing the findings of researchers at the Keck School of Medicine. In a nutshell, they discovered that NF-kappaB, the infamous signaling pathway that we have been known about for years, not only contributes to disease progression in myeloma, but also contributes to the development of resistance to some of the commonly used drugs for the disease. Well, to be super honest, that doesn’t ring any new bells of surprise inside my jet-lagged brain. I mean, I’ve known and written about hopped-up NF-kappaB since I began blogging…So what’s the novelty? I’m not entirely sure. Hmmm…At any rate, the article does contain a very interesting description of what happens in the early stages of myeloma, how myeloma cells become independent of IL-6 (=another one of the superdupersnuper bad guys!), and how NF-kappaB makes myeloma cells resistant to conventional treatments, in particular dexamethasone. Please take note of the herpes virus discussion…This was actually the most interesting part for me since, as you know, I’m convinced that at least for some of us there might be a viral connection…

The next link, http://goo.gl/R23dm, will take you to a September 22nd article discussing the importance of spicing up your diet. Yes indeedie! I wish I’d known that years ago, sigh….Anyway, please read the part in which Prof. Aggarwal discusses gene therapy, which is currently a huge focus in myeloma research. I have to say that I agree with him…I find it interesting (gene research, I mean), but that’s it…

This Science Daily article will be of huge interest to those who have low platelets and are currently undergoing chemo (and to others, too, methinks): http://goo.gl/wOrrm

And finally, thanks to Cathy, here’s a fascinating article on happiness, stress and whatnot, titled “Eat, Smoke, Meditate: Why Your Brain Cares How You Cope”: http://goo.gl/wOrrm

Honey and lung infections…

Thanks to Paula from NZ, I read an interesting bit of news this morning (hey, hello Cape Cod, Massachusetts! :) ): http://goo.gl/fWxkt, This link will take you to a media release about what is believed to be the world’s largest programme of research on the medical uses of honey. Wow, I’ll have to keep an eye on this…

Speaking of infections and honey, I seemed to have turned the corner (knocking on wood!)…that is, I feel MUCH better this morning…could have been the high-grade Manuka honey that I began taking yesterday or the fabulous soup we ate last night (my hand slipped a bit with the hot red pepper, though, mammamiaitwashot!)…Whatever, I feel almost human again now. 😉

Early this morning I had a Skype call with Stefano and the kitties. A video call. Amazing what technology can do, eh… :) Anyway, I called out to my furry babies lying on their cat tree (conveniently located behind Stefano’s desk)…They looked a bit puzzled at first, I must say. But Piccolo did get very alert…he sat up and looked straight at the computer screen from his perch. No idea what he was thinking, but we believe that he recognized my voice. Peekaboo actually got out of the hammock and jumped up on Stefano’s desk, focusing her big blue eyes on me (video “me”) for a few seconds before deciding that that was boring. Pinga instead struggled in Stefano’s arms and would have no part in it. She didn’t even glance at the screen…Oh it was so great to see them, though. Note: this is the first time I’ve ever used Skype…but it certainly will not be the last! Fun! :)

Back in the U.S.A.

Just a quick note to explain that I haven’t posted until now because my parents’ Internet service was disconnected this summer, and it took a couple of days to get a technician out here to hook us up again. Eh…

Let’s see. Nothing much to tell, except that, unfortunately, there were a number of people sneezing and coughing on the flight to Boston. This meant that I’ve developed a huge head cold, since clearly my lovely cough wasn’t enough to keep me “entertained.” 😉 Oh well. Anyway, it hasn’t stopped me from being active and doing stuff, including preparing a healthy veggie and bean soup with ginger, cumin, hot red pepper, turmeric and other healthful spices for dinner tonight. And I’m taking heaps of stuff, including Manuka honey and herbal teas…and also antibiotics and cortisone…I’m confident that all this stuff will work within a few days…Yeah!

Anyway, I just wanted to let everyone know that all is well. And I’m glad to be here…:)

Leaving…

Just a quick note to say that I’m leaving for the U.S. tomorrow. I will have access to a computer, so I should be online on Friday. Take care, everyone! Ciaoooo! :-)

The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.

Today’s post title is a quote by Jon Kabat-Zinn that I really liked…As I liked this one:

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

Yeah! (Not that you’d ever catch me on a surfboard, mind you…)

Oh, speaking of waves, earlier this afternoon I came across a new FDA safety announcement about the risk of kidney (renal) failure in patients on an osteoporosis treatment drug called Reclast, which is zoledronic acid. Now, since a lot of myeloma patients take Zometa, which is also zoledronic acid (!), I thought I should publish the link to this FDA warning: http://goo.gl/bTWZg 

Boyohboy…

No mushy stuff…

I’ve “met” quite a number of MM, MGUS and SMM folks throughout the years (see my September 12th post titled “Staying in touch”; incidentally, thanksthanksthanks for writing to me and letting me know how you’re getting along…your replies made me soooo happy! :)). Most of these encounters have been online/virtual ones…through my blog, through the myeloma patients’ listserv (MM Support) and, more recently, through Facebook…

I’ve established strong ties of friendship with some extraordinary, myeloma-connected folks. No matter that we may never ever meet in real life. You guys mean a whole lot to me…But, like I said, no mushy stuff! 😉

It’s not always easy to be a member of the myeloma community. Sometimes you just want to go lie on a warm sandy beach and ignore what’s happening. I’m referring to when community members, after being through some very harsh treatments, discover that their myeloma has started up again. I’ve lost quite a few friends (or the partners of caregivers who mean a lot to me): the first was Hans…then Eric, Bob, Lucie (=pancreatic cancer), Vern, Hamada…Nancy…and a few others…

Well, I’ve recently learned that two of my best best best buddies aren’t doing too well…CRAPCRAPCRAP!!!

One of them wrote a message a few days ago, a message that I read only about 24 hours later!, announcing that she was out of remission and officially in relapse mode. She added that she didn’t want any “mushy stuff.”

Well, let me tell you, “mushy” was, and is!, far from my thoughts. I don’t like “mushy,” either. Last spring, e.g., I met up with two cousins I hadn’t seen in a few years. After hugging me, the first thing she did was ask, with an extremely worried and grave look on her face: “So, how ARE you?” I was so taken aback that I didn’t reply immediately. After a pause, she added: “Y’know, you really look fabulous, for someone who has what you have…”

Uhm…

So forget “mushy”! Bloody ‘ell!

No, what I felt the other day, after reading my friend’s message, was mainly anger (though ok, I confess to having shed a few tears while driving to work…eh…)…anger at this bloody cancer…anger at the overly-toxic side effects of conventional treatments, which, in my opinion, could be easily attenuated if integrative oncology methods were used…

But hey, it’s pointless to get angry. Anger won’t help my friends and certainly won’t help me. Doing research is much more constructive…and I also thought of opening my medicine cabinet and choosing one of the substances that I was thinking of testing on myself but haven’t yet, for a variety of reasons. If something works for me, perhaps it might work for them, too. I just have to decide what I’m going to test first. Sesamin? Guggulsterone? Which might work the fastest? Which might be best?

You two hang in there, hear me? You’d better!!! Or else! Don’t make me get all MUSHY on you! 😉

P.S. By the way, this is a minor matter, but I did want to mention that, after almost three weeks!, I still have a cough. I must have caught an extremely evil, “cling-meister” sort of beastie. My family doctor is puzzled. Four days ago he put me on prednisone, which hasn’t eliminated the cough, as we’d both hoped. He’s having my phlegm analyzed (I went to the hospital four days ago for that test), AND he’s seeing me in his office this evening. He suspects I might have a fungal infection. Nice. Not. Sigh.

Anyway, I’m writing this brief update mainly because I was really unreasonably harsh towards Manuka honey in a recent post. That wasn’t fair. I mean, antibiotics got rid of the infection but not the cough. And, after all, Manuka worked splendidly for the first week (=my cough got much better, and my phlegm was absolutely normal). It was after I began taking a “lighter” UMF Manuka that it stopped working…

And antibiotics didn’t eliminate the cough, either. And even cortisone seems to be in a bit of trouble. Oh, I should point out that I have always felt FINE and still feel FINE (hence, I’m not postponing my upcoming trip to the U.S.; in addition to feeling fine, I’m not contagious anymore)…I just have this occasional, rather vexing cough, especially at night…No big deal, but I do want to get rid of it once and for all…

An immune system trained to kill cancer

By now several blog readers have written to me about a recent New York Times article that discusses a promising-sounding study done by a University of Pennsylvania team of researchers, so I decided to post about it today…Click here to read the article: http://goo.gl/xtjpX

Remember what I wrote about high fevers that might boost the immune system into killing cancer cells? In fact, I tried to test that theory on my own silly self last winter (meaning, when I had the flu I didn’t take any fever-reducers, but my fever simply didn’t get high enough to do much “good”…39° Celsius won’t do the trick, evidently!, so I might as well have taken some acetaminophen, oh well…). Anyway, a dangerously super-high fever sometimes can be a super good sign…if you survive it, that is… 

But this new procedure is different. It’s not just about high fevers. It actually trains the immune system to kill cancer cells, by using a disabled form of H.I.V.-1, the virus that causes AIDS, to carry cancer-fighting genes into the patients’ T-cells. In essence, the team is using gene therapy to accomplish something that researchers have hoped to do for decades: train a person’s own immune system to kill cancer cells.

Okay, it sounds quite scary (I mean, heck, the AIDS virus…disabled or not…!), but this treatment seems to have worked for two patients with advanced CLL who had run out of chemotherapy options. The U of Penn team chose to use the AIDS virus because it evolved to invade T-cells. Makes sense…

I would like to point out that two of the CLL patients in this study have gone into complete remission…but a third patient has not, and the team still doesn’t can’t figure out why…

And let’s not forget that this treatment is NOT WITHOUT DANGER TO PATIENTS (see page 2). These transformed T-cells can also attack healthy tissue and, well, kill you. That happened last year to a 39-year-old woman with advanced colon cancer in a similar study at the National Cancer Institute…And another death might also be related to a T-cell infusion…

In spite of that, I must say that I found this an interesting and possibly very promising bit of research…

Chewing curcumin…

A couple of days ago I received a verrrrry interesting Eurekalert (see http://goo.gl/BsCLW) discussing a new curcumin/head and neck cancer study. A couple of vigilant blog readers have already sent me notes about it, which is great, since hey you never know, I might miss something important (and have, in the past, in fact)…so, thanks, you guys! :)

Here’s the gist: In this study, 21 patients with head and neck cancers gave samples of their saliva before and after chewing two curcumin tablets totaling 1,000 milligrams. One hour later, another sample of saliva was taken and proteins were extracted and IKK beta kinase activity measured. Thirteen subjects with tooth decay and five healthy subjects were used as controls, Wang said.

Results: the chewed curcumin, only 2 grams of it!, inhibited the noxious kinase activity, which corresponded to a reduction in the levels of bothersome cancer-friendly cytokines. Fantastabulous!!!!!

Note: not surprisingly, the noxious IKK beta kinase is important for the growth of myeloma cells, too (see, e.g.: http://goo.gl/b3vSv). This study might therefore have some interesting implications for myeloma patients, too. And all this chewing on curcumin activity reminded me of when I was experimenting with my own chocolate-curcumin concoction. I used to stick globs of my yummy homemade gooey chocolatey gunk under my tongue and wait for it to dissolve (suck on it, rather! ;)). The color of the inside of my mouth would become a rather lovely shade of orange/chocolate, and in fact bright orange mouths were the only side effects experienced by this group of head and neck cancer patients…

But chewing curcumin tablets without any chocolate acting as a sort of buffer? Sputter sputter.Ugh. Not sure how that would taste. But hey I might just try it…I’m always up for new experiments…within reason, of course! :)

Curcumin as an adjuvant treatment for cancer, huh? Well, holy cats, it’s about time!

Fish oil inhibits chemotherapy??? Hmmm…

Yesterday morning, before leaving for work, thanks to a MMA list member (who posted the link), I read a BBC article that simply floored me. At first, that is. You see, the headline that my early-morning-&-still-sleepy brain registered was: “FISH OIL INHIBITS CHEMOTHERAPY.”

Say, whaaat? HOLY CATS! Boy, that really woke me up!!! 😉

But then I began reading the article, which discusses a recent study showing that a couple of components in fish oil apparently inhibit the anticancer effects of cisplatin, a chemo drug used also to treat myeloma patients. Click here to read it: http://goo.gl/IDKEt Ah, so it’s just one drug, I thought.

Well, as I was driving to work, something in the back of my mind kept bugging me. So when I got home I had a look at what I’d written on omega 3s…And in one of my posts (April 9 2009: http://margaret.healthblogs.org/2009/04/09/omega-3-and-hot-tea/) I found what I had been looking for: a study stating that one of the main omega-3 fatty acids, DHA, in addition to having strong chemopreventive effects by itself, also “enhances the killing effects of the chemo drug cisplatin, while limiting its harmful side effects.”

HUH? Wait a sec. How can fish oil make cisplatin work better…but also inhibit it…at the same time??? Makes no sense.

Let’s have a look at an excerpt from the BBC article: Prof Emile Voest, lead researcher at University Medical Centre Utrecht, said: “We show that the body itself secretes protective substances into the blood that are powerful enough to block the effect of chemotherapy. These substances can be found in some types of fish oil. (I won’t even comment on the fact that our own body secretes fatty acids that help our cancer cells become resistant to chemo drugs…!!!!!!!!)

These resistance-causing fatty acids can also be found in “some types of fish oil”? Well, hey, WHICH “types”? And do these unspecified “types of fish oil” block the effects of every single kind of chemo drug or just the effects of cisplatin? If you read some of the blaring headlines online, it seems as though fish oil blocks ALL chemo drugs…

Clearly, I needed to read the full study. So, instead of relying on summaries written by others (who perhaps didn’t even bother to check the source, as frequently happens…grrr grrr grrr), that’s exactly what I did…. You can read the abstract here: http://goo.gl/yPaMR

The full study opens with an interesting discussion of “microenvironment,” that is, a cancer cell’s (or a tumor’s) immediate surroundings, which enable it to survive and resist treatments. Studies have shown that cancer cells/tumors cannot survive if this friendly-to-cancer microenvironment is somehow eliminated. When that happens, the cells become sensitive to chemo drugs…

It’s as though cancer cells surround themselves with a sort of protective bubble, like the “bubbles” I saw in the Eden Project in Cornwall. If you are able to pop the bubble (=i.e., the microenvironment), you can get to the cell and exterminate it. Problem is, cancer cells are constantly recruiting friends to help preserve their toxic little bubbles. A group of these important cancer friends are found mostly in the bone marrow (hah) and are called mesenchymal stem cells, or MCMs. And they happen to be the main object of this Dutch study.

Growing tumors, the study authors tell us, really need these bone marrow-derived MCMs, which, in a cancerous environment, turn into evil thugs, shooting down any cancer foes and promoting some really bad events—metastasis, tumor growth…you name it. And they also help cancer cells develop resistance to chemo drugs…Bad stuff, clearly.

As for fatty acids, let’s have a look at a relevant excerpt from the full study: MSCs, activated by platinum-based chemotherapy, secrete unique fatty acids that, in minute quantities, confer resistance to multiple types of chemotherapy. The researchers identified two specific fatty acids, called KHT and 16:4(n-3). I’d never heard of them, I confess. However, and this is important!, other polyunsaturated fatty acids, namely EPA, didn’t block the chemo…but we’ll talk more about that later on…

So here is what happens, in a nutshell.

  1. A tumor’s cry for help gets answered by these blasted MSC thugs, which come zooming down from the bone marrow in large quantities.
  2. MSCs get activated by platinum-based chemo drugs, namely cisplatin. The tumor soon becomes resistant to these drugs.
  3. MSCs secrete those two above-mentioned fatty acids in the presence of these platinum drugs.
  4. The authors think, but are not sure, that the two fatty acids could be part of the resistance-to-chemo problem.

So let’s see. Here’s the gist, as best as I can understand it. The chemoresistance problem that seems to be provoked by these two specific fatty acids seems to happen only in the presence of platinum-based chemo drugs. Oh, I suppose it’s obvious, but in case it’s not, I should probably mention that these are drugs are obtained from platinum, the metal. From what I read online, platinum damages a cancer cell’s DNA and stops it from dividing. Okay, anyway…so that restricts the field to cisplatin and a few others that I’d never even heard of, but which apparently have fewer side effects (than cisplatin, I mean): carboplatin and oxaliplatin. Incidentally, cisplatin and carboplatin put you at an elevated risk of developing leukemia. ‘Nuff said!

Another important point. Three other chemo drugs were also tested in this study: doxorubicin, irinotecan and paclitaxel. Results: the trio didn’t have the same effect as the platinum-based chemo in releasing the two mischievous fatty acids. Eh. Not even close. The authors therefore say that This shows that the platinum-based chemotherapeutics are most powerful in inducing the release of 16:4(n-3), and that that effect is dose dependent.

Okay then. Only the platinum drugs provoke this very bad resistance-to-drugs outcome. Three other chemotherapeutic drugs do NOT. This is crucial information, I’d say.

As for fish oils, let’s read this excerpt (sorry it’s so long, but sometimes it’s best to quote the exact words): Fatty acids are also present in various food products and supplements. We found that our identified PIFA 16:4(n-3) is abundantly present in commercially available fish oil products (0.4–0.6mM 16:4(n-3)) and algae extracts (27mM 16:4(n-3)). Fish oil products are frequently used by cancer patients because of their perceived positive health effects, such as preventing cachexia and cardiovascular events, anti-inflammatory properties, prevention of tumor growth, and reduction of chemotherapy- induced side effects […]. We hypothesized that the use of fish oil containing our identified fatty acids may have an adverse effect on the antitumor effects of chemotherapy. To test this, we fed tumor-bearing mice either purified PIFAs or commercially available fish oil products and treated them with cisplatin. We found that orally administered, pure PIFAs induced resistance to cisplatin in our tumor models […]. Furthermore, a single oral dose of 100 ml of either two different commercially available fish oil products or algae extracts resulted in a neutralization of the antitumor effects of cisplatin in both C26 and LLC tumors […]. Administration of only fish oils or algae did not alter tumor growth […]. Orally administered EPA, the main component of most fish oil products, that served as a control in both tumor models had no effect. Importantly, both fish oil products and the algae extract induced a complete resistance to chemotherapy at doses similar to the advised daily dose in humans. These results provide additional support for the clinical relevance of these fatty acids in the development of resistance to chemotherapy.

I’d like to highlight a couple of key sentences: 1. Administration of only fish oils or algae did not alter tumor growth. 2. Orally administered EPA, the main component of most fish oil products, that served as a control in both tumor models had no effect. Number two is very important. I don’t know about y’all, but my fish oil capsules have purified DHA and EPA in ‘em. Nothing more, as far as I know…

Now, what is the difference between the above-mentioned “fish oil products,” which induced chemoresistance, and “fish oils,” which did not? I’m not 100% sure, but it seems to me that it could be the difference between fish oil supplements (capsule form, e.g.) and fish, real fish that you cook on a grill or whatever. The same is true for the above-mentioned algae extracts and algae. That is, if you take an algae supplement while on cisplatin, you might not be doing yourself a favour. But if you swallow a bunch of seaweed with your miso soup, you should be okay. So go ahead and enjoy your sardine, anchovy and seaweed pie (yuuuuck)! :)

Another point: when you read the word “chemotherapy” in any of these excerpts, don’t forget that the authors are referring to cisplatin and platinum-based drugs here, not all types of chemo. That point seems to have been completely missed by some of the folks who wrote the online medical summaries of this study…harumph!

So here is the point: cancer patients who are being treated with non-platinum-based sorts of chemo are now being warned against taking fish oil supplements, which might instead be really beneficial for them and which, let’s not forget!, possess chemopreventive effects of their own. I mean, last night I read a newspaper article that went so far as to warn cancer patients against eating sardines and anchovies.

Does that make any sense?

No, I didn’t think so, either…