Monthly Archives: December 2011

New Year’s resolutions…

I can’t stand those endless lists known as New Year’s Resolutions: I’ll take more walks, I’ll exercise more, I’ll eat healthier food, I’ll clean the attic, I’ll read at least one book/week, I’ll spend less time on the computer, I’ll do this, I’ll do that, I’ll blablabla and then even more blablabla… 

I’ve essentially given up on making resolutions. I never achieve my lofty goals, so why bother? 😉 That said, I must admit that I do like Rick Steve’s easy-to-accomplish suggestion: Eat, drink, learn, or try something new.  

Yes…that I CAN and definitely WILL do…in 2012. :) 

How about you? Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? And do you usually achieve your goals? Just curious! 

WISHING YOU A HAPPY & HEALTHFUL NEW YEAR

(…with or without resolutions…)!!!

A great kitty prezzie…and a fish oil compound that kills leukemic STEM cells…

I hope everyone’s Xmas was heaps and heaps of fun! :) Ours turned out to be quite nice…full of delicious food (prepared by Stefano and me)…a few but useful presents…and of course a few funny moments…How could it be otherwise, in MY house? 😉

One of those funny moments: my best friend gave our kitties the mat that you can see in the photos…Well, as soon as we put it on the floor, Pinga went right over to the “intruder” and sat on it, showing who‘s boss in this house, hehe…

Peekaboo, on the other hand, acted as though we had just let a terrifying monster into the house. She began circling around it in slow motion, tummy to the floor, nervous fluffy tail, sniffing the air suspiciously…

The circles kept getting smaller and smaller…until finally she got close enough to sniff the monster’s head. Since it didn’t attack her, she decided it was okay to walk on top of it. In the final photo, she is clearly triumphant.

Let’s see, what else? On Xmas night I skyped with my parents, sister and niece who live in the U.S. It took us a while to figure out the three-way connection (Italy-Massachusetts-Arizona), but we all finally managed to get  on the same screen, together with our cats…And that was definitely my best Xmas 2011 present…even though it made me realize how much I miss my family…eh. 

Okay…changing the subject quickly!…Even though Stefano went back to work today, I’m going to be on holiday until January 3rd, so I’ve decided to have some fun, yaaaay!

I haven’t wasted any time. Today I went out for lunch with my best “old” University of Florence friends, an annual event that is always lots of fun and laughs (my jaw and side still ache from all the laughing…aiaiaiaiaiai!!!). After lunch, we all came back to my house for some herbal tea, banana bread and cookies…and more laughter…

I’m also planning card games and dinners with other friends for the rest of the week…just like a “normal” person would do. That means I probably won’t be doing much research in this period… :)

But wait, speaking of research, let’s have a quick look at a fascinating “Science Daily” article on a fish oil compound called delta-12-protaglandin J3, or D12-PGJ3, produced from EPA (!), which exterminates leukemic stem cells: http://goo.gl/x1a9D I mean, hey, it kills chronic myelogenous leukemia STEM cells!!! Here is the link to the abstract, published in “Blood” on December 22: http://goo.gl/vBe68

I would like to read the full study at some point…But the Science Daily summary already gives us a good idea of what this is all about (incidentally, I’ve written quite a lot about p53, the tumor-killing gene that goes wacky in cancer, so you can do a search of my blog for more info, if you want)…Anyway, D12-PGJ3 sounds really promising, and you know how excited I get about non-toxic compounds that kill cancerous STEM cells! :)

Hear, hear, all you smoldering hot folks! A “peptide ‘cocktail’ elicits immune response to multiple myeloma”

Okay, this is an incredibly exciting bit of news (thanks, Terry!). Dana-Farber researchers have put together a “cocktail” of immune-stimulating peptides they believe could provoke the body’s defenses to attack multiple myeloma in its early “smoldering” phase and slow or prevent the blood cancer. See: http://goo.gl/klNfI 

Immunotherapy (= getting the body’s immune system to recognize cancer cells as “foreign” and then unleash a defensive reaction against them) thus far has been using only one peptide, which is a piece of a protein from the myeloma cell itself, to bump the immune system into action. But one peptide alone just hasn’t done the job. One of the big problems with myeloma, in fact, is its sneaky ability to behave like the shapeshifters in the TV series “Supernatural,” that is, its many ways of avoiding detection by the immune system. You can read more details in the above article… 

But things seems to be moving, finally. The Dana-Farber team has managed to identify FOUR myeloma peptides, which they’ve mixed inside a lethal-to-myeloma-cells cocktail. How about that???

I’m very happy to point out that this cocktail cannot and will not be tested on animals. It will be administered to early-stage, untreated, smoldering myeloma patients. 

So hey, hand over that cocktail, will ya? I’ll give it a try!!! Actually, I’d like to know a bit more about it first…but doesn’t it sound promising??? :)

Why I haven’t been blogging (2)…

This photo shows you what one of my kitchen counters looked like last night (and yes, there are bags of cookies inside the oven, too…away from my nosy cats!). While this was a huge amount of work, my students and “non-students” (after so many years, I know everyone in the company, so I couldn’t exclude them…) were so blown away that it made it all worth it… :)

Okay, now for a bit of rather shocking news for those of us who use Neti pots. Today Lori (thanks!) posted a link to a Web MD article about a brain-eating amoeba that apparently was present in the tap water used by two unfortunate Louisiana residents inside their Neti pot: http://goo.gl/qzrIN.  “Unfortunate” in the sense that they both died. YIKES! Now, instead of getting rid of your Neti pot (my first instinct!), just make sure you follow these simple instructions: Neti pots are a good way to clean and clear the sinuses. But the pots should be filled with sterile water — either distilled water, or previously boiled water — with a small amount of non-iodized salt added according to instructions. And do keep in mind that this happened in the same state and that the deaths are still under investigation…UPDATE. My niece commented: “Hrm. I wouldn’t waste any more brain power on that one unless your tap water is from Louisiana :) .” Hehe. 

Still…it’s best to be cautious! Besides, since reading that article, I can’t help but think, “eeeeek!!!!!!”  😯

Why I haven’t been blogging…

This year I decided to make Xmas cookies for every single person who works for my company (errata corrige: it’s not actually MY company, but the company where I WORK :) )…

What was I thinking???

I never want to see a Xmas cookie again…

Or a festive Xmas cookie bag…

Ever. Again.

:)

 

 

 

 

Back from Bavaria…

You know, we almost didn’t make it to Füssen (southern Germany). As we were approaching the Italian-Austrian border, in fact, I realized I’d forgotten my U.S. passport at home. And I didn’t have a copy of my permanent visa, either. Aaaagh! I couldn’t believe I’d been so bloody forgetful. But by then it was way too late to turn back. We’d just emerged from a lonnnnng stretch of bumper-to-bumper traffic and were absolutely pooped. When I confessed my stupidity to Stefano, he announced that he’d abandon me at the border, so I’d have to go back to Florence alone…by train (oh, he wouldn’t have done that, of course!!!…Hmmm…at least, I don’t think he would have!!! 😉 ).

I began digging frantically through my wallet and purse, and, LUCKILY!, discovered that my original Italian drivers’ licence was (sort of!) valid for travel inside the European Community… Incidentally, by “original” I mean that my licence is still the original paper document I received when I first passed my driver’s test at age 19 here in Italy. We’re talking…more than 30 years ago!

I suppose that wouldn’t be unusual, except that my licence photo hasn’t changed in all these years, so I’m still, uhmmm, a gorgeous 19-year-old with long blonde hair. Funny how here in Italy you can still LEGALLY look like you did decades ago… :) 

At this point, I should mention that you can now opt for a modern electronic drivers’ licence (credit card format, with a photograph and a microchip). In fact, Stefano has one of those. But a couple of years ago, when I renewed my licence, I chose to keep my old paper licence. No reason, really…Anyway, as it turned out, that was an amazingly good decision on my part, since this paper document doesn’t say it can’t be used to travel inside the European community…whereas if I’d opted for the new licence, I couldn’t have left Italy on Thursday afternoon…as we will see in a sec…

So we kept driving…

But, after passing through the last toll booth before hitting Austria, we got flagged down by an Italian police officer at a RANDOM checkpoint.

Bloody hell!!! And sure enough, when Stefano rolled down his window, the policeman asked for our documents. He then took them over to a colleague who immediately got on the phone. Here we go, I thought, I’m screwed now…our holiday is going to end right here, and I’ll have some splainin’ to do…

But then, after what seemed like hours, the first policeman finally walked back to our car, handed back our documents and wished us a nice trip. PHEW! What a scare!

We’d decided to spend our holiday in Bavaria mainly to visit King Ludwig’s castles. I have to admit, though, that we were a bit disappointed. Perhaps our expectations had just been too high. Although, truth be told, a couple of unfortunate circumstances didn’t help matters:

1. The first castle we visited (also the most famous), Neuschwanstein Castle, was under partial renovation, as you can see if you look really closely at the first two photos (on the right in the first photo; on the left in the second). So all of our shots, even those taken from Marienbrücke (= Mary’s Bridge, second photo), have what appears to be a big bandage on one side…not that attractive, eh…

2. The main castle would have looked much much MUCH better if it had been shrouded in snow. But it didn’t snow at all during our stay. Not even one flake. :(

While we were a bit disappointed by Neuschwanstein Castle, we instead quite liked Linderhof, the only castle that was completed before Ludwig died (under mysterious circumstances, all the guides told us, almost in a whisper…). Linderhof is shown in photo number 3, depicted above with my inseparable MM buddy, Honey. Same colours, too! 

Personally, I think this castle should be visited in the spring or summer, when the unattractive wood boxes protecting the statues and central fountain in the garden get removed. And that is also when you can visit the Venus grotto, which is closed during the winter. Sigh…

Linderhof’s Hall of Mirrors. Now that got a big “wow” out of me. The mirrors are placed in such a way as to give the illusion of a never ending hallway. Extraordinary. I wish I could have taken a photo…bummer.

The following day, Saturday, was rainy, foggy and icky. Before breakfast, we asked our hostess if she had any suggestions as to what we could do. She marked a couple of places on a map but recommended that we check out the city of Ulm’s Gothic cathedral and its large Xmas market. So, even though Ulm wasn’t exactly around the corner from Füssen (about a 1.5 hour drive), off we went.

Ulm is famous mainly for two things, as far as I know: it has the tallest church steeple in the world, and it’s where Albert Einstein was born. But as much as I enjoyed the peace and quiet inside the gigantic cathedral, I couldn’t wait to get outside and walk around the cheery and bright Xmas market located in the square in front of it. The atmosphere was one of delirious happiness. Infectious…in a good way, of course!

The market was packed to the brim with people, so much so that it was difficult to walk around and have a look at all the stalls…more than a hundred, I think. 

But everyone was happy and cheerful and courteous and not pushy and “shovey” at all…perhaps in part thanks to the copious amounts of mulled wine or some sort of hot spicy and clearly alcoholic beverage being carried around in mugs everywhere :) I’m actually sorry now that I didn’t try any, but since I don’t know more than a couple of words of German I thought I’d better stick to ordering (or rather, gesturing towards!) something simpler…

And so Stefano and I ate a couple of sausages. I know, I know, I know! But just for a few hours I forgot all about hygiene (I didn’t even whip out my hand sanitizer, fancy that!) and being food-conscious…

The main food items being served at the Ulm Xmas market were sausages of all sorts (see photo), so in the end I just went for it. Besides, I can assure you that none of the food vendors were selling plates of broccoli seasoned with turmeric and garlic… 😉

Well, I have to admit that I enjoyed my bits of sausage (shared with Stefano, who ate most of it). The Bavarian white sausage or Weisswurst is wonderfully tasty, and we also shared a spicy bratwurst sausage stuck inside a baguette on a bed of chopped horseradish. That was definitely the longest sausage I’ve ever seen in my entire life, even longer than the hot dogs sold in Provincetown, MA…

Anyway, since, as I just mentioned, my German is nonexistent, I ended up pointing to the food, basically saying “ja, bitte” to all the condiments being offered, with no idea what they were…Living dangerously, eh! :)

Depending on its dimensions, sausages are put inside a baguette or roll and covered with condiments (if you say “ja, bitte” like I did, that is, hehe) and handed to you on a paper napkin. After paying, you then have to make your way carefully to a less crowded area to eat it. Easier said than done.

Anyway, it was so much fun to watch people making their way through the crowds while holding their sausages and mugs high above their heads. My camera doesn’t take good night photos, unfortunately…so I don’t have any shots of the sausage and mulled wine bearers. You’ll just have to imagine the scene…

Ulm was loads of fun. For me, in fact, it was the best part of our entire trip…And it put me in the holiday spirit, too!

A four-day weekend…

Big holiday in Italy, starting tomorrow… So Stefano and I have decided to drive up to southern Bavaria, where we will be visiting King Ludwig’s famous castles, first and foremost the one on which Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle was modelled: Neuschwanstein Castle. On the way back to Florence, we also plan to stop at one of the famous Xmas markets, the Brunico one, in Italy: http://goo.gl/HLYI6

Of course, we couldn’t do this without the two cat-loving friends who are moving in with our cats for the entire period. Ahhhh, friends…! :) [This is a Nicole Hollander cartoon, btw…love her!]

Anyway, I almost certainly won’t have access to my blog or to my e-mail during this period. Sorry about that! And…I hope everyone has a super fabulous weekend! :) And…now I’d better go and start packing! 

IwonIwonIwonIwonIwonIwonIwon!!!!!!

Well, actually, I didn’t WIN all by myself, as the post title seems to suggest. I won together with one of my best buddies, last night, at a charity card tournament here in Florence. There was a total of 18 couples, and, after taking a “beating” at the first table, she and I began winning hands down…until, to our surprise, we ended up winning first prize, which was (is) dinner for two in a newly-opened pizzeria on our side of town. Yaaay! 

Today, though, my feet are back on the ground. I’ve been working all day, and I still am not finished!, on a legal translation from Italian to English (don’t ask!!!), so I have to get back to it. But I wanted to share what I thought was a hilarious BBC news article on Italian “ailments”: http://goo.gl/8bk3T Nothing to do with myeloma, btw…just a fun little thing…

I’ve lived in Italy for most of my life, so I can tell you that what the article describes is all, generally speaking (with a few exceptions), true–from the absurd Michelin toddlers to the “hit of air.” Oh, and some of my friends wear those “health shirts.” LOL. Come to think of it, even bigger LOL! Stefano does, too!Though in his case, I just call them cotton T-shirts. :)

Whenever I go over to my in-laws in summer, even if it’s 300 degrees outside (uhm…ok…slight exaggeration…) and sit in front of an open window in a desperate but futile attempt to catch even a teeny tiny waft of (boiling hot) air, my mother-in-law will tell me that I shouldn’t do that…that I might get what in Tuscany is called a frescata, which is basically what this article calls a “hit of air” or colpo d’aria. In a Tuscan’s mind, a frescata is something to be avoided at all costs. Air conditioning or even electric fans in summer are also to be avoided, since cool air on your sweaty body could make you look a bit like the doubled-over fellow in the cartoon… 

I always reply to her that these things don’t exist in the U.S., and that, since I’m an American, I’m immune to ’em. So I was very much amused that the author of the article replies in a similar manner…a bit tongue in cheek, mind you…Anyway, yes, I could relate…

An American friend of my mother’s used to say that she never even knew she had a liver until she moved to Italy :) .

Okay, back to my translation…mamma mia…I’d much rather be hit by some air!

Two curcumin analogs squash the growth of multiple myeloma cells…

On November 26 I received a Google Alert about an “Anticancer Research” November 2011 abstract discussing not just one but TWO curcumin analogs, GO-YO30 and GO-YO78, which have shown much stronger growth-suppressive activity against myeloma cells than plain old curcumin: http://goo.gl/uHJ90. They also very strongly suppressed many bothersome (in cancer) pathways, including our old nemesis, NF-kappaB, which is very much involved in the well-being of myeloma cells…again, much more effectively than regular curcumin…up to 15 times more!

I tried to get my hands on the full study, but without any luck. And that is mainly why I didn’t finish my post last week, leaving it in draft form. Oh okay, it’s time now to fess up: I totally FORGOT about it. :) Until yesterday, which is when several attentive blog readers (thanks!!!) sent me messages about these two analogs. Ah yes. Right. Ehm. I went back to my crowded desktop and fished out my draft…

Today, thanks to the kindness of a friend, I was able to have a look at the full text of a May 2011 study on GO-YO30 (http://goo.gl/i1LBV), written by the same Japanese researchers (the same who wrote the MM study, that is) who showed that this analog was ten to twenty times (!!!) stronger than regular curcumin against thyroid and pancreatic cancers and cholangiocarcinoma cells. Now, although that particular study didn’t test any myeloma cells, it proved that GO-YO30 had a big impact on ALL the evil thingies that are active in myeloma, too.

Yes, of course, these tests were carried out on CELLS, not on humans. But I would like to point out that when I first began taking curcumin, all the available information on curcumin and myeloma had to do with studies carried out only on CELLS. There were no human clinical trial results. In fact, the number of studies on curcumin and cancer was a mere fraction of what we have today. The only thing I knew for sure back then was that curcumin was non toxic. But hey, I’ve been stable for almost six years now. So, you see, I tend to pay attention to some of these “cell-only” studies…

Now, in the above-mentioned May 2011 study (the full text) the researchers suggest that it might be a good idea to combine the curcumin analogs with chemo drugs that activate NF-kappaB (= a bad thing!). Since these curcumin analogs suppress NF-kappaB, perhaps this annoying pathway would NOT get activated, which means that the drugs would work better. Interesting. Obviously, more tests are needed…but wouldn’t it be wonderful if these combinations worked synergistically? Taking that a step further, thanks to the use of curcumin analogs, perhaps some day doctors would be able to administer lower doses of toxic chemo drugs, thus reducing negative side effects…How does that sound? :)

Another titbit: GO-YO30, like curcumin, inhibits the Wnt signaling pathway. That is excellent news. As you may remember, this particular pathway is involved in myeloma growth and proliferation…

By the way, this is not the first time I’ve read about GO-YO30. On the contrary, in 2009, after learning of its effects on colorectal carcinoma (see: http://goo.gl/cwJXh), I created the above-mentioned Google Alert

Well, we’ll just have to sit back and see what happens. But if we keep getting this great news about GO-YO30 and (now) GO-YO78, you can bet your favorite dance shoes that I’ll be first in line when they both come out on the market… :)