Monthly Archives: May 2012

Helping our immune system kill bacteria, viruses and fungi…

This CBC News article actually contains no huge surprises. I mean, it’s no huge surprise to discover that the immune system’s little helper is curcumin. Yup. But the article will add some NEW information to our body of curcumin knowledge…namely, that curcumin increases levels of a protein called CAMP that helps the immune system to fight off bacteria, viruses and fungi the first time they try to attackhttp://goo.gl/ymJhT I don’t think I’d ever heard of CAMP before…In case you’re wondering 😉 , CAMP stands for “cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide.” Anyway, this is a very INTERESTING article…please have a look…

I now have a scientific explanation for something that happened to me when I first began taking curcumin, which I find verrrrry exciting. In a nutshell, for those who don’t know: throughout 2005 (that is, before I’d ever even heard of curcumin), I suffered from chronic and very painful yeast infections…couldn’t get rid of ’em…took truckloads of antibiotics (I didn’t know any better, back then…), but nothing worked. On the contrary, everything I tried (prescribed by my GYN, of course) only seemed to make matters worse.

Well, soon after I began the curcumin protocol (= January 2006), the infections disappeared. Completely. At first I didn’t make the connection with my curcumin intake. But one day, bingo!, I realized that curcumin’s antibacterial and antiviral effects had probably done the job. For the record: I haven’t had one single infection since then…a huge RELIEF, let me tell ya…!!! :)

This morning I read that this CAMP peptide can even prevent the development of sepsis, wow…and that another way we can boost our CAMP levels is to keep our vitamin D levels NORMAL, which we want to do anyway (remember the 2009 Mayo Clinic study? Yeah.). Well, this is all very interesting…

I already have a list of studies that I want to read when I return to Italy. This CAMP study is definitely one of ’em. But right now I want to enjoy spending time with my parents.

Time…it’s zipping by sooo incredibly fast…

New study on JQ1…

Remember my posts on Jay Bradner and his Harvard team’s discovery…JQ1, the molecule that turns cancer cells into normal cells? if not, do a search of my blog…and look for my October/November 2011 posts. Well, we have a new Boston University (School of Medicine) study showing that JQ1 treatment dramatically reduces inflammatory responses in vitro and in vivo.

Here is the link to the abstract: http://goo.gl/Zed62. Now, even though I get reaaaaaally queasy now whenever I read about mice being injected with lethal substances and “sacrificed,” I couldn’t ignore the fact that 90% of JQ1-treated mice survived endotoxic shock while 0% survived in the non-treated group.

90% versus 0%.

Extraordinary…

The good stuff…

Yesterday my parents and I went to see “The best exotic Marigold Hotel.” In spite of its obvious clichés, I really enjoyed this movie…mainly because of its stellar cast–Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and others..

But let’s get to my favorite quote

Evelyn (Judi Dench) says: “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected.”

Muriel (Maggie Smith) replies: “Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.”

Indeed…

On Cape Cod…

Hi everyone! Just a quick note to let you know that I’m at my parents’ home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, safe and sound but a wee bit jet lagged. Actually, the “lag” isn’t that bad (it’s worse going home to Italy for some reason)…it just means that I get up at 4 or 5 AM every morningzzzzz and also get hungry at odd hours. That will pass in a few days…no biggie (zzzz).

It’s really great to see my parents. I’ve already had a few belly laughs with them (my Dad has my same wacky sense of humor, or rather, I should probably say that I have his same wacky sense of humor!, which means that it doesn’t take much to set us off…hehe) and have been on a few errands with my Mom.

Oh, before I forget, I would like to tell everyone that I don’t have access to any of my files here. This means, e.g., that I can’t send TAB’s case study to anyone until I return to Italy in early June. Therefore, please send me a reminder note a couple of weeks from now. Thanks!

That’s it for now…I’ll be checking my blog daily (and writing, if I have something interesting to say…hmmm not that today’s post is all that INTERESTING, but hey, I have jet lag, after all… 😉 ), so please keep in touch…and take care! Ciaooooooo! :)

Fuzzy babies and an upcoming trip…

A lot has been going on lately. Let’s start with last Saturday, when Stefano and I went to the Parco della Piana to do some bird watching. We’d planned to be there really early in the morning, and in fact I woke up at 5 AM, but then I just couldn’t make myself get out of bed.

As a result, we woke up two and a half hours later, aaaaagh! In the end, though, the fact that we arrived latish at the bird reserve was a good thing. For two main reasons:

  1. Early that morning, we were told, a coot had attacked one of the black-winged stilt nests and had taken off with an egg in its mouth. Very odd behaviour, don’t you think? The stilt parents then apparently went nuts and destroyed another egg (huh?). But this particular couple still has one egg left, luckily. Anyway, however it went, I was relieved we hadn’t witnessed that ferocious scene!
  1. The great-crested grebe chicks had finally made their first official appearance a few days earlier. So the hut was occupied by quite a number of photographers with their powerful, fancy, expensive lenses focused on the area where the grebe nest was thought to be. And they were waiting. I found a good spot at one of the “windows” and began waiting, too. And in mid morning, as soon as it was warm enough, out they came. (My point here is that even if we’d arrived early in the morning, we wouldn’t have seen them…)

At first, all we could see was the male grebe (at least, I think it was the male, but it’s hard to tell the male from the female, unless they are side by side OR you are an expert birder), floating very slowly, with his back feathers all puffed up.

Then, finally, our reward: a teeny tiny little black and white striped head emerged…The cameras went crazy…tatatatatattatatatataaa!!! But even with my comparably small point-and-shoot camera, I got some really decent photos, I think…

There were three chicks, of which one, the biggest one, at one point leapt off its parent’s back and started swimming alongside it, as you can see in photo no. 2. Adorable!!! 

We also spotted a newborn (just a few days old, I was told) little grebe. Soooo adorable! It was swimming around with its mom…This is my favourite shot: what a superstar!!!

The baby black-winged stilts should be ready to pop soon. We saw many eggs out there. Some of the expert birders were speculating that the ones in one particular nest might be hatching next weekend. Wow.

But I won’t be here to witness the “birth.”

You see, I’m leaving for the States. Tomorrow. To make a long story even longer (just kidding!), the company where I teach English is moving to another—bigger and better!—building down the street. But, since my students will be too busy with THE move, my boss gave me a couple of weeks off…so I immediately booked a flight to visit my parents in Massachusetts. They’ve decided NOT to come to Italy this summer (the trip is getting to be too hard on them, basically). So this forced “holiday” was perfectly timed, as it turns out. Unexpected and quick, for sure…Luckily, it’s still low season…

Anyway, this doesn’t mean that I’m going to disappear for the next two weeks. Nope, I’ll have access to a computer at my parents’ house, so I’ll try to keep up with the blog and so on…Okay, I really need to go finish packing now. Take care, everyone, and remember: belly laugh every day! :)

University of Leicester begins bowel cancer-curcumin trial…

A couple of days ago I received a “Google Alert” on a University of Leicester clinical trial that will soon be testing curcumin AND chemotherapy on advanced bowel cancer patients. Here’s a BBC report on it:

http://goo.gl/37cMa By the way, I’ll give a bonus point to the first person who can identify the slight mistake made by the reporter… :) 

And here’s a Daily Mail article on the same topic, with a few more details: http://goo.gl/Emy8H

Exciting…yes, verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry exciting. I feel a bit like this little grebe (photo taken last Saturday at the Parco della Piana) with a fish in its beak… 😉

“If it took the sacrifice of a million lab animals to save just one human life, it would be worth it…”

That’s what one of my English students (who has a university degree in Biology) told me about a month ago. The two of us were chatting about her previous job, which was in a lab. I don’t remember how exactly we got onto the subject of testing drugs on lab animals, but I do remember this: as soon as she uttered the above sentence, I realized that there was no turning back…

This BBC “Ethics Guide,” titled “Experimenting on animals” will help introduce what I plan to write about today: http://goo.gl/oUJ0W Note that, among other interesting things, the article points out that sometimes potentially useful drugs that might have been safely administered to humans have a harmful effect on animals (therefore, they are not used).

Okay, here goes. A “difficult issue” indeed…!!!

It has always bothered me to read about “in vivo” studies. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of rodents, but I’ve always been haunted by photos/videos of mice being injected with tumor cells, given high-dose toxic treatments to make their tumors shrink and then being “sacrificed.” Luckily, thus far I haven’t seen photos of any dog, cat or primate experiments…I mean, not in any of the myeloma studies I’ve read thus far. But I’m not naïve. I know what goes on…

The point of no return began for me last fall, after I watched a report on a popular Italian TV show (“Striscia la Notizia”)  about a beagle puppy breeding company located in northern Italy…a horrible place called “Green Hill,” owned by a U.S. corporation, Marshall Farm, which is a commercial breeder of dogs and ferrets for pets and scientific research (source: Wikipedia). Since then, I’ve read a lot on this topic and have seen what happens to animals in labs (as much as I can stomach…not much, to tell the truth).

But why am I writing about this today? Two main reasons.

  1. Tomorrow is the International Day of Action to Close Green Hill…a day of world-wide protests against vivisection in general. Protests are being organized in front of Italian consulates and embassies in many cities across the world…for example in New York City (from 11 AM to 2 PM, 690 Park Avenue, between 68th St& 69th St). You can find a list of cities here, just scroll down the page: http://goo.gl/hgxVC
  1. Day after tomorrow an Italian Senate committee will be voting on some amendments to the European Directive on the Use of Animals in Scientific Research 63/2010. If the amendments pass, then the breeding of dogs, cats and primates as well as all experiments carried out without anesthesia (!) will be banned in Italy…and Green Hill will be closed (of course, there are many more Green Hills all around the world, unfortunately, but it’s a start…).

So it’s time for me to speak up…

Now, I’m sure most of you (I would hope, ALL of you!) would agree with me that it’s criminal and morally (etc.) unacceptable to test cosmetics and housecleaning products on animals. You might even agree not to buy products from companies that test on animals, such as Oréal, Clinique, Max Factor and Proctor and Gamble (P&G is a really bad one!). So I’ll give you a list of these companies at the end of this post…

But the issue of testing drugs on animals to find a treatment or a cure for something is most likely going to be a different matter. You’ll tell me that, thanks to research on animals, we now have access to a lot of treatments for many horrible human ailments. Yes, yes, yes, I know all that. As I mentioned, I’ve been reading a lot on this topic in recent months, and I’ve also read statements by those who support testing on animals. I like to have the full picture before deciding how I feel about an issue. And this particular issue, of course, is of vital importance to me, since I have smoldering myeloma…

But it’s time to realize the following: tests done on animals most often do not yield the same results when done on humans. Indeed, results frequently vary between species that are quite similar…mice and rats, e.g.

More food for thought: the miracle drug penicillin might not be available to us today if it had been tested only on guinea pigs or hamsters. Penicillin, you see, is very toxic to guinea pigs and hamsters: http://goo.gl/OvkVK “Luckily” for us, though, it was tested on mice who reacted well to it. Another example: aspirin is very toxic to cats. So, if we’d tested aspirin only on cats, today we might not be taking it: http://goo.gl/W2Vd8 There are other examples, of course, but these should suffice.

Another related point: if testing on animals works so well, as animal testing supporters maintain, then why is it necessary to have preliminary “drug safety” clinical trials for cancer treatments? And, in those Phase I trials, why do we use patients who are more often than not in the final stages of cancer? These, of course, are rhetorical questions…I know the answers…

And here’s another consideration: even those animals who aren’t “sacrificed” spend the rest of their lives inside a cage, for no reason whatsoever, since many of the substances tested on them will never be given to us humans. Does that make any sense?

Even the best-treated lab animals (of which I’m sure there are many, mind you) are under constant stress (not to mention in pain, scared out of their wits, angry, etc.). How can we expect their immune systems to react normally, under such unacceptable “living” conditions? Consider the following scenario: let’s say that from the time you are a child you are locked inside a small cage and taken out only to receive injections (or worse). You never go outside, you never get a hug from anyone, you never breathe any fresh air, etc. etc. etc. Do you think your test results be reliable?

It’s a difficult topic. I realize that. Obviously, if you asked me point-blank if I want a cure for myeloma, my answer would be an immediate “yes!!!” If I could have saved Nancy (La Cootina)…and so many others…

But if you then told me that a million animals would have to die horrible painful deaths to find that cure, I’d give you a different answer. This is a question I’ve had in my mind ever since I watched that “Striscia la Notizia” report on Green Hill (or Hell, rather): is MY human life more valuable than that of a beagle or of a cat (etc.)? Because you see, it really boils down to that. To the survival of the fittest…

Now please have a look at this incredible story of things that can go really wrong: http://goo.gl/T8Buu. The drug mentioned in this BBC article, a monoclonal antibody, was tested extensively on rodents, rabbits and even monkeys before being administered to humans. And look what happened, even though these “volunteers” were given a dose that was 500 times smaller than that given to monkeys…500 times smaller…It happened in 2006. 

We already have a few alternatives to animal testing. And we could and should focus on finding more alternatives. Johns Hopkins has a “Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing”: http://goo.gl/Z1sw0…as does the University of California at Davis: http://goo.gl/UW6KF

I could go on and on…linking to websites that show some of the horrible procedures done to animals inside labs…discussing the huge financial interests behind animal testing…but, after pondering the issue carefully, I’ve decided to keep it as short and simple as possible:

  • We need to find and use alternative methods to testing on animals (high-tech simulators and so on) . 
  • We need to urge the Italian Senate committee to vote for the above-mentioned amendments day after tomorrow. These amendments are certainly not perfect, but they’re a start. 
  • We need to shut down Green Hill in Montichiari, near Brescia, free those poor beagles from their cages and let them go outside to breathe some fresh air for the first time in their lives…

After work tomorrow I’m going to join the protest in Piazza della Repubblica in Florence (Italy), which begins at 4 PM. I really hope to see some of you there!

P.S. Some useful/interesting readings:

  • A “Slate” magazine article on the problems with animal testing: http://goo.gl/jLNty
  • A list of companies that test on animals: http://goo.gl/iE7oj (Yeah, I was surprised at some of the names on this list, too.) And here’s a list of companies that do NOT test on animals. Please use their products instead: http://goo.gl/10s1a
  • “Rats: Test Results That Don’t Apply to Humans”: http://goo.gl/n9hBW Very interesting.
  • This BBC article shows that robots might be able some day to replace animal testing: http://goo.gl/yxHvA I would also like to note that many university labs around the world no longer test on animals, especially primates. As I said, it’s a start…

Curcumin, bortezomib and multiple myeloma…

Another study, just published, confirms that curcumin increases the killing power of bortezomib (= Velcade; in the study, it’s called PS-341, its original code name) against multiple myeloma cells. More proof of the synergistic activity of curcumin plus bortezomib. No surprise, there. 

Here’s the link (from here, you can download and read the full study for free): http://goo.gl/c8vm3 

A few personal notes: yesterday Stefano and I went to the Parco della Piana where we spotted and photographed a woodcock, a croccolone in Italian (photo on the left)…Let me tell ya, that was a verrrrrrry exciting moment!!! I mean, this bird is apparently not easy to find and photograph…

When we got home, I forwarded some of my photos to our photographer friend in the UK (met him via the blog, by the way). Since I was tired and not paying attention, I wrote that we’d seen a “woodCHUCK.” That is…er…a groundhog. Well hey, what’s so wrong with that? A woodchuck/groundhog with wings and feathers and a long pointy beak…Stranger things can happen, right? 😉

Early this morning I read my friend’s reply. He loved the photos but pointed out that I don’t know my “cocks” from my “chucks.” I almost fell off my chair laughing. So true! 😀

Anyway, for your enjoyment, here’s my woodCOCK (and yes, he was quite close to the hut)…And I’ve also added another favorite photo from yesterday’s bunch…a black-winged stilt checking out a turtle. “Whassat???!!!” the stilt seems to be thinking. Too cute!