“The bone-marrow niche in MDS and MGUS: implications for AML and MM.” Part 3.

Final post on the Dana-Farber study.

–Another thing mentioned in my 2013 post (see my Jan 31 2018 post for the link) is mentioned in this Dana-Farber study, too: PD-1, which stands for programmed cell death protein 1. Blocking the activity of this protein, which is highly expressed by MM cells, helps our immune system react against the cancerous cells. The Dana-Farber study informs us, however, that the conventional agents used to block PD-1 have been found to be toxic and not very effective, so the patient studies are currently on hold.

But guess what? Curcumin blocks PD-1, without any toxic side effects. Of course, curcumin isn’t a drug, so we cannot expect it to work like one. But it’s one MORE thing that curcumin does.

–There is another target called CXCL12, a chemokine protein (don’t ask!) secreted by stromal cells that helps myeloma cells become drug resistant, among other bad things. If CXCL12 is inhibited in early stages, however, progression to myeloma can be delayed or even prevented.

28 patients with relapsed or refractory MM participated in a relatively recent clinical trial testing bortezomib, dexamethasone, and something called olaptesed pegol whose target is CXCL12. There was a “clinical benefit rate” for 75% of these patients. Not sure what that means, and we are also told nothing about the patients’ quality of life, stuff that I imagine is of HUGE interest to all of us. Oh well.

My comment: curcumin inhibits CXCL12.

I don’t want to go overboard with too many details. So let’s get to the study’s conclusions.

This group of researchers maintains that targeting the myeloma-friendly bone marrow microenvironment is crucial. It might prevent disease progression to myeloma and increase the effectiveness of conventional treatments after progression has taken place.

But the research is in an early stage…more studies are needed.

In the meantime, I say, let’s stick to the “Watch and Wait” strategy (while taking non-toxic stuff and having a normal, splendid life). Until you have CRAB symptoms, it’s the best strategy on the market today.

Incidentally, why don’t we rename “Watch and Wait” with something that sounds more proactive? I mean, most of us aren’t just sitting back and just waiting for a brick to fall on our heads, right? We’re doing something!!!

So, any suggestions?

“The bone-marrow niche in MDS and MGUS: implications for AML and MM.” Part 2.

Back to the Dana-Farber study that I wrote about a couple of days ago.

The section titled “Therapeutic opportunities” is interesting. How to prevent progression, that is. As you can imagine, the chef’s daily special consists only of conventional treatments. For example, the authors make a reference to the Spanish study (Mateos et al) that I have repeatedly condemned here on the blog. The Spanish researchers–some with strong ties to the big pharmaceutical companies (hello???)–tested lenalidomide and dexamethasone on a group of SMM patients. The study claims to have prolonged progression-free survival and even overall survival in those patients…without ever taking into consideration QUALITY OF LIFE. Sorry, but I have no patience for statistical studies that play with people’s lives…

That said, the trend toward early intervention is clearly taking off, as the Dana-Farber study points out. Very unfortunate, IMO.

And there is no way to stop it, except that we, the patients, can say just say NO. Of course, if you have CRAB symptoms, that’s another matter. But, in the absence of the CRABs, WHY TAKE THE CHANCE OF WORSENING YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE?

Makes zero sense.

And there’s another thing that bothers me: where’s the proof that the overall survival of someone with SMM was extended thanks to these conventional treatments? Do the Spanish researchers have crystal balls that give them the exact times of death for their patients, both with AND without treatment? Oh, right, no, that’s what their STATISTICS tell them. Based on the patients’ “high-risk” data (see yesterday’s post).

I’m not saying that statistics can’t be useful in certain circumstances, mind you. But in these cases, when someone with no CRABs is deciding on whether to agree to early treatment, or not!, they can be harmful. If I had agreed to begin conventional treatments in 2005, I don’t know where I would be today (according to my former hematologist, I’d be dead…would have died in 2010…didn’t happen, OBVIOUSLY!!!…I’m still here, still splendid 😉 , still no CRABs, still no conventional treatments…).

Sorry for the rant. Okay, let’s calm down and try to understand the rationale of early intervention from the Dana-Farber study perspective. The researchers say that if the number of osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) can be increased in the early stages of myeloma, myeloma cells cannot proliferate. That’s good to know. There are non-toxic ways to do that, btw, but let’s keep to the study…

Mice that were injected with nanoparticles loaded with bortezomib before being contaminated with MM cells lived longer than non-injected mice. The researchers give another example in which early treatment of an antiangiogenic antibody was used on mice. Okay, but we’re talking about mouse models here. The reality, as the researchers themselves admit at the end of this paragraph, is that “…the use of antiangiogenic agents other than thalidomide and other immunomodulatory agents has not been shown to be successful in patients with MM.”

Not successful in patients.

So much for that.

Then there’s immunotherapy, which we have heard and read a lot about in the last few years. You may have heard about the anti-CD38 antibody known as daratumumab, which activates the immune system.

Anyway, it’s in this paragraph that I found a remarkable admission.

But first, let me say that ever since I joined online myeloma support groups, one of the key issues we discussed was what how to deal with our immune system. Should we stimulate it, thereby possibly stimulating our myeloma cells, too? Or should we avoid anything that stimulates the immune system? The consensus usually drifted toward the former approach. I wrote a post about this in 2013: https://margaret.healthblogs.org/2013/10/20/long-term-survival-in-myeloma-is-finally-linked-to-a-robust-immune-system-and-my-new-discovery/

I’ve had mixed feelings about it throughout the years, but my gut has always told me that it makes no sense to keep our immune system weak.

And here, in this paragraph, I finally have my answer (vindication!!!): “Indeed, trials involving these antibodies provide the first proof of concept that activation of the immune system has therapeutic benefits in patients with MM.”

After years of not knowing what to do, we finally know that having a strong immune system is GOOD.

Quelle surprise…not.

“The bone-marrow niche in MDS and MGUS: implications for AML and MM.”

Remember the post I wrote back in December 2014 about myeloma subpopulations and the bone marrow microenvironment? Probably not…so here’s the link: https://margaret.healthblogs.org/good-or-bad-for-myeloma/first-do-no-harm-myeloma-subpopulations/

The main point is that not much is known about the interactions between the myeloma subpopulations living in our bone marrow, how they compete for survival and so on…

Therefore, the only conclusion, in my opinion, is that going in with conventional bombs and blasting the heck out of this microenvironment doesn’t seem to be the best strategy for those of us with MGUS and SMM…certainly not until we know a LOT more about what goes on inside this complex and, I would add, delicate setting.

Luckily, there have been more studies on this topic since my 2014 post, including this recent Dana Farber one, titled “The bone-marrow niche in MDS and MGUS: implications for AML and MM.” A blog reader sent me the link (thanks!): goo.gl/Ew3K4A

The full study isn’t available for free online, but I was able to read it thanks to a good friend. Okay, let’s have a look at it…

We know that MM is preceded by MGUS and by an intermediate stage called SMM.

Progression, that is, the “clonal evolution” of myeloma, takes place between MGUS and MM. But, the researchers add, some of the characteristics of myeloma can be found, “at lower frequencies,” at the MGUS and SMM stages. For example, the gene deletions.

Therefore, they say, it is the development of neoplastic “subclones” in the earlier stages that probably leads to the progression to myeloma.

This development wouldn’t be able to take place without the help of the bone marrow microenvironment, which therefore must be targeted in order to prevent progression as well as increase the effectiveness of conventional treatments once the stage of MM has been reached.

As I was reading this study, full of technical jargon that I could barely grasp, I began imagining the bone marrow microenvironment as a marketplace where strong nasty myeloma hooligans live and operate in coexistence with other, not-so-harmful, silly myeloma characters, as well as a bunch of normal folks, our normal cells.

Problem: myeloma clones have the ability of turning the marketplace into a toxic environment that helps them grow and proliferate.

A lot depends on how the marketplace reacts to these attempted changes. If it is weak and yields to the MM hooligans, it will become full of “weeds.” If it resists, it will be full (well, perhaps not entirely!) of crowds of happy customers, what the researchers call a “physiologically useful crop of mature blood cells,” that is, normal blood cells.

Now, a NORMAL marketplace contains all sorts of custome…I mean, all sorts of cells, including osteoclasts, macrophages, endothelial cells and, don’t you love this one?, sympathetic neurons. Lots of different cells that live happily ever after in this lovely area of the body.

Too many details here…okay, we don’t need to know this stuff…skip skip skip.

Certain cells (the above-mentioned stromal cells, e.g., after they have gone over to the dark side) become responsible for helping myeloma develop. Furthermore, whenever myeloma cells initiate a disruption, things that should be sleeping (in technical terms: in a quiescent state) wake up (remember EBV?). Not good.

Disruptions also cause tumor suppressor genes, such as Rb1, to be…suppressed. Also not good!

The end result of all the disrupting and suppressing, without any reaction from the immune system, is that the BM microenvironment becomes myeloma-friendly, and MM stem cells can begin proliferating, helped along by processes such as angiogenesis (remember all my posts on VEGF?).

As you can imagine, the study doesn’t mention anything remotely non-conventional. But some of its findings are interesting, so let’s keep reading.

Ah, another thing occurs: immunosuppressive cells arrive in the marketplace and make such a ruckus that T cells and B cells are completely overwhelmed and can’t function properly. This means, of course, that myeloma cells are no longer being sought and destroyed by our immune system.

The study therefore gives us a lesson in progression. First and foremost, as we’ve just seen, myeloma cells learn how to avoid being annihilated by the immune system. They then create what the researchers call an “immunosuppressive environment” where the immune system defenders are no longer able to function normally. Other types of important cells present in this now-toxic environment are also affected, such as stromal cells.

When MGUS progresses to SMM and then MM, immunosuppression is one of the main culprits. In fact, I recently read a study that discussed this problem, concluding that patients with SMM whose other immunoglobulins—in my case, e.g., IgA and IgM—are suppressed are more at risk of developing myeloma. *

The questions are: can we stop this process? How? And…when?

In 2014 (and before), my opinion was to “watch and wait” for as long as possible. Until CRAB symptoms appear. My opinion hasn’t changed in all these years. Indeed, it hasn’t changed today.

“Watch and wait” doesn’t mean sitting around and moping and doing nothing but watch TV series all day long. It means being proactive, doing research, enjoying life, taking something that doesn’t have any toxic side effects and that has been shown at least in vitro to be anti-myeloma, such as curcumin. And so on. There’s lots of stuff we can do in this stage…

Okay, I think this is enough for one day. After almost falling asleepzzz myself, I decided to divide this post into three parts…or perhaps only two.

So…more on this topic tomorrow! Ciao!

P.S. The study also discusses the evolution from MDS to AML, but I didn’t really look at that part, of course, since it’s not my main focus…

* P.P.S.S. While it’s true that my IgA and IgM are suppressed (barely “alive,” in fact!), it’s also true that they’ve been pretty much at the same tiny level for years now. So yes, I am in the high risk category BUT I am still here, leading a normal life, no CRAB symptoms…

Living proof that being at “high risk” doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds…right?  🙂