The last babies (of the season)…

Stefano and I got up early on Saturday morning and decided it was cool enough to drive across town to visit our favorite bird reserve, the Parco della Piana.

To be quite honest, we didn’t think we’d see anything worth photographing, since it’s really late in the birding season now, but we were wrong. 

We came across and managed to take a whole bunch of photos of a Little Grebe family…Four fluffy adorable babies and their constantly diving (for food) parents. Delightful!

We arrived just in time. After about 15 minutes, the babies and their parents swam off slowly to the other side of the lake, and the young ones soon disappeared from sight. Back to the nest for a rest, I guess…

A photographer entered the hut soon thereafter and, after peering outside for a few seconds, sighed: “There isn’t anything to photograph here.”

I said nothing (it wouldn’t have been nice of me to gloat!). 🙂

It’s all a question of luck…of being in the right place at the right time…

Only the Italians… :-)

Yesterday evening, after dinner, I went to a friend’s house to play cards. Nothing unusual in that, since our get-togethers happen quite frequently, especially during the winter months.

But yesterday evening was different.

At 10 o’clock (Italian time), the 2012 London Olympics began. The opening ceremony.

An amazing show…unbelievably elaborate…can’t imagine how much it would have cost…

But, for the most part, my friends and I didn’t stop playing. We watched TV when it wasn’t our turn…and simply listened to what was happening when it was…

We did stop playing here and there. For example, when “James Bond” (Daniel Craig) went to Buckingham Palace to escort the Queen to a helicopter from which they both parachuted into the opening ceremony (well, that’s what it was meant to look like…The Queen didn’t actually jump out of the helicopter…). See here (my previous link stopped working–video removed by user–try this one): That was fun.

We also stopped playing when the Italian athletes appeared on the scene…very smart-looking in their Giorgio Armani suits. Hey, looking good, Italy! Valentina…Federica…FORZA!!!

And then…

“What’s that???” one of my friends gasped. 

It was a close call, let me tell ya. I mean, the four of us ALMOST DIED LAUGHING. No, really. We did. This is what we saw, in a flash…

An Italian athlete held up a hand-printed sign (see photo) that read:

Mamma, sono qui.”

That means: 

“Mom, I’m here.” 


A new curcumin bortezomib nano-study

The promising nano-studies seem to be piling up these days. After the nanocurcumin/doxorubicin study (see my July 16 post), here’s another one, this time from the University of North Texas:

As we can read in the abstract, these researchers combined curcumin and bortezomib (= Velcade), which are known to have synergistic effect in inhibition of growth of cancer, in a nano-formulation designed to go after the cancer cells located in the bone microenvironment.

Surprisingly, these two substances didn’t have any synergy against the bone destruction (= osteoclastogenesis) caused by the cancer cells. However, curcumin by itself had significant inhibition of osteclastogenic activity. Aha! Here is more proof that curcumin protects our bones…

Okay, let me take a quick look at the full study (not available for free online). There is a clear explanation of how cancer cells cause bone destruction. I’ll see if I can summarize it. What happens first is that cancer cells release cytokines such as RANKL and IL-6. This gets the osteoclasts all excited, so they start releasing other cytokines AND calcium (incidentally, that’s why we have to monitor our serum calcium and make sure it isn’t high; calcium = the “C” in CRAB), which help the cancer cells grow…

As the authors point out, it’s a vicious cycle: the cancer cells and the osteoclast cells keep partying and feeding one another inside our bone marrow. Another bad consequence is that this process eventually leads to drug resistance…

So, how can we put an end to all these problems—drug resistance, poor quality of life of the patients due to the side effects from the chemo drugs, cancer cell growth, bone destruction and so on? The authors suggest nano-intervention. Well, okay, they don’t call it nano-intervention. I did. 😉

Now, something that concerns me a bit about this study is the use of Alendronate, or Aln. To be honest, since I’ve never taken a bisphosphonate in my life, I didn’t know what this thing was until I looked it up: it’s Fosamax. I know what THAT is. Years ago, my Mom took Fosamax for several months (I forget how long) for her advanced osteoporosis. She quit taking it because the side effects were really getting to her. And even though, as I mentioned, that happened years ago, she still has trouble swallowing and almost chokes on her food, practically with every meal. It’s hard for us to watch her cough and choke and not be able to do anything to help. Well, perhaps Aln doesn’t have the same toxic effects if it’s NOT taken as an ORAL drug…(?). No idea. 

Anyway, let’s go on. According to the authors, Aln has already been used, apparently successfully, to target the bone marrow microenvironment. In this study, it attaches itself to a nano-bubble that delivers a lovely dose of curcumin and bortezomib to the cancer cells inside the bone marrow. The obvious advantage of using Aln is that all this substance wants to do in life is hook up with a piece of bone. Therefore, once it is released into the bloodstream, it dashes off in search of a bone buddy. 

The authors make the point that using this sort of nano-formulation might enable doctors to reduce the dose AND dosing frequency of chemo. That would be great, of course.

As you know, I hate any in vivo talk and am very much opposed to using animals in labs *…But the study talks about mice, and I just can’t ignore that part. So here goes.

Four groups of mice were injected with breast cancer cells: the control group, the nanoformulation with Aln group, the nanoformulation without Aln group and the plain, “free” bortezomib + curcumin group.

Results.  The Aln-coated group was the most successful one (not as far as the dead mice are concerned, of course!). The curcumin/bortezomib nano-mixture reached the mice’s bone marrow cells quickly and stayed there longer compared to the other groups

As for tumor growth, the regular curcumin/bortezomib group did better than the control group, but the two nano-groups showed SIGNIFICANT decreases in tumor growth. 

Okay, let’s see if I can recap the study quickly:

  1. The authors stuck curcumin and bortezomib inside a sort of nano-bubble covered with bone-loving Aln.
  2. Because of the Aln, the bubble traveled at top speed towards the bone microenvironment, where it remained for quite some time, giving the drugs plenty of time to act.
  3. The curcumin/bortezomib mixture got released slowly and stopped the breast cancer cells from growing.
  4. It also significantly decreased tumor progression.
  5. In addition, curcumin alone inhibited bone destruction. All by itself.
  6. Smaller doses of chemo can apparently now be used to achieve the same effect, thus reducing toxic side effects and so on.
  7. That’s it, in a nutshell. Promising, don’t you think?

* By the way, on my birthday (July 18), see photo, the Italian authorities SHUT DOWN Green Hill, the appalling beagle puppy mill located in the town of Montichiari in Northern Italy. Finally. Starting tomorrow, the first of the 2500 (or so) Green Hill beagles are going to be handed over to carefully selected foster families with whom they will remain until the investigation against Green Hill has been completed. Of course, I hope that this awful place will be shut down for good and that all the dogs will remain with their new families. The poor dears have already been through so much. But right now, instead of talking about the 100 corpses found in the freezer at Green Hill and about all the other horrible stories that are beginning to come out in the Italian media, I’d rather focus on the positive news. Tomorrow, as I mentioned, the first beagles are going to leave their prison. A very happy day not just for the beagles but also for all the animal activists who have fought tirelessly for years to shut down Green Hill and give these dogs a better life…or rather, give them a life, period!

P.S. I’d like to get back to the nano-study for a moment. Here I read FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER that curcumin is a “chemotherapeutic agent.” Chemopreventive, yes, but chemotherapeutic? I was actually quite stunned, and had to rub my eyes for a second and re-focus before re-reading those words again. Yep. Curcumin is now officially a chemo agent! A non-toxic one, to boot! Right on!

Sunflower babies and a TAB update…

In the past few days, in my snippets of free time, I’ve been working on a post about a new, interesting (how could it be otherwise? 😉 ) study. But I don’t want to give anything away…please be patient. I hope to finish it tomorrow, but it could take a couple more days…

Speaking of waiting, this is for those who are STILL waiting for me to send them a copy of TAB’s report. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get around to doing this. Er, and well, to be honest, I still haven’t gotten around to doing…anything! The other day, you see, just as I was getting ready to fulfill all the TAB report requests, I came up with the absolutely brilliant idea of asking TAB if I could post his report on my blog so that it would be ALWAYS available to anyone who wished to have a look at it. He agreed that that would be a good idea and is currently updating his report. As soon as he sends it to me, I will publish it and turn it into a Page. By the way, he says he’s fine. Not that I had any doubts about that! 🙂 

Since I posted a photo of my original sunflower (see my July 15 post), it has had a few “babies.” See if you can spot the bee (on the left)…Sunflowers are definitely my favorites…

Birthday party…

Just a couple of photos from my very successful birthday party, the first of at least two…The second party will be bigger, with more friends, and will probably take place in September, after everyone gets back from the summer holidays.

The first photo shows a watermelon that DB (blog reader, now friend) carved into the shape of a basket. Isn’t it wonderful?

She filled it with a lovely, colorful, wacky but tasty salad made with watermelon, avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint and other herbs. I forget what else was in it…Anyway, very creative. 

The secondo photo shows part of our after-dinner entertainment. (With five crazy kitties, there’s always something going on in our house… 🙂 ) When Stefano began dangling a yellow ribbon in front of Peekaboo, she went absolutely nuts, jumping all over the place and finally climbing up the back of one of our dining room chairs like a monkey…

A very funny moment…

(On the left you can see Stefano’s hand holding the chair so that it wouldn’t topple over with Peekaboo on it. 🙂 ) 

Location, location, location!

Post-puke stretch

My birthday so far (possible updates later on in the day, if warranted):

  • woke up early as usual
  • fed the cats
  • had a cappuccino and my vitamin D
  • got on the computer

Then I heard Stefano yell as though he’d just spotted a ferocious banana spider, “Nooooooooooooooo!” (followed by a couple of words that I cannot possibly repeat on my blog).

I rushed into our bedroom to find him frantically pulling up the sheets. I asked, “what happened???” He replied, “Pinga just puked on the bed.” Of course, IT had soaked through to the mattress.  So I need to update my list: 

  • cleaned cat puke (first prezzie of the day) off our summer bed cover
  • did two loads of laundry (sheets, mattress cover, bed cover)

So far, so good! 😉

Here you will find a Cat’s Guide to hocking up hairballs: Hehe. 

My last day…

I bet the title of THIS post got your attention, didn’t it? 😉 Well, that’s what I kept telling my students today: “Today is my last day…”

And then I’d add: “…as a 50-year-old!” 😀 

My spring flowers (2012)

Yep, I’m turning 51 tomorrow. Another birthday…13 years after I was diagnosed with MGUS, and almost 7 years after my SMM diagnosis.

I love birthdays. And for this particular one I’m feeling incredibly amazingly stupendously happy…mainly because my Dad is OKAY. 😀

Waiting for the results of Dad’s biopsy, which took place more than ten days ago!, was really tough and rough for us. The important thing, though, is that yesterday we finally learned that the biopsy results were much better than expected. Located on the edge of one of his vocal cords there was a cancerous nodule, which got snipped off easily during the biopsy. Yes, it was cancerous, but it was very small…and in any case it’s gone now. Poof! According to his doctor, we have nothing to worry about…It was “just” some sort of carcinoma…at a stage ZERO. Phew!

Just as a precaution, though, Dad has increased his curcumin intake to four grams a day…


Relief. Relief. Relief.

Let’s see. What else? Tomorrow Stefano is taking the afternoon off from work. In part, because of my birthday, in part so that we can go see a well-known allergy doctor who’s going to try to determine the underlying cause (mission impossible?) of his nasty nasal polyps and chronic sinusitis. Once that’s over, we’re going to pick up pizzaaaaaa & my favorite dessert in the world (millefoglie!) and head back home to watch a movie and spend a romantic evening together. Just the two of us…oh…and our FIVE cats! 😉

On Thursday I’ve invited a few of my best buddies over for a petit celebratory dinner. I think birthday celebrations should go on for more than just one day, especially as we get older. Especially if we have cancer. In fact, I think the name should be changed to birthweek …or birthseveraldays…or…birthpartyondown!

Yeah! 🙂

Killing two birds with one stone: a new (nano) curcumin and doxorubicin study

Okay, this is a bit of exciting news…A new study that gives us a fine and promising example of integrative oncology…

And I say: it’s about time!

A group of Johns Hopkins researchers has recently come up with a way to combine curcumin (nanocurcumin) WITH doxorubicin (nanodoxorubicin). Their invention, called “NanoDoxCurc” (NDC), is a huge improvement over doxorubicin used by itself. For many reasons, as we will see.

Finally, a chemo drug PLUS curcumin…stuck together inside a nanoformulation. (And yes, nanoformulation appears to be a proper word.) 

As we can see from the full study (which you can access for free here:, the presence of curcumin lessened at least two of the well-known and very serious side effects of doxorubicin, namely, its extremely harmful effects on the heart and bone marrow. 

It also overcame the stubborn chemoresistance of three different cancer cell lines, including a myeloma one. Multi drug resistance, as we know, is a huge problem in cancer treatment. HUGE.

The study begins with a discussion of chemoresistance and the related issue of doxorubicin dose escalation. When cancer cells become resistant to doxorubicin, you can increase the chemo dose and overcome that resistance to some degree, but this carries with it a series of problems, including damage to the heart (e.g., congestive heart failure) and bone marrow suppression. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

Many attempts, the authors write, have been made to overcome chemoresistance with synthetic substances (small molecules and antibodies), but most have failed.

And that brings us to this exciting bit: Natural products are gaining attention in MDR inhibition due to their low cytotoxicity profiles. For example, the role of the phytochemical curcumin (derived from Curcuma longa) in inhibiting multiple MDR pumps in cancer cells has been widely studied, including in combination with DOX. (DOX = doxorubicin; MDR = multidrug resistance). As I said, ABOUT TIME! 

Because of curcumin’s well-known poor bioavailability, the researchers developed a polymer nanoparticle formulation of curcumin (NanoCurc or NC) that significantly enhances the systemic bioavailability of this agent. (I WAAAAAANT SOME! But it seems as though it isn’t currently for sale…?) And then they combined NC with a nanoformulation of doxorubicin (or ND) and, poof!, created NDC.

The authors discovered that their nanocurcumin was able, and I quote, to overcome DOX resistance in a variety of human and murine cancer cell lines in vitro as well as in vivo. Notably, we also find that systemic NDC shows no evidence of cardiotoxicity or bone marrow suppression, even at cumulative dosages at which such demonstrable adverse effects are readily observed in free DOX or Doxil®-treated mice, thus overcoming some of the greatest limitations of DOX-based chemotherapy. So, even at high doses, the mice treated with NDC were okay. Isn’t that amazing?

Jumping to the “Results,” now. Here we can read that treating the drug resistant cancer cell lines (including a myeloma one, as I mentioned) with NDC reduced the drug resistance of the cancer cells dramatically compared to nanodoxorubicin alone. Dramatically! 

Before I go on, I have to say that I really hate to talk/write or even think about mice in a lab setting, especially whenever toxicity is mentioned…but I must.

Please check out Figure 4 on page 6: this shows that the mice treated only with doxorubicin ended up with HOLES in their little hearts (ugh). Those treated with the nanodoxcurcumin formulation instead didn’t have any heart damage.

But how well did this new formulation work against the three different types of cancer? Very well: NDC SIGNIFICANTLY DECREASED the proliferation of all of the cell lines. 🙂

And check this out: Interestingly, NC alone showed greater potency than ND in all three DOX-resistant cell lines. Wowsers! 🙂

Well, there is lots more info in the Results section, such as glutathione levels and body weight. For example, the mice on ND and NDC didn’t lose a lot of weight compared to the control group, which is important. Later on, you see, we discover that the mice on DOX and DOXIL (the latter is a liposomal formulation of DOX) lost 40% of their body AND heart weight! Eeeeeekkkk!

Another interesting tidbit concerns hemoglobin (Hb) levels. Compared to the 12.5 g/dL of the control group, the Hb of the mice in the DOX group dropped to 7.5 g/dL. They became anemic, in other words. Their lymphocyte counts were also very low, leaving them vulnerable to infections. Nothing of the sort occurred in the ND and NDC-treated creatures. So that’s another important finding…

Nanocurcumin also protects healthy cells from damage: Our recent studies with nanoparticulate curcumin have confirmed its ability to ameliorate oxidative damage to non-neoplastic tissues, such as in hepatocytes and neuronal cells, through induction of a favorable intracellular redox environment. I’ve posted many times about this particular ability of curcumin, in fact…

Okay, if you don’t have time to read the full study, just skip down to the Discussion. It summarizes all the important bits, such as the following:

  • Nanocurcumin protects the heart from DOX-induced injury.
  • Nanocurcumin also reduces multi drug resistance. Strongly.
  • The new nanocurcumindoxorubicin (= NDC) formulation can whack cancer cells much more strongly than nanodoxorubicin (ND) alone.
  • Hemoglobin and lymphocyte counts in the NDC-treated mice were similar to those of the control group.
  • The NDC-treated mice maintained their body weight and didn’t show any evidence of toxicity. They behaved normally.
  • A group of NDC-treated mice infected with an extremely aggressive and chemoresistant form of leukemia survived 50% longer than mice in the control group and those in the ND-alone group.

I’ll end with an important excerpt: Interestingly, while both ND and NC each showed a degree of tumor growth inhibition, the composite nanoparticle NDC showed nearly complete growth inhibition (>90%) over the duration of the study.


Grammar test

I almost fell off my chair laughing yesterday morning at work (so did my student, by the way). I asked one of my students to do a simple grammar test consisting of a list of sentences. Each sentence contained ONE mistake, which she had to find. She did very well until she reached the following:

“He never wear a hat.”

After staring at it for a few seconds, she said: “Margaret, for me, that’s okay. There is no mistake.”

“Oh no, there is indeed a mistake,” I assured her.

A few more seconds passed.

Finally, just as she was ready to give up, I gave her the following prompt:

I never wear a hat, YOU never wear a hat, HE…” (I paused.)

She smiled triumphantly and exclaimed, “Oh yes, of course, I need to add an  ‘s’!!!”

“Okay, so give me the correct sentence now…” I said.

“He NEVERS wear a hat.”