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Medicine Science

Mayo Clinic Reports Dramatic Outcomes In Prostate Cancer Treatment 122

Posted by Soulskill
from the turns-out-the-tumor-was-his-sled dept.
Zorglub writes "Two prostate cancer patients who had been told their condition was inoperable are now cancer-free as the result of an experimental therapy, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester announced Friday. 'Cancer has a propensity for turning off T cells. Dr. Allison hypothesized that if you block the off-switch, T cells will stay turned on and create a prolonged immune response. Dr. Kwon, then at NIH, demonstrated that CTLA-4 blockage could be used to treat aggressive forms of prostate cancer in mice. There was one limitation to that concept — the worry that by simply leaving all the T cells on there may not be enough response aimed at the tumor. Dr. Kwon called Dr. Allison and designed the trial together. The idea: use androgen ablation or hormone therapy to ignite an immune approach — a pilot light — and then, after a short interval of hormone therapy, introduce an anti-CTLA-4 antibody that acts like gasoline to this pilot light and overwhelms the cancer cells.' After the treatment, the patients' tumors shrunk to such a degree that they could be successfully removed."
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Mayo Clinic Reports Dramatic Outcomes In Prostate Cancer Treatment

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  • Hmmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZosX (517789) <zosxavius@gm a i l . c om> on Sunday June 21, 2009 @11:32AM (#28411021) Homepage

    So the immune system will actually fight cancer, but the cancer negates this by turning off the T-cells. This is fascinating. The problem, from what I understand, is that cancer cells reproduce indefinitely as their DNA does not slowly break down. It seems like this could be a real breakthrough for lots of cancer patients.

  • Re:Hmmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by moon3 (1530265) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @11:43AM (#28411109)
    immune system will actually fight cancer

    You need to mark the cancer cells (in someway) so the immune system could recognize them as a threat. Many times big problems could have very simple solutions in biology.
  • Re:Hmmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @11:52AM (#28411173) Homepage

    Many times big problems could have very simple solutions in biology.

    Simple

    I don't think that word means what you think it means. Just because something is conceptually simple, doesn't mean that it's simple to use as a medical therapy.

    Messing with the immune system is rarely "simple".

  • Re:Hmmmm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 21, 2009 @12:16PM (#28411301)
    It's not that their DNA doesn't slowly break down but that DNA in Humans is not fail-safe (intelligently designed? probably not). There are specific genes that suppress tumor growth, etc, when they fail you can get cancer.
  • by DeadPixels (1391907) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @12:18PM (#28411311)
    Know what else causes impotence?
    Being dead from cancer.

    True, it would be ideal to have a treatment that doesn't require any surgery, but if your choice is between impotence or death, I think most people will have the operation.
  • Re:Hmmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Sunday June 21, 2009 @12:38PM (#28411439) Homepage Journal

    the human immune system now is the weakest in the whole animal kingdom

    [citation needed]

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Sunday June 21, 2009 @12:44PM (#28411469) Homepage Journal

    even if you quit smoking, you don't actually reduce your chances of getting lung cancer

    Every source I've ever seen on this subject says that although ex-smokers have a higher chance of developing lung cancer than do lifelong nonsmokers, they're still less likely to develop lung cancer than are current smokers (of the same age and smoking history, of course.) If you have a citation to the contrary, please give it.

  • Re:Hmmmm (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 21, 2009 @01:18PM (#28411775)

    There are a lot of cellular and genetic causes of cancer. Telomerase is an generally an embryonic enzyme that is reactivated in cancer calls that prevents the 'breakdown' of DNA as cells replicate, leading to indefinite replecative capabilities. There are also tumor suppressor genes that when mutated or deactivated lose their ability to prevent cancerous cell growth. Examples of this include p53, which detects errors in the DNA and either stops the replicative cell cycle or promotes apoptosis (programed cell death). In ~50% of cancers this gene is altered or lost, allowing for cells with altered DNA to continue replicating. There are a wide variety of other genes/proteins involved in apoptosis that be altered. The immune system is often capable of recognizing cancerous cells do the their lack of 'self' signals that are normally expressed on all cells, when recognized, immune cells such as Natural Killer cells can cause Apoptosis of the altered cells (this is also how we fight virally infected cells). But if the proteins involved in apoptosis don't work, the cell becomes immortal and can avoid death via the immune system. There are also other 'proto'oncogenes that code for proteins involved in controlling cell growth and replication. If these genes become over activated, a large number of growth factors are released causing excessive growth and proliferation of cell groups...=Cancer. There are generally several gene alterations that lead to a cancerous growth, and these genetic alterations vary from tumor to tumor, and even from cell to cell within a single tumor. This is why no single cure for cancer exists, or will ever exist.

  • True, but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Weaselmancer (533834) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @01:35PM (#28411911)

    How many men would choose between impotence and a, say, 1/1000 (no idea if that is the actual chance) of dying earlier?

    You'd need to have the whole picture before you could make an educated choice.

    I lost my father to prostate cancer a couple of years ago. When it got bad he wanted to die at home. We arranged that for him. I was with him during his last day. I watched him die.

    I can tell you this. It's a life changing event watching someone die from cancer. Most people happily have no idea what it's like. I know though. Tumors up and down your spine, eyedroppers full of synthetic morphine to deal with the pain...it's absolutely unreal. Honestly.

    Believe me, if it came down to it and someone told me today that they'd have to remove everything from my balls to my bellybutton to avoid that fate, I'd go to the table with a smile. I'd happily sit to pee if it meant I could dodge that bullet. Anyone would if they knew what I know.

    Oh yeah, on an unrelated note - people who smoke are bat shit insane. They have absolutely no idea what's at the end of a losing roll of the dice.

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @01:42PM (#28411973) Homepage
    Regardless of what I like or dislike about the health care plan, exceptions or provisions in any plan need to be in place so normal people can get treatments like this when they become available- even if they are still experimental and turn out to be a hail marry pass with the hopes of doing something other then the alternative of death.

    What prompts you to say that? This has been done on exactly two patients. If done on say, one hundred, maybe it helps five and kills the rest. The medical literature is quite full of therapies that held great promise but never lived up to their expectations for one reason or another. We waste an enormous amount of time and money on expensive, dangerous therapies that in the end, don't help patients much, and can hurt more patients then they help. Until and unless we do the real, long term, difficult and boring research (and the comparative research between different therapies) we're going to go off half cocked and fully broke.

    Your attitude, common as it is, is about 1/2 of what is drastically wrong with American healthcare. There is no substitute for good science.
  • by TheLink (130905) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @02:34PM (#28412439) Journal
    Well that's because Baconnaise, choc chip pancakes and sausage have anti-cancer properties. Really!

    Eat enough of that and the odds of you getting cancer go way down.

    You'd just die of heart disease or something else first ;).

    Some people choose certain diets because they want to live longer. Others choose their diets based on how they want to die ;).

    You're eventually going to die of something. Imagine a pie chart where the slices represent the odds of you dying of a particular problem. Whatever you do, the pie is there and it doesn't go away. You can change the sizes of the slices, but it's unlikely you'll ever get to a slice that says "ran out of resources due to Heat Death of the Universe".

    So don't pick a diet or lifestyle that you can't grow to like. It's no point suffering your entire life just to die of cancer in the end. But it's probably not a good idea to die too early either, so find a decent balance and try to figure it out early enough so you can get on with more important stuff ;).
  • by SydShamino (547793) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @03:39PM (#28412905)

    The nation can't afford to fund every experimental or crazy expensive treatment for everyone - we'd go broke. It's a noble goal but just not possible.

    Instead, I see this as an opportunity for private insurance to thrive. I welcome government insurance as it will allow me to disconnect my health care from my employer. But I see an opportunity for a private company to offer supplemental insurance. With no preexisting conditions and, say, $20 a month, you could be covered up to $500,000 for experimental surgeries, out-of-country treatment, or other options for things not covered by your government plan. It lets the rich folks spend their extra money on something.

    And the government can continue to fund research studies, like they probably did this one, so that those too poor or without supplemental insurance have a chance to participate. It's a win-win situation.

  • Re:Hmmmm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by assert(0) (913801) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @03:54PM (#28413029) Homepage

    >But the main driver behind this weak immune system, is the crap that we call "food" (but really isn't).

    You really bought into the "health food" & supplements party line, didn't you?

    1. A stronger immune system is not always a good thing. See autoimmune syndrom, cytokine storms etc.

    2. We don't eat crap food! Yes, we have easy access to carbs, which is not always a good thing (depending on genetic and social factors). But we also have easy access to nutrients! We, in the west, can and do eat greens any time of the year. Scurvy, beriberi, and kwashiorkor are unheard of today in developed countries.

    3. Eating crap food doesn't cause your immune systems to become "weak". It results in malnutrition, which in turn causes very specific conditions (like scurvy, beriberi and kwashiorkor). Crap food -> weak immune system -> cancer (or whatever) is a "health food" store myth. It's basically a meme designed to extract money from insecure but basically healthy westerners (aka suckers).

  • Re:True, but (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Weaselmancer (533834) on Sunday June 21, 2009 @04:13PM (#28413161)

    The people who smoke are not necessarily bat shit insane. They may figure the pleasure is worth the final pain. I don't think it's worth it so I don't smoke.

    Yeah, that's kind of my point. They don't know what the "final pain" actually is. I'll betcha if they did they would feel differently.

    We all are building sand castles that will eventually be washed away. Learning to accept that is a good way to have more fun.

    Oh, I agree completely. We all die. But getting your end prematurely from something that painful...well, sucks.

    My dad was a tournament tennis player and a black diamond downhill skier when he was diagnosed. Cancer took it all from him. Hell, if it wasn't for the cancer he'd probably be playing tennis today.

"Right now I feel that I've got my feet on the ground as far as my head is concerned." -- Baseball pitcher Bo Belinsky

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