Monthly Archives: July 2017

An artistic representation of cancer

Source: www.vueweekly.com
Author: Stephan Boissonneault

Obstructed by Jude Griebel // Stephan Boissonneault

One of the most terrifying phrases known to our current human existence is “you have cancer.” Those three words can break a person.

“I would describe it as a terrible cyclone of information,” says head and neck cancer patient Kimberly Flowers. “You’re surrounded by all these medical teams, all these procedures and appointments, and you’re expected as [a] patient to make the best informed decisions while you’re in a state of emotional trauma. It’s just a whirlwind of confusion.”

With their project and exhibition See Me, Hear Me, Heal Me, clinicians, researchers, patients, and artists aim to recreate that initial confusion and the universal experience of head and neck cancer with multiple works of art.

“I thought art was the best way to express this because art presents an effective and visceral understanding to the experience,” head researcher of the project Dr. Minn Yoon says.

Yoon, being an assistant professor with the School of Dentistry at the University of Alberta, initially started the project by interviewing patients with head and neck cancer.

“My research has to do with the oral health of vulnerable populations, and patients with head and neck cancer fall into that category,” Yoon says. “I wanted to get a sense of what these people actually go through and how their lives change after learning they have head and neck cancer.”

After an interview with a patient who had undergone surgery to reconstruct her tongue, Yoon became aware that the project did not have to be confined to the realm of academia.

“Words alone were not sufficient,” Yoon says.

After meeting local artist Sean Caulfield, Yoon realized she had found the perfect medium to convey a new and authentic take on head and neck cancer—art.

Having done past work with biomedical art projects, Caulfield jumped on board. The project touched him not only on an artistic level, but also a very personal one.

“My mother had head and neck cancer so I had that personal experience,” Caulfield says.

His piece, “Veil,” is made up of nine wooden panels, each with its own unique image like a bouquet of flowers, lamps, and a suburban house. The images are clouded with sheets of printed disruption, blown up images of cancer cells that look as if they’re slowly consuming the entire piece.

“I started thinking about the memories of my mother and the classic hospital layout,” Caulfield says. “I thought about the ways this diagnoses creates a veil over the way you see your life.”

Similarly, Jill Ho-You’s piece, “Veils”, features hand cut mylar sheets of cancer MRI scans.

“I wanted to use a material that had the same ghostly presence as the MRI scans did,” Ho-You says. “I wanted to express the fragility of the human body. People don’t really ever think about their bodies when everything is fine, but when you get sick it becomes this weird alien experience.”

Like all of the artists featured in the exhibit, Caulfield and Ho-You’s goals were to create relatable imprints for head and neck cancer patients.

“It perfectly conveys what I experienced when I was told I had tongue cancer,” Flowers says. “Everything just seemed black to me and everything was so closed to me. I was existing at work and at home, but I was so numb to everything around me. You’re constantly grasping for the past.”

All of the pieces created in See Me, Hear Me, Heal Me were created after patients, artists, clinicians, and researchers all worked together to find the ubiquitous and invisible aspects of head and neck cancer.

“We had a workshop where we used something called imagery theatre where everyone involved, including the artists, got together and talked about head and neck cancer,” Yoon says.

“What really surprised me was that these artists were able to create something from someone else’s experience and brought a new accurate perspective,” Flowers adds.

Each piece in the exhibit stands out with its own literal spotlight.

There’s Jude Griebel’s “Obstructed” sculpture which features a patient on a hospital bed depicted as a grotesque anthropomorphic mountain that has just had a landslide. The piece chimes in on a person’s loss of identity when being diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

Another piece portraying that loss of identity is Brad Necyk’s “Waiting Room” which shows Flowers’ face digitally blurred out on a lit up background.

“My arm was used to repair my tongue and my leg skin was used to cover my arm,” Flowers says. “You come out quite fractured and your sense of self really changes.”

The exhibit does a superb job of expressing the hidden qualities of head and neck cancer.

“My experience has been very eye-opening, and through the exhibit I’ve had some enlightened moments with my own recovery with head and neck cancer,” Flowers says.

Yoon and the artists hope to soon unveil the exhibit internationally and use it as a means to promote the understanding of head and neck cancer.

“What has happened behind the scenes with these patients has been really moving to me as a researcher, but also as a human,” Yoon says. “I guess that shows the importance of fostering the humanistic qualities of academia, health, and art.”

House Committee Looks to Dilute Tobacco Control Act

Source: www.medpagetoday.com
Date: July 12, 2017
Author: Salynn Boyles

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee made a move Wednesday to greatly weaken the FDA’s authority to regulate tobacco products, including flavored cigars and electronic cigarettes, and health advocacy groups were quick to condemn it.

The committee approved a rider to the agriculture funding bill that would exempt certain cigars from FDA’s authority and weaken its regulatory oversight over e-cigarettes, little cigars, and hookah tobacco.

Prior to the vote, the House committee defeated an amendment by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) to remove language from the bill that will effectively eliminate FDA’s authority to review the health hazards of thousands of tobacco products.

A second rider would exempt from FDA authority certain cigars, including many that are cheap, flavored and are most likely to appeal to children, said American Lung Association (ALA) President Harold Wimmer.

“These dangerous riders were added to this bill for the benefit of the tobacco industry and come at a time when e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among kids,” Wimmer said in a written press statement.

The riders are similar to those passed by the House Appropriations Committee last year, but the language restricting FDA’s authority under the Tobacco Control Act was dropped from the final FY2017 bill later in the appropriations process. New language in the FY2018 bill does require the FDA to develop standards for the flavors added to e-cigarettes.

ALA spokesperson Erika Sward told MedPage Today that it is not clear if the riders will suffer the same fate this time around.

“Last year there was a President committed to the Tobacco Control Act in the White House,” she said. “This year not only do you have the House attempting to undermine the Tobacco Control Act, but you also have the FDA delaying the deeming rule.”

Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, said the cigar rider exempting certain cigars from FDA regulation was particularly troubling.

“Our association strongly believes that the FDA should regulate all products, since tobacco in any form presents health risks. Further, we are particularly concerned that this could create a loophole that would allow tobacco manufacturers to manipulate their products to evade the agency’s oversight,” she said in a written statement.

Brown noted that the tobacco product grandfather rider could allow thousands of tobacco products to skip FDA review.

“While we appreciate that House members included a requirement that the FDA develop a product standard for flavors in e-cigarettes, changing the grandfather date puts e-cigarette users’ health at risk,” she said.

Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Action Network, charged that the legislation would benefit the cigar and e-cigarette industries at the expense of the nation’s public health.

“Congress made a commitment to protect the health of the American people when it passed the Tobacco Control Act. Today’s committee action is a serious breach of that promise,” he said.

July, 2017|Oral Cancer News|

Personalized cancer vaccines successful in first-stage human trials

Source: http://newatlas.com/cancer-personalized-vaccine-success-trial/50402/
Author: Rich Haridy
Date: July 9, 2017

A cancer vaccine is one of the holy grails of modern medical research, but finding a way to stimulate the immune system to specifically target and kill cancer cells has proven to be a difficult task. Now two recent clinical trials that have produced encouraging results in patients with skin cancer are are providing hope for the development of personalized cancer vaccines tailored to individual patient’s tumors.

Both studies focus on neoantigens, which are mutated molecules found only on the surface of cancer cells. Neoantigens prove to be ideal targets for immunotherapy as they are not present on healthy cells. A vaccine’s challenge is to train the body’s immune cells, known as T cells, to hunt and kill only those specific tumor cells that hold the target neoantigens.

In the first trial, at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, samples of tumors were taken from six patients with melanoma. The patients were identified as having a high risk for recurrence after first having their tumors removed by surgery. For each individual patient the researchers identified up to 20 neoantigens specific to a subject’s tumor.

Computer algorithms were then utilized to help the researchers select which specific neoantigens would best stimulate the body’s T cells. Those neoantigens were then synthesized, mixed with an adjuvant to stimulate immune response, and injected into the individual patients.

Four out of the six patients in this first trial displayed no recurrence of their cancer 25 months after vaccination. The other two patients did have a recurrence of cancer, although in those cases the cancer had already spread into their lungs. After a secondary treatment with the drug pembrolizumab, they also entered complete remission.

The second trial, by Biopharmaceutical New Technologies (BioNTech) in Germany, used a similar strategy that targeted neoantigens in 13 patients with melanoma. These vaccines targeted up to 10 specific neoantigens in each individual patient, and after 12 to 23 months eight subjects were cancer-free.

The vaccines in both studies successfully stimulated both kinds of cancer-killing T cells: the CD8+ cells and their CD4+ helper cells. The studies also found that the T cells were able to specifically target a patient’s tumor.

It’s still early stages in research terms, but these results are incredibly promising. With more, and broader, clinical trials set for the near future, it is yet to be seen how effective these kinds of personalized vaccines are across a wide range of different cancers. A larger clinical trial that also targets bladder and lung cancers is currently underway.

One of the big challenges to overcome, should this form of personalized treatment prove broadly successful, is the cost and time in developing these customized vaccines. Current estimates claim a single patient’s neoantigen vaccine costs up to $US60,000 to produce. In tandem with other new drug innovations, some patients could be paying several hundred thousand dollars for these treatments should they reach the market.

The time it takes to produce an individual vaccine is also a concern when considering how this treatment could be rolled out on a mass scale. It took several months to produce the vaccines in both studies, but the researchers are confident this time frame could be reduced to six weeks or less. However, this is still a significant amount of time if the process was to be rolled out on a large scale.

Pragmatic challenges aside though, these neoantigen vaccines could pave the way for an exciting new form of personalized cancer treatment. One that allows for specific tumors to be targeted by the immune system through customized vaccines.

The results of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute trial were published in the journal Nature, as were the results of the second trial by Biopharmaceutical New Technologies (BioNTech).

July, 2017|Oral Cancer News|

Biotech exec facing death urges: Get the vaccine that prevents his cancer

Source: www.philly.com
Author: Michael D. Becker

Like most people who pen a new book, Michael D. Becker is eager for publicity.

But he has an unusual sense of urgency.

A former oncology biotech CEO, Becker has neck cancer. He expects his 49th birthday in November to be his last, if he makes it.

What also drives him to get his message out, however, is this: Children today can get a vaccine that prevents the kind of oropharyngeal cancer that is killing him.

As he collides with his mortality, Becker wants to share his story and raise awareness about the vaccine, which protects against dangerous strains of human papillomavirus, or HPV, the extremely common, sexually transmitted virus that caused his disease. His book, A Walk With Purpose: Memoir of a Bioentrepreneur (available on Amazon.com), was produced and self-published in a creative sprint between December, when his cancer recurred just a year after initial diagnosis and treatment, and April. He also has a blog, My Cancer Journey, and has been conducting media interviews.

“I had a lot of motivation to write the book quickly,” he said wryly at his home in Yardley.

In the final pages, he urges parents “to talk to their doctor about the HPV vaccine,” which “simply didn’t exist when I was a teenager, or it could have prevented my cancer.”

The leading vaccine brand, Gardasil, was hailed as a breakthrough when it was introduced in 2006. It is approved to prevent cervical cancer and less common genital malignancies, including anal cancer, that are driven by HPV infections. The vaccine was not clinically tested to prevent head and neck cancers, so it is not officially approved for that purpose, but research shows that it works. A study of young men presented last month found that vaccination reduced oral HPV infections by 88 percent.

Still, many adolescents are not getting the shots, for various reasons.

“It just kills me,” Becker says without a trace of irony, “that it’s underutilized. There are parents debating about whether to vaccinate their children. I’ve talked to immunologists about the safety. I had to make the decision to vaccinate my own kids. I was 100 percent convinced.”

From dropout to go-getter:
Becker describes his own youth as a bit misspent. He left home and dropped out of high school in his junior year, soon after his parents divorced.

“During my teens, I had experimented with sex, drugs, and alcohol while teaching myself how to play guitar and dreaming of becoming the next Eddie van Halen,” he writes in his book. “Making it through a number of near-death and reckless experiences during that period now seemed like a minor miracle.”

In his late teens, he wised up, got his equivalency diploma, and went to work for his father’s investment firm, where he discovered a talent for computer programming. Next came a job as a stock broker in Chicago, where he met and soon married Lorie Statland, an elementary school teacher who inspired him to get a college degree. The couple had two children, Rosie, now 19, and Megan, 16.

Becker went on to have a prolific career in biotechnology, complete with the occasional setbacks (lawsuits and soured partnerships) that are part of that high-stakes world. His resume includes Wall Street securities analyst, portfolio manager, founder of his own communications firm, and top executive of three biotech companies, two of which developed oncology products. During his cancer treatment, he used a prescription medicine that he played a major role in developing while at New Jersey-based Cytogen Corp: Caphosol, an electrolyte mouthwash that treats mouth ulcers caused by radiation therapy.

His diagnosis followed his discovery of a lump under his jaw line on the day before Thanksgiving in 2015. Tests revealed cancer that had spread from a tonsil to a lymph node and surrounding tissue.

At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, he opted for chemotherapy and radiation instead of surgery. The operation, he explains, can damage speech and swallowing, and if it doesn’t get all the cancer, chemo and radiation are still necessary.

He describes the main side effects of treatment – constant dry mouth and changes in taste – as manageable. And he says he was not unhappy to lose 30 pounds.

Although he sounds almost too stoic, he is frank about “the one major issue I tried to ignore … namely, depression.”

“On more than one occasion I burst into a crying session,” he writes. “I’m not talking about the quiet episode with sniffles and a tear or two. I mean full-fledged bawling your eyes out accompanied by nasal discharge and the near inability to speak normally.”

A sensitive subject:
Conspicuously missing from his book, though, is information about head and neck cancer. Over the last 30 years, the epidemiology has changed dramatically in the United States, with a decline in cases related to smoking and alcohol use, and a steady increase in HPV-related cancers. Men are three times more likely than women to develop these malignancies. Of an estimated 63,000 new head and neck cancer diagnoses this year, 11,600 will likely be caused by HPV, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This surge reflects changes in sexual practices, especially oral sex, research suggests. That’s a sensitive issue, as actor Michael Douglas discovered when his candor about his throat cancer and cunnilingus turned him into fodder for tweeters and late-night comics. The thing is, genital strains of HPV are so ubiquitous that almost all sexually active people — not just promiscuous ones — will be infected at some point. It is not clear why, for a fraction of these people, the immune system fails to wipe out the infection.

Becker says he did not wade into this subject in his book because of the scientific uncertainties.

In a recent blog post, he quoted the CDC: “Only a few studies have looked at how people get oral HPV, and some show conflicting results. Some studies suggest that oral HPV may be passed on during oral sex or simply open-mouthed (“French”) kissing, others have not. More research is needed to understand exactly how people get and give oral HPV infections.”

After his cancer recurred, Becker explored his options and entered a National Cancer Institute clinical trial of an experimental immunotherapy. It seems to have slowed, but not stopped, his cancer, which has spread to his lungs.

He is philosophical about his plight.

“I get up each morning feeling fine. It’s not a bad quality of life at the moment,” he said. “And I’ve had just a fabulous life. I’ve worked very hard, but the fruits of those labors were phenomenal. Being able to travel. Being able to give my daughters what they wanted. I wanted them to have a better youth than I had. I’ve got the best wife in the world. I’ve had 25 fabulous years with her. It’s hard to look at my situation and have a lot of self-pity.”

But he does have a hope: “That by sharing this experience freely, I can help create greater awareness for the disease and its impact.”