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Scientific Breakthroughs

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Leukemia Drugs Promising in Preclinical Tests

Joya Chandra, Ph.D., left, and Claudia Miller report on two drugs used together in preclinical tests to treat leukemia.

Photo by Wyatt McSpadden

Two specific drugs have crossover similarities and appear to be five times more effective against leukemia when combined than when either agent is administered alone, report researchers from the Children’s Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson. Joya Chandra, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics at M. D. Anderson and senior author on the study, and Claudia Miller, first author of the paper and a graduate student at M. D. Anderson through The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, report in the journal BLOOD on the synergy between NPI-0052, a novel proteasome inhibitor, and vorinostat, a histone deacetylase inhibitor. In preclinical tests the two drugs used together increased cell death in chronic lymphocytic leukemia fivefold. For acute leukemia, the efficacy was even greater.

SELECT Results on Selenium, Vitamin E

Findings from one of the largest cancer chemoprevention trials ever conducted have concluded that selenium and vitamin E taken alone or in combination for an average of five and a half years did not prevent prostate cancer. A team of researchers coordinated by the Southwest Oncology Group and led by scientists at M. D. Anderson and Cleveland Clinic published findings from the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) in the Dec. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study, which followed 35,533 participants from 427 sites in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, found no evidence of benefit from selenium, vitamin E or both. “Although supplementation has been discontinued, we will continue to follow these men and monitor their health for approximately three more years, conducting regular prostate screening tests and questioning them about diabetes and other health issues,” says Scott M. Lippman, M.D., chair of the Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology at M. D. Anderson and national study coordinator.

Laughter Is Indeed the Best Medicine


Moshe Frenkel, M.D.

The Place … of wellness at M. D. Anderson has added laughter yoga to its extensive list of complementary and integrative therapies. Created by Indian physician and holistic enthusiast Madan Kataria in 1995, laughter yoga combines humor, gentle exercises and stretches and yogic breaths. The Place … of wellness sessions involve participants in rhythmic clapping and chanting, laughter exercises and meditation. “Laughter yoga brings a unique element to the Place … of wellness,” says Moshe Frenkel, M.D., medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at M. D. Anderson. “We know from multiple studies that laughter causes a positive physiological response and above all reduces stress and anxiety. This complementary therapy allows us to incorporate humor in cancer care and help patients discover a playfulness that reduces stress and anxiety while increasing their pain tolerance.”

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Protein Helps ‘E. coli’ Resist Antibiotics

Richard Brennan, Ph.D.

Like bears going into winter hibernation, bacteria hunker down and become dormant when a certain protein flips a chemical switch in response to antibiotic treatment, researchers at M. D. Anderson report in the Jan.16 edition of Science. “For antibiotics to work, bacteria have to be growing. Dormancy stops everything, allowing some bacteria to persist after treatment,” says senior author Richard Brennan, Ph.D., professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. By demonstrating how the HipA protein freezes bacterial activity, in this case that of Escherichia coli or E. coli, the researchers raise the possibility of a new class of drugs to fight chronic and multidrug-resistant bacterial infection.

Genes May Predict Pancreatic Cancer Risk

Abnormalities in certain DNA repair genes may indicate a person’s high risk of developing pancreatic cancer, a research team from M. D. Anderson reports in the Jan. 15 issue of Clinical Cancer Research. Defects in these critical genes may act alone or in combination with traditional risk factors, such as diabetes, cigarette smoking or family history of the disease, known to increase an individual’s likelihood of being diagnosed with this aggressive cancer. The ultimate goal of this research, says lead author Donghui Li, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology at M. D. Anderson, is to identify highrisk people for closer scrutiny and follow-up through a “quick genetic test.”

‘Self-eating’ Sustains Dormant Cancer Cells

Robert C. Bast Jr., M.D.

A single tumor-suppressing gene is a key to understanding, and perhaps killing, dormant ovarian cancer cells that reawaken years after initial treatment, M. D. Anderson researchers report in the December issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The team found that a gene called ARHI acts as a switch for autophagy, or self-cannibalization, in ovarian cancer cells. Often a mechanism for cancer cell death, “self-eating” in this case acts as a survival mechanism for dormant cancer cells, perhaps helping them avoid starvation, says senior author Robert C. Bast Jr., M.D., vice president for translational research at M. D. Anderson. “We often see ovarian cancer removed, leaving no remaining sign of disease. After two or three years, the cancer grows back,” Bast says. “The assumption is that some cells remain dormant without dividing and without developing a blood supply, but the mechanism for this has not been well understood.”

Spring 2009 Contents

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center