from the Neuroblastoma Cancer Conference
The following is a brief summary of some of the insights I gained from the Neuroblastoma convention I attended in Chicago a few weeks ago.
There are two types of cancer: dumb and smart. A dumb cancer has only one malfunctioning gene and therefore only one gene has to be turned on or off. Dr. Brian Druker has taken advantage of this phenomenon by using a product called Gleevec to turn off only one gene in chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). As a result, CML has almost been eliminated.
Smart cancers on the other hand, will generate random mutations of themselves at the genetic level. Here doctors are trying to identify predictable patterns of these mutations and use genetic specific drugs to kill or alter the cancer. Neuroblastoma (NB) is a smart cancer.
Some in cancer research feel that killing smart cancers at the genetic level is way too complex. This group feels it would be much simpler to look for a common denominator such as a marker on the cancer cell’s surface that can be used as a target to kill the cell. 90% of NB tumors have a common marker called GD2.
The problem with markers on the surface of a NB cancer cell is that they are lipids (fats) and/or sugars and therefore undetectable by the body’s immune system. The solution is to attach an agent to GD2 (the marker) that the immune system can identify. This way it can identify, target and destroy the NB cell.
The last presentation was given by Dr. Jason Shohet of Texas Children’s Hospital / Baylor. Dr. Shohet works under Dr. Brenner who heads NB research at Texas Children’s Hospital / Baylor and is an advisor to Kids’ Cancer Research Foundation. He spoke of a gene therapy that could be a major breakthrough.
In his presentation he discussed several theories about why NB cancer comes back after aggressive frontline treatment. One theory suggests that NB cells hide in bone morrow and/or mutate. Another school of thought is that NB cells are continually being produced by stem cells. Dr. Shohet stated that he has identified NB stem cells in his lab and has already identified a toxin that can kill them. He has also developed a strategy to effectively deliver the toxin to the stem cell. THIS COULD BE HUGE! HOPE!
What is overwhelmingly sad is that for many kids it is too late. This is the bases for urgency!
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