'Living Drug' Kills Leukemia

A new approach to killing cancer cells that uses a patient's own immune system has beaten back leukemia in 88 percent of adults, US researchers said.

The report by scientists in New York offers more good news for the burgeoning field of cancer immunotherapy, which uses what some describe as a "living drug" that was hailed by Science magazine as the breakthrough of 2013.

The latest trial, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, involved 16 people with a kind of blood cancer known as adult B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Some 1,400 people die of ALL in the United States each year, and while it is among the most treatable cancers, patients often become resistant to chemotherapy and eventually relapse.

For this study, 14 of 16 adult patients achieved complete remission after their T cells were genetically engineered so that they could focus on eradicating cancer. The patients' median age was 50, and they were all on the brink of death when they entered the trial, having relapsed or discovered that chemotherapy was no longer working.

Dr. Renier Brentjens with one of his patients who was rescued from leukemia at the last minute

The longest remission among them so far is about two years, and that patient is still going strong, said lead author Renier Brentjens, director of cellular therapeutics at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Without this therapy, just 30 percent of relapsed patients would be expected to respond to salvage chemotherapy.

   Re-educating T Cells

The process involves removing some of the patient's T-cells and altering them with a gene to make them recognize a protein, known as CD19, on the cancer cells, so that they can attack them. Left to their own devices, T cells can attack other harmful invaders in the body but will allow cancer to grow uninterrupted.

"Basically, what we do is re-educate the T cell in the laboratory with gene therapy to recognize and now kill tumor cells," Brentjens said.

After 15 years of work on the technology, known as tumor-targeted chimeric antigen receptor?modified T cells, "it seems to really work in patients with this particular type of cancer," Brentjens told AFP.

Last year, his team reported the first promising results in five adult patients who achieved remission after the therapy.

He estimated that between 60 and 80 people in the United States have since entered experimental trials of the new treatment, which is also being studied in Europe.

                           Re-educating T Cells

   Not a Fluke

In December 2013, experts from multiple US centers where trials are ongoing presented their findings at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting, including the University of Pennsylvania, which is also studying the approach in adults with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is enrolling pediatric patients in trials of T-cell therapy. Brentjens said other US centers have shown similar remission rates in their studies so far, "demonstrating that this isn't a fluke."

"This is a real phenomenon," he told AFP. "This could be a paradigm shift in the way we approach cancer therapy."

Kanti Rai, chief of the CLL Research and Treatment Program at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New York, described the latest study as "a major service to all of us."

Rai, who was not involved in the research, noted that it has been a few years since scientists first reported on their initial success against CLL. "In the present report, we are told that equally dramatic and excellent results were obtained when a more frightening and fatal disease, such as adult ALL was the enemy," said Rai.

Researchers are still trying to figure out why it does not work in all patients. Efforts are also ongoing to identify cancer-specific receptor cells that could allow the technique to tackle other types of tumors.

"The expansion to other kinds of cancers is next on the to-do list," said Brentjens.

In the meantime, the therapy remains expensive, costing around $100,000 per patient, a price tag experts believe will come down once pharmaceutical companies get more involved and the technique becomes more widespread.

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Marijuana Compound Found Superior To Drugs For Alzheimer's

Could the active ingredient in marijuana, responsible for its characteristic "high," help turn the tide against the accelerating Alzheimer's epidemic?

A remarkable study published in the journal Molecular Pharmacology in 2006, found that this long vilified plant contains a compound with not one, but two therapeutic properties ideal for addressing both the surface symptom (memory problems) and root cause (brain plaque) of Alzheimer's disease. This is an ironic finding, considering that the prevailing stereotype is that using marijuana "fries" the brain, leading to debilitating memory issues.

Researchers discovered that the psychoactive component of marijuana, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), both "competitively inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE) as well as prevents AChE-induced amyloid β-peptide (Aβ) aggregation."

On the first account, THC's ability to inhibit the AChE enzyme, is not unlike the mechanism of action behind most Alzheimer's drugs on the market today. Drugs like donepezil (trade name Aricept), for instance, by targeting and inhibiting the brain enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE), result in an increase in brain levels of this neurotransmitter, which in turn, results in symptom reduction, i.e. improved memory. Donepezil, however, is riddled with controversy due its well-known association with seizures, which likely reflects its intrinsic neurotoxicity. It is, in fact, a chemical in the same general chemical class as venom, insecticides and chemical war agents, such as nerve gas.

On the second account, THC's ability to prevent the acetylcholinesterase-associated amyloid β-peptide (Aβ) aggregation, i.e. brain plaque, indicates that it may, as the researchers noted, "directly impact Alzheimer's disease pathology." In fact, they found "Compared to currently approved drugs prescribed for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, THC is a considerably superior inhibitor of Aβ aggregation, and this study provides a previously unrecognized molecular mechanism through which cannabinoid molecules may directly impact the progression of this debilitating disease."

What is so encouraging about this research, and which the researchers described as "noteworthy," is the following:

THC is a considerably more effective inhibitor of AChE-induced Aβ deposition than the approved drugs for Alzheimer's disease treatment, donepezil and tacrine, which reduced Aβ aggregation by only 22% and 7%, respectively, at twice the concentration used in our studies. Therefore, AChE inhibitors such as THC and its analogues may provide an improved therapeutic for Alzheimer's disease, augmenting acetylcholine levels by preventing neurotransmitter degradation and reducing Aβ aggregation, thereby simultaneously treating both the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer's disease.

THC, of course, is only one of a wide range of cannabinoids in the plant marijuana. Not only is there already plentiful information on the neuroprotective properties of marijuana compounds, but there is also a sizeable body of clinical and/or biomedical research indicating the medicinal value of this plant in over 150 health conditions.

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Garlic Treatment for Warts

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the primary pathogen that causes common warts to manifest on the hands, feet and sex organs of both men and women. HPV can be transmitted through sexual contact and some varieties have been linked to cervical cancer in women.

Although there is no recognized cure for HPV, garlic is a natural remedy that displays antiviral properties and might reduce virulence. Genital warts can have life-threatening consequences, so consultation with a health professional is recommended before starting any new treatments.

   HPV Infections

HPV is one of more than 50 varieties of virus that can lead to the formation of warts on human skin, but it is considered the most common and potentially the most dangerous, as cited in the "Professional Guide to Diseases."

The National Cancer Institute states that HPV genital infection is the most commonly transmitted sexual disease and recognized as a significant cause of cervical cancer, which claims the lives of more than 4,000 American females each year.

Warts of the hands, feet and genitals can cause itching and burning sensations, in addition to having an unseemly appearance. Antiviral drugs, vaccinations and surgery are common treatment options for HPV infections, although some people prefer natural remedies such as garlic.

   Garlic as an Antiviral

Garlic has been consumed as food and medicine for thousands of years and was recognized by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates as an effective cure-all and blood purifier. In recent times, it was discovered that garlic's strong antimicrobial properties are due to the compound allicin, which can kill a variety of pathogens, including viruses, as cited in "Human Biochemistry and Disease."

Allicin can kill a broad spectrum of viruses, including HPV, although unlike many antiviral medication and antibiotics, it doesn't destroy the beneficial bacteria colonies within the intestines. Other compounds in garlic stimulate functions in the liver and large intestine, which promotes a general detoxification in the body, which is beneficial during any infection.

   Combating Warts with Garlic

Raw, crushed garlic cloves or fresh garlic oil can be applied directly to warts of the hands, feet or genitals for the best results. Fresh garlic can cause stinging and temporary skin irritation, but it does not harm the epithelial cells. According to "Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices of Herbal Medicine," common recommendations include applying the garlic three times daily for at least a week, or until the wart starts to shrivel and dry out. 

Although perhaps more time-consuming, garlic cloves can be eaten or garlic capsules can be taken orally, which allows allicin to enter the bloodstream and act as a systemic antiviral. Odorless garlic capsules are commonly available for those who object to the smell of garlic.

   Other Natural Remedies

In addition to garlic, other herbal remedies have antiviral properties and are used to fight HPV infection. The most common remedies include echinacea, goldenseal root, chaparral leaf, olive leaf extract, thuja leaf oil, tea tree oil and astragalus, as cited in "The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine."

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