Thursday, September 30, 2010


Here's a link to a happy press release from the American Association for Cancer Research, titled "Nanotechnology Brings Personalized Therapy 1 Step Closer to Reality." Very cool research coming out of Stanford University, and reported at an AACR conference a couple of days ago. It's all about nanotechnology, the science that looks at the smallest possible units of a cell. The research described here shows that nanotechnology can be used to look at changes in proteins while they interact with drugs or other cancer treatments. This technology can be used during drug trials to determine just how the drug is affecting the cancer cell (or not affecting it).

The researchers looked at cells from lymphoma patients, among others. Instead of performing a biopsy of a lymph node (which can be easy, like mine was, or very tough, if it's in a location that's hard to get to, like near the lungs), doctors can use either a blood sample or a needle aspiration (a really thin needle is inserted into the node and cells are drawn out). The cells are examined (maybe even very soon after treatment has been given) to determine if the drug hit the proteins that were targeted.

And this is what personalized medicine is all about: determining which treatments are working for which patients, and stopping the treatments if necessary and moving on to something else before wasting time, energy, money, and healthy cells. Sounds like it's a technique that might be available relatively soon, too.

targeted therapies video

Here's link for a really nice video on targeted therapies in lymphoma. It's actually geared toward medical professionals, acting a as a tutorial so doctors know what they're talking about when a patient asks basic questions. This way, they can actually give some answers, and avoid saying things to a panicked patient like "You can ask the oncologist all of those questions" -- like my doctor did when she delivered the news to me.

Targeted therapies, of course, are treatments that focus on a particular feature of a cancer cell, allowing the treatment to affect only the cancer cells and not healthy cells nearby (the way traditional chemotherapy would work).

The video gives a basic overview of lymphoma, and of targeted therapies in general, and then looks at a few different categories of targeted therapies in lymphoma specifically. First, it looks at CD20-targeted treatments like my old pal Rituxan. Then it looks at bcl2-targeted therapies, which focus on bcl2 proteins, which regulate the natural cell death of cancer cells. Too much bcl2 keeps cells from dying. So getting rid of bcl2 will help kill off cancer cells. AB263 is the name of a treatment that may be able to do this. Still in clinical trials, but it seems very promising.

Another target is something called mTOR, which keeps an eye on some elements of growth in the cell. (This part of the video is very technical, though there's a nice visual to help you see what it means.) As with the other targets described in the video, too much mTOR is a problem, and it is ofetn present in cancer cells. Finally, the video discusses Histone Deacetylaces. While this target seems most effective in some T-cell lymphomas (Follicular is a B-cell lymphoma), the visual for this part of the video is especially cool, so I recommend watching it.

The video closes by stressing that cancer cells seem to survive through multiple pathways, so some trials are focusing in combining the different targeted therapies.

As always, this is all very hopeful. The different therapies involved certainly seem like they should make a difference, assumng the assumptions behind the science are correct.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Denied Again

Well, once again, The MacArthur Foundation gave out its "Genius Grants" yesterday, and once again, I didn't win one.

The MacArthur folks don't describe their process for deciding who gets nominated, who gets a grant, and how they define "genius." So I can't even tell you why exactly my own genius continues to go unrecognized. It shouldn't be that tough -- my blog profile lists my occupation as "Super Genius." How hard can it be to find me? Do a Google search, for crying out loud.

Even worse, I don't get the consolation prize of seeing a cancer researcher win one this year. Some TV director, a few anthropologists, a scientist or three. No cancer people.

I may need to campaign more actively next year.

You know who should have gotten a Genius Grant? The researcher who was in charge of this study.....

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Busy Week

It's been crazy lately at work, and now that the kids' activities have started back up, it seems like we don't have 5 free minutes. Hence, the slowing-down on the blog posts.

But we did take a little time out for some fun this week. We had a very quick visit with Mom to spend her birthday with her, which was very nice. The kids are lucky to have such great relationships with their grandparents. Love you, mom.

And Isabel and I had a rare mid-week evening out on Wednesday. We saw the Long Wharf Theater's production of Ella: The Musical, about the life of Ella Fitzgerald, one of my favorite singers. The show starred Tina Fabrique, who was fantastic. (If you have small kids, you'll recognize her as the voice of the "Reading Rainbow" theme song.) I think my favorite piece from the show was "Old Black Magic" (this is Ms. Fabrique singing it as Ella from a different show). But I'm not sure anything compares to the real Ella singing Gershwin.....

I'll try to be better about blog postings. Hard to find time to read these days.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


People Magazine has a short piece on Michael Douglas' progress with his cancer battle. He mentions that he is pleasantly surprised by the support he's gotten from cancer survivors, most of whom are strangers.

He shouldn't be very surprised, though it's understandable that he is. I remember how quickly the people in the support group became very close to me in a very short time. Obviously, there's a bond between people in the same situation, even if there situations aren't quite the same.

Certainly, it's the love and support of family and friends that mean the most. But there's something about talking to someone who's been there already that brings its own, different kind of comfort. The love of family and friends reminds you that you aren't alone, that there's someone with you right now. The support of survivors gives you a glimpse of where you hope to be, and a path to follow.

Anyway, he seems to be doing well, and I certainly wish him the best.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Webcasts, season 2

Betsy de Parry, NHL survivor and writer, has brought back her lymphoma webcast series. Looks like a great lineup.

Betsy is kind of an NHL goddess (though she probably wouldn't call herself that), having written a great book on her NHL experience, then having been the subject of a short film; she's now writing a blog for her hometown paper's website (which I haven't had time to look at yet, so I'll link to it after I get a chance to do some reading). And I don't just like her because her grandmother was a McEachern....

Last year, Betsy hosted a series of webcasts on lymphoma-related topics, and now she's back with a new series. Two webcasts have already been posted and archived: one on "mapping the journey," letting new patients know what's ahead for them (and reminding veterans of where we've been and what we might still need); the second on "participating in your care," focusing on how to be an active patient.

"Participating in Your Care" is very good, and features a couple of cancer gods in their own right: Kairol Rosenthal, the go-to person for young adult cancer patients (those in their 20s and 30s -- I was 40 years and 6 months when I was diagnosed, so offically past the "young" stage) and Lynne Lane, who founded the group "Voices of Survivors," which lets survivors tell their stories and provide some inspration and hope for current patients. The two of them have a lot of very important things to say. Listen yourself for the details. I'm all about taking some control over your cancer and its treatment, so it was a great webcast for me.

I'm looking forward to the other webcasts. The RadioImmunoTherapy show should be great, given Betsy's vocal advocacy of RIT, which saved her life. But of course, it's the Indolent Lymphomas show that I really want to hear about most. I always learn something new.

Thanks, Betsy. Nice job, as usual.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Colonel

Time Magazine has a story about Col. Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. It's kind of an appreciation, prompted by the author's having read recently that 61% of Americans don't know who Col. Sanders it, which made him sad. I share in his sadness.

This is probably because of my time in Louisville, where we lived just down the street from The Colonel's grave. When we lived in Kentuicky, visiting The Colonel's Grave was a must-see stop on our city tour for family and friends.

Of course, it could also be that I'm sad because, like Sanders, I too am a Kentucky Colonel, an honorary title bestowed upon those who have done much to serve the people of Kentucky. I had said for a long time that I wanted to be a Colonel, so for my birthday, Isabel asked a friend to nominate me (one must be nominated by another Colonel). The friend agreed to do it, and the two of them were able to write up a very persuasive statement about how my teaching had been a service to the people of the state. The friend brought it to a neighbor, who worked in the Kentucky Governor's office, and asked the neighbor to look over the statement to see if it would be acceptable. The neighbor laughed and said, "Whatever. I'll just put it in the pile with the other certificates for him to sign." My signed certificate was framed and wrapped for my birthday, and my annual dues statement arrived a week later.

My Louisville collegaues were good enough to change the name tag on my mailbox to "Colonel McEachern." Students used to ask if I was in the military, which seemed kind of unlikely to them. Unfortunately, nobody calls me Colonel anymore.

Well, almost nobody.

When we moved to Connecticut, a colleague, who had served in the army in his native country, saw the certificate on the wall in my office, and excitedly started to share war stories with me. I mean REAL war stories -- about the civil war in his country. I had to stop him and make it clear that my title was honorary. But almost 15 years later, he still salutes me in the hall and calls me Colonel, and reminds me that I outrank him and that he will do "whatever my Colonel tells me to do."

Now that's respect.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Learning from Curable Cancers

This week's edition of Newsweek has a fascinating article called "Curing Cancer: What Treatable Tumors can Teach Us about Improving the Odds in the Deadliest Cases."

It reports on work that researchers are doing on the types of cancers that result in the most fatalities, turning to some of the cancer success stories for models for how to handle the ones that are still causing so many problems.

For example, there's a much better cure rate for ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) in kids than in adults, and it's better among kids who are treated by pediatric oncologists than those treated by adult oncologists. This is because the pediatric oncologists are more likely to blast the kids with mega-doses of a bunch of different drugs -- as much as the kids can tolerate. Adult oncologists tend to take a try-one-till-it-stops-working approach. I think that's fascinating. It makes a lot of sense, and certaining in Follicular NHL, the more aggressive treatments (like R-CHOP, a combination of 5 drugs) results in a greater likelihood of a lasting remission. Of course, the single-agent, hold-off-on-the-hard-stuff approach has its place, too. But there's some speculation that a guns-a-blazin' approach might offer a chance of a cure, too: R-CHOP followed by RIT, for example. That's a whole lot of initials to deal with.

Another example involves the kind of personalization that's becoming much more common, where a precise genetic mapping of the individual's cancer cells helps determine which treatments will be successful. This would mean that treatment is determined by genetic markers, rather than body part: there are a whole bunch of different lung cancers, not just one type, and knowing which gene mutation caused which type of lung cancer could make a big difference in outcome, where time and money isn't wasted on something that they know won't work.

It's not new, all of this information, but I like to read it again. And I like to read quotes from researchers who are excited about what they're doing and say things like "I feel like I've seen the future."

Bring it on.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Here's a link for another very informative presentation, this one called Immunotherapy in Lymphoma, by Dr. John P. Leonard, a well-known lymphoma specialist.

He discusses three different types of immunotherapy: monoclonal antibodies, RIT, and vaccines. All of them attempt to manipulate the patient's immune system in some way to fight off the lymphoma.

Fans of Lympho Bob are all too familiar with monoclonal antibodies like Rituxan. As with some other reviews of monoclonal antibodies, Leonard talks about the many different second generation antibodies that are in the research pipeline. So far, results on these seem to be inconclusive -- they work as well as Rituxan. We're hoping for something that will be an improvement; I don't think they get FDA approval unless they can show that they are better. Maybe one of the many newer ones will hold the key to a breakthrough.

Vaccines are a similar story -- great in theory, so far not meeting their promise. Still, Leonard has some hope.

Then there's RIT. Seems more and more that it's doing things that other treatments just don't or can't do.

All in all, the presentation is a nice overview of this type of treatment. And it's nicely focused on the future, which is where our focus should always be.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Bithday, darlin'

Don't know if you'll check in today or not, seeing as it's your birthday and all, and the kids and I are probably keeping you happily busy, but just in case....

Love you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Be Aware

September is Lymphoma Awareness month.

It's an unofficial designation, actually, other than having some lymphoma-focused organizations declaring it so. But the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is working to get September declared Blood Cancer Awareness Month by Congress, which would make it somewhat official.

Of course, some of us don't need Congress to be aware of these things....

The LLS is calling on Congress for this issue and another: increasing funding for blood cancer research. Together, the two make up the "Call for Cures" initiative, the LLS's "virtual march on Washington."

Feel free to get involved. Incidents of lymphoma in the U.S. are increasing every year, but funding for research is not keeping pace.