The Hemoglobin Mail

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Public Event - Oct. 15 at New Medical School, MUN, on Primary Immunodeficiencies

Event title: WAR WAGED IN THE BODY: A Practical Overview of Primary Immunodeficiencies

Date: Thurs., Oct. 15, 2015
Time: 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Location: New Medical Education Center
(at the north side of Health Sciences Centre)
Rm. 1M101
St.John’s, NL

Lot 9, Medical School Parking lot

Description: This event will present Primary Immunodeficiencies in a generalized comprehension of this large group of conditions, and enables individuals to ask and researchers about health topics that are missed, misunderstood or overlooked in the clinic.

You are welcome to show up or register at PCDS Memorial University: PCDS Memorial University:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Exciting developments in the fight against cancers

Harnessing the Immune System

For years scientists have been trying to find ways to better harness our own immune systems to better fight off cancers. Since 2011 alone, there have been promising and significant advances in this approach to cancer treatment. Right now, there is more good news and progress in fighting cancer using an immunotherapy type of approach.

Two medical research announcements are giving hope for a new immune system weapon against at least two types of cancer.

Progress in Melanoma treatment

As described in a BBC story today, "A pair of cancer drugs can shrink tumours in nearly 60% of people with advanced melanoma". Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and in an international trial of 945 people, it shrank tumours by 58%. Tumours continued to shrink or remain stable for an average of 11.5 months. UK doctors say they have never seen tumour shrinkage over 50%.

One patient in the story was given 18-24 months to live in 2013, but is now "feeling amazing". Medical research, not surprisingly, especially in the very complicated area of cancer, takes years of research to make any advancement, and with drugs involved there are side effects. In this case, half of patients had non-serious side effects, but there are potentially serious side effects. It also still remains to be seen why some people benefited while others did not. So, there is still much to be done to see why, and how to improve upon this treatment.

Lung cancer therapy is 'milestone'

A clinical trial has more than doubled the life expectancy of lung cancer patients.

Lung cancer is the most deadly cancer. In this trial, patients with advanced lung cancer lived an additional 9.4 months with standard treatments of chemotherapy. With the drug Nivolumab, they lived over 12 months longer, and some, over 19 months longer. According to Cancer Research UK, it is giving real hope to people who had very few options.

"It's really exciting, I think these drugs will be a paradigm shift in how we treat lung cancer."
- Dr Martin Forster, University College London Cancer Institute

Here's how both the above therapies work:

Normally, our immune systems defends us by sending out "killer" cells for diseases, and is often very successful. However, some cancers like lung cancer, produces a protein called PD-L1 which switches off any part of the immune system that tries to attack them. The drug used, Nivolumab, ".. stop cancers turning off the immune system so the body can keep on attacking the tumour... they also stop the cancer cells from hiding from the body's own immune system."

In 2011, researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York city, took out patients' T-cells, genetically modified them with a "killer" virus, put back into patients, and went on the attach of cancer cells. It had astounding results. This was also a type of immunotherapy.

Every approach in fighting cancer needs to continue, but this one currently hold significant promise not just for melanoma and lung cancer, but for other types as well.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Public Event - Sept. 17 at GEO Centre "Complete Blood Counts; Types & Transfusions"

On behalf of The Thrombosis, Blood and Immune Disorders Education and Research Project, I would like to invite you and interested parties to a free public event that will include topics on:

The Complete Blood Count

  • What can be learned about your health from this very common blood test.
  • Why it is helpful to understand what all these numbers mean and how they affect your health and wellbeing?

    Presented by Dr. Mary-Frances Scully, Associated Professor, Faculty of Medicine MUN


    Blood Types and Transfusions

  • Why are there so many different types of transfusions?
  • How to decide which type is best for each patient.

    Presented by Dr. Christopher Sharpe, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine MUN

    This event will take place on Tuesday, September 17, at the GEO Centre, 175 Signal Hill Rd., St. John's from 6:30 - 9:00 p.m. with talks starting at 7:00 p.m. and food and drinks served afterwards from 9:00 – 10:00 pm.

    These talks are especially of interest to people who are living with any type of blood disorder or cancer, anyone booked for major surgery and anyone taking an anticoagulant. The talks will also be of interest to students and health care professionals who wish to learn more about these investigations and therapies which are so fundamental to modern medical practice and to all members of the public who wish to be informed and better able to make decisions about their own health or that of a loved one.

  • Friday, August 16, 2013

    Ottawa Doctors make a Breakthrough in Fighting Leukemia

    Doctors David Conrad and John Bell have developed a tiny nano-particle that causes human blood cancer cells to kill themselves.

    This is very interesting, and though like any "breakthrough" it is early days and there is much more testing and research trials to be done. However, at this point, it sounds very promising. Please watch and listen to the short clip on the link below. Dr. David Conrad is being interviewed by CTV.

    This is a video link published Aug. 13, 2013 at this CTV News web site:

    Dr. David Conrad: ".. We've developed a 'particle-based therapeutic', and we can introduce it intravenously to mice that have leukemia. We've observed that not only is the leukemia eradicated but it sets up an immune response so that relapse does not occur... we set up an 'immune memory' with this treatment."

    Wow, this sounds revolutionary - a treatment to kill the cancer, and then even prevent a relapse. Let's hope that this study's finding will be repeated in more trials, so that there will one day be human trials, and similar successful results. Researchers are keeping the hope alive with this study, and the "serial T-Cell" treatment from two years ago in Pennsylvania, and New York labs.

    Friday, June 21, 2013

    New drug may be best treatment for leukemia yet

    This is the headline from CNN's site June 20, 2013. The following is the actual story text from CNN (just in case the link becomes unavailable).

    It's called ibrutinib, and it's a potential breakthrough in treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) that could leave patients with fewer side effects than chemotherapy.

    It's called ibrutinib, and it's a potential breakthrough in treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) that could leave patients with fewer side effects than chemotherapy.

    In research published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), scientists report that the experimental drug, which differs from broadly acting chemotherapy agents by specifically targeting certain cancer-causing processes, significantly prolongs the life of patients.

    Ibrutinib is currently being tested on tumors that target the body's immune system, such as CLL and mantle cell lymphoma (MCL).

    CLL is the second most common form of leukemia among adults in the U.S., and about 15,000 Americans, most of whom are elderly, are diagnosed with the blood and bone marrow cancer every year.

    The drug is the first to bind to and block the activity of a protein known as Bruton's tyrosine kinase (BTK), which plays an important role in helping immune cell tumors, which develop from abnormally growing blood stem cells, to grow.

    Once ibrutinib binds to the immune system's B-cells, it prevents tumors growing in these cells from signaling for the nutrients they need to grow and divide. According to the study, the drug doesn't seem to affect the body's T-cells, as chemotherapy agents do, so patients experience fewer side effects.

    TIME: On the horizon at last, cancer drugs that harness the body's own immune system

    Early work on animals showed that the experimental drug effectively shut down tumor cell division, so the researchers tested the compound on 85 CLL patients who had all tried and failed to respond to at least two other anti-cancer treatments. Some even harbored genetic mutations associated with particularly aggressive forms of CLL that typically lead to death within two years of diagnosis.

    The patients were randomized to take one of two different doses of an ibrutinib pill a day. After nearly two years of treatment, 71% of this hard-to-treat group had responded with slower tumor growth, and at 26 months, 75% showed no additional progression of their cancer. At the end of the study period, 83% of the participants were still alive, and most of the patients only complained of diarrhea and fatigue.

    "This is truly a breakthrough drug for CLL. I have been a CLL specialist since 1997, and we have not had a drug like this come into the field yet," says study author Dr. John C. Byrd, the director of the division of hematology at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

    "The most common thing I have heard patients say is that it brings their disease under control and makes them feel how they did before their cancer. I've heard that at least a dozen times."

    The scientists and patients were most encouraged by the fact that the the drug helped them to enjoy a longer period of time, on average, in which their tumors remained stable and didn't progress, than they they had while using chemotherapy agents.

    The MCL patients showed similarly positive results. MCL is an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that generally doesn't respond to existing chemotherpay, immune-based treatment or stem cell transplants.

    But in a separate study also appearing in NEJM involving 111 advanced MCL patients, about 68% of the participants responded to ibrutinib and 58% were alive after 18 months on the therapy. The response rate was encouraging since the last agent to treat MCL was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with a 30% response rate.

    That efficacy data, combined with the experimental drug's favorable side effect profile, has some doctors hoping that ibrutinib might one day replace the harsher chemotherapy agents that are currently the standard of care for these cancers.

    "With chemotherapy, you get it for a specific period of time because patients cannot tolerate the side effects long term. This is an oral medicine that targets something the leukemia cells are dependent on but the rest of the body isn't," says Byrd.

    "People can take a pill once a day and generally they tolerate it well. The side effects are much less than the chemo or other therapies that would be used in this setting."

    Ibutrinib is the first agent to specifically target the BTK pathway, but it's part of a wave of new anti-cancer agents that have been developed to act as more precise, smart bomb medications that destroy just cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. That allows them to minimize the often intolerable side effects of harsher drugs like chemotherapy agents, which tend to wipe out both healthy and cancerous cells at once.

    "In some situations there have been some medications we have tested where patients have said they would rather not be treated and pass (away) from their leukemia than go through the side effects of their medicine that is not going to cure them," says Byrd. Scientists identify opium poppy genes that make promising cancer drug

    Both of the clinical trials, which were sponsored by ibrutinib's developer, Pharmacyclics, involved older adults, who are most often affected by these cancers, so the researchers believe the results should be applicable to most patients diagnosed with these diseases.

    The studies also suggest that patients may benefit from longer progression-free survival if they start therapy earlier in the course of their disease.

    "Right now, after this drug gets approved, it will likely be used in the setting of relapse initially, but there are ongoing studies that are looking at it for initial therapy. It is something that is especially (beneficial) for elderly patients who do not tolerate chemotherapy well. This will likely replace chemotherapy," says Bryd.

    The fact that even patients with the most aggressive types of CLL, which are driven by genetic mutations, responded to ibrutinib also hints that the experimental drug may become an important part of treating these cancers in coming years.

    The FDA designated it as breakthrough therapy, and Pharmacyclics and Janssen, who are jointly developing the drug, plan to file a New Drug Application (NDA) with the FDA for the use of ibrutinib to treat B-cell malignancies by 2014.

    This article intially published on

    Wednesday, April 17, 2013

    Promising T-cell Therapy for Leukemia and other cancers - Event May 30

    There is an exciting buzz about a new "serial killer" T-cell therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and CLL. T cells, which are part of your immune system, are taken out of patients' blood; are genetically modified with a virus; put back into the leukemia patient; and the "killer" T-cells hunt for cancer cells, and kill them. Two years ago, researchers at the University of Penn. reported that a small study showed astounding results. Patients who had no other alternative were given this treatment, and went into remission. Other medical centres have been testing similar methods since, and the results are showing promising results.

    While this new therapy is in its infancy stage, it could potentially treat leukemia, and make transplants unnecessary, and also treat other forms of cancer.

    On May 30, 2013, the Newfoundland & Labrador Thrombosis, Blood and Immune Disorders Research and Education Project will host an event with keynote speaker Dr. Kevin Curran, of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York city. Dr. Curran is one of the researchers in this new treatment. This presentation is open to the public, and should be very interesting for anyone in the community and among health care workers. See details below, and see links to web sites which describe the T-cell therapy which Dr. Curran is involved in.

    Links on T-cell Immunotherapy

    NY Times Article

    ABC News Story§ion=1206835&playlist=1363742

    Washington Post Article

    Adoptive T cell Therapy for Cancer- How your Immune System Can Cure Cancer

    Keynote Speakers:
    Dr. Kevin J. Curran, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center NY< NY
    Dr. Paul Moorehead, Faculty of Medicine at MUN
    Holly King and Charlie Cheeseman, patient and family advocates

    Date: Thurs., May 30, 2013 Time: 6:30 pm - 9:30 pm Location: GEO Centre, St. John's

    Description: This is an exciting and promising leukemia/cancer therapy news event. Topics include leukemia, childhood leukemia and a promising new immunotherapy that is exciting the medical community the U.S., Canada and elsewhere. We will hear from Dr. Kevin Curran, a pediatric oncologist who is a member of a large research team, and working at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Clinic, New York. Dr. Curran is the principal investigator for a study using this treatment for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) . This treatment has so far been used successfully with patients with ALL and CLL. Clinical trials are opening for other types of cancer and other conditions currently managed by stem cell or bone marrow transplantation. The hope is that this treatment will be more effective and less toxic than stem cell or bone marrow transplantation.

    6.30 Refreshments
    7.00 Introduction Dr. MF Scully and Dr. M. Larijani, Faculty of Medicine at MUN
    7.10 A patient and family perspective
    Holly King and Charlie Cheeseman, NLTBI Volunteers
    7.30 Acute Leukemia in Children, Dr. Paul Moorehead, Faculty of Medicine at MUN
    7.50 Question and Answer period
    8.00 Adoptive T cell therapy for cancer -How Your Immune System Can Cure Cancer
    Kevin J. Curran MD, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center NY, NY
    8.40 Questions and Answer period
    8.50 Panel Discussion
    9.00 Refreshments

    Sunday, November 25, 2012

    Get Swabbed! Help save a Life with Stem Cells or Bone Marrow

    Coming up on Wed., Nov. 28 at Memorial University, there is a Get Swabbed event happening. It is sponsored by the One Match network. The idea is to build of database of potential stem cell or marrow donors, so that other who need a transplant will have a better chance of surviving their disease. It worked for me 10 years ago. The test involves taking 5 mouth swabs, and takes about 5 minutes. The samples will be analyzed, and the results stored, so that if you are a match for a patient, then you can donate your stem cells or marrow. See the poster below for more details.