Posts Tagged ‘prevention’

International Award for Human Genome Project

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.


The Thai royal family awarded its annual prizes in Bangkok, Thailand, in late January 2018 in recognition of advances in public health and medicine – through the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation under the Royal Patronage. This foundation was established in 1992 to honor the late Prince Mahidol of Songkla, the Royal Father of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand and the Royal Grandfather of the present King. Prince Mahidol is celebrated worldwide as the father of modern medicine and public health in Thailand.


The Human Genome Project has been awarded the 2017 Prince Mahidol Award for revolutionary advances in the field of medicine. The Human Genome Project was completed in 2003. It was an international, collaborative research program aimed at the complete mapping and sequencing of the human genome. Its final goal was to provide researchers with fundamental information about the human genome and powerful tools for understanding the genetic factors in human disease, paving the way for new strategies for disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.


The resulting human genome sequence has provided a foundation on which researchers and clinicians now tackle increasingly complex problems, transforming the study of human biology and disease. Particularly it is satisfying that it has given the researchers the ability to begin using genomics to improve approaches for diagnosing and treating human disease thereby beginning the era of genomic medicine.


National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) is devoted to advancing health through genome research. The institute led National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) contribution to the Human Genome Project, which was successfully completed in 2003 ahead of schedule and under budget. NIH, is USA’s national medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.


Building on the foundation laid by the sequencing of the human genome, NHGRI’s work now encompasses a broad range of research aimed at expanding understanding of human biology and improving human health. In addition, a critical part of NHGRI’s mission continues to be the study of the ethical, legal and social implications of genome research.





Read Full Post »

 Live Notes from @AACR’s #cbi16 Meeting on Precision Medicine: 3:45PM Big Idea Dr. Hait and Premalignancy

Big Idea: Interception: Search for therapies that can tackle pre-malignancies to prevent cancer by Dr. Williams Hait, Global Head Drug Discovery Jansenn

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

  • We accumulate diseases over our lifetime
  • Jannsen decided to come up with the term “immorbidity” living longer without fear of disease
  • genetic complexity of cancers increase over time Nature 2012 paper
  • with Gleevec different relapse picture with early than advanced disease (see my post on Gleevec resistance)
  • cancer prevention screens have been important (Pap smears, colonoscopies)
  • MGuS (myeloma precursor) to SMM then full blown disease
  • huge knowledge gap in premalignant myeloma disease and karyotypic changes
  • Jannsen is focusing on disease prevention



Read Full Post »

Nuts and health in aging

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator




Nut consumption and age-related disease

Giuseppe GrossoRamon Estruch


Current knowledge on the effects of nut consumption on human health has rapidly increased in recent years and it now appears that nuts may play a role in the prevention of chronic age-related diseases. Frequent nut consumption has been associated with better metabolic status, decreased body weight as well as lower body weight gain over time and thus reduce the risk of obesity. The effect of nuts on glucose metabolism, blood lipids, and blood pressure are still controversial. However, significant decreased cardiovascular risk has been reported in a number of observational and clinical intervention studies. Thus, findings from cohort studies show that increased nut consumption is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality (especially that due to cardiovascular-related causes). Similarly, nut consumption has been also associated with reduced risk of certain cancers, such as colorectal, endometrial, and pancreatic neoplasms. Evidence regarding nut consumption and neurological or psychiatric disorders is scarce, but a number of studies suggest significant protective effects against depression, mild cognitive disorders and Alzheimer’s disease. The underlying mechanisms appear to include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions, particularly related to their mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids (MUFA and PUFA, as well as vitamin and polyphenol content. MUFA have been demonstrated to improve pancreatic beta-cell function and regulation of postprandial glycemia and insulin sensitivity. PUFA may act on the central nervous system protecting neuronal and cell-signaling function and maintenance. The fiber and mineral content of nuts may also confer health benefits. Nuts therefore show promise as useful adjuvants to prevent, delay or ameliorate a number of chronic conditions in older people. Their association with decreased mortality suggests a potential in reducing disease burden, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and cognitive impairments.


Global life expectancy has increased from 65 years in 1990 to about 71 years in 2013 [1]. As life expectancy has increased, the number of healthy years lost due to disability has also risen in most countries, consistent with greater morbidity [2]. Reduction of mortality rates in developed countries has been associated with a shift towards more chronic non-communicable diseases [1]. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) and related risk factors, such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hypercholesterolemia, and obesity are the top causes of death globally, accounting for nearly one-third of all deaths worldwide [3]. Equally, the estimated incidence, mortality, and disability- adjusted life-years (DALYs) for cancer rose to 14.9 million incident cancer cases, 8.2 million deaths, and 196.3 million DALYs, with the highest impact of prostate and breast cancer in men and women, respectively [4]. Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide (in terms of total years lost due to disability), especially in high-income countries, increasing from 15th to 11th rank (37% increase) and accounting for 18% of total DALYs (almost 100 million DALYs) [5]. Overall, the global rise in chronic non-communicable diseases is congruent with a similar rise in the elderly population. The proportion of people over the age of 60 is growing faster than any other age group and is estimated to double from about 11% to 22% within the next 50 years [6]. Public health efforts are needed to face this epidemiological and demographic transition, both improving the healthcare systems, as well as assuring a better health in older people. Accordingly, a preventive approach is crucial to dealing with an ageing population to reduce the burden of chronic disease.

In this context, lifestyle behaviors have demonstrated the highest impact for older adults in preventing and controlling the morbidity and mortality due to non- communicable diseases [7]. Unhealthy behaviors, such as unbalanced dietary patterns, lack of physical activity and smoking, play a central role in increasing both cardiovascular and cancer risk [7]. Equally, social isolation and depression in later life may boost health decline and significantly contribute to mortality risk [8]. The role of diet in prevention of disability and death is a well-established factor, which has an even more important role in geriatric populations. Research has focused on the effect of both single foods and whole dietary patterns on a number of health outcomes, including mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and mental health disorders (such as cognitive decline and depression) [9-13]. Plantbased dietary patterns demonstrate the most convincing evidence in preventing chronic non-communicable diseases [14-17]. Among the main components (including fruit and vegetables, legumes and cereals), only lately has attention focused on foods such as nuts. Knowledge on the effect of nut consumption on human health has increased rapidly in recent years. The aim of this narrative review is to examine recent evidence regarding the role of nut consumption in preventing chronic disease in older people.

Tree nuts are dry fruits with an edible seed and a hard shell. The most popular tree nuts are almonds (Prunus amigdalis), hazelnuts (Corylus avellana), walnuts (Juglans regia), pistachios (Pistachia vera), cashews (Anacardium occidentale), pecans (Carya illinoiensis), pine nuts (Pinus pinea), macadamias (Macadamia integrifolia), Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa), and chestnuts (Castanea sativa). When considering the “nut” group, researchers also include peanuts (Arachis hypogea), which technically are groundnuts. Nuts are nutrient dense foods, rich in proteins, fats (mainly unsaturated fatty acids), fiber, vitamins, minerals, as well as a number of phytochemicals, such as phytosterols and polyphenols [18]. Proteins account for about 10-25% of energy, including individual aminoacids, such as L-arginine, which is involved in the production of nitric oxide (NO), an endogenous vasodilatator [19].

The fatty acids composition of nuts involves saturated fats for 415% and unsaturated fatty acids for 30-60% of the content. Unsaturated fatty acids are different depending on the nut type, including monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA, such as oleic acid in most of nuts, whereas polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA, such as alpha-linolenic acid) in pine nuts and walnuts [20]. Also fiber content is similar among most nut types (about 10%), although pine nuts and cashews hold the least content. Vitamins contained in nuts are group B vitamins, such as B6 (involved in many aspects of macronutrient metabolism) and folate (necessary for normal cellular function, DNA synthesis and metabolism, and homocysteine detoxification), as well as tocopherols, involved in anti-oxidant mechanisms [21]. Among minerals contained in vegetables, nuts have an optimal content in calcium, magnesium, and potassium, with an extremely low amount of sodium, which is implicated on a number of pathological conditions, such as bone demineralization, hypertension and insulin resistance[22]. Nuts are also rich in phytosterols, non-nutritive components of certain plant-foods that exert both structural (at cellular membrane phospholipids level) and hormonal (estrogen-like) activities [23]. Finally, nuts have been demonstrated to be a rich source of polyphenols, which account for a key role in their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.


Metabolic disorders are mainly characterized by obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and hyperglycemia/ hyperinsulinemia/type-2 diabetes, all of which act synergistically to increase morbidity and mortality of aging population.

Obesity Increasing high carbohydrate and fat food intake in the last decades has contributed significantly to the rise in metabolic disorders. Nuts are energy-dense foods that have been thought to be positively associated with increased body mass index (BMI). As calorie-dense foods, nuts may contain 160–200 calories per ounce. The recommendation from the American Heart  Association to consume 5 servings per week (with an average recommended serving size of 28 g) corresponds to a net increase of 800–1000 calories per week, which may cause weight gain. However, an inverse relation between the frequency of nut consumption and BMI has been observed in large cohort studies [24]. Pooling the baseline observations of BMI by category of nut consumption in 5 cohort studies found a significant decreasing trend in BMI values with increasing nut intake [24]. While the evidence regarding nut consumption and obesity is limited, findings so far are encouraging [25, 26]. When the association between nut consumption and body weight has been evaluated longitudinally over time, nut intake was associated with a slightly lower risk of weight gain and obesity [25]. In the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II), women who eat nuts ≥2 times per week had slightly less weight gain (5.04 kg) than did women who rarely ate nuts (5.55 kg) and marginally significant 23% lower risk of obesity after 9-year follow-up [25]. Further evaluation of the NHS II data and the Physicians’ Health Study (PHS) comprising a total of 120,877 US women and men and followed up to 20 years revealed that 4-y weight change was inversely associated with a 1-serving increment in the intake of nuts (20.26 kg) [27]. In the “Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra” (SUN) cohort study, a significant decreased weight change has been observed over a period of 6 years [26]. After adjustment for potential confounding factors the analysis was no longer significant, but overall no weight gain associated with >2 servings per week of nuts has been observed. Finally, when considering the role of the whole diet on body weight, a meta-analysis of 31 clinical trials led to the conclusion of a null effect of nut intake on body weight, BMI, and waist circumference [28].

Glucose metabolism and type-2 diabetes The association between nut consumption and risk of type-2 diabetes in prospective cohort studies is controversial [29-32]. A pooled analysis relied on the examination of five large cohorts, including the NHS, the Shanghai Women’s Health Study, the Iowa Women’s Health Study, and the PHS, and two European studies conducted in Spain (the PREDIMED trial) and Finland including a total of more than 230,000 participants and 13,000 cases, respectively. Consumption of 4 servings per week was associated with 13% reduced risk of type-2 diabetes without effect modification by age [29]. In contrast, other pooled analyses showed non-significant reduction of risk for increased intakes of nuts, underlying that the inverse association between the consumption of nuts and diabetes was attenuated after adjustment for confounding factors, including BMI [30]. However, results from experimental studies showed promising results. Thus, nut consumption has been demonstrated to exert beneficial metabolic effects due to their action on post-prandial glycemia an insulin sensitivity. A number of RCTs have demonstrated positive effects of nut consumption on post-prandial glycemia in healthy individuals [33-38]. Moreover, a meta-analysis of RCTs on the effects of nut intake on glycemic control in diabetic individuals including 12 trials and a total of 450 participants showed that diets with an emphasis on nuts (median dose = 56 g/d) significantly lowered HbA1c (Mean Difference [MD] : -0.07%; 95% confidence interval [CI]: -0.10, -0.03%; P = 0.0003) and fasting glucose (MD : -0.15 mmol/L; 95% CI: -0.27, -0.02 mmol/L; P = 0.03) compared with control diets [39]. No significant treatment effects were observed for fasting insulin and homeostatic model assessment (HOMA-IR), despite the direction of effect favoring diet regimens including nuts.

Blood lipids and hypertension Hypertension and dyslipidemia are major risk factors for CVD. Diet alone has a predominant role in blood pressure and plasma lipid homeostasis. One systematic review [40] and 3 pooled quantitative analyses of RCTs [41-43] evaluated the effects of nut consumption on lipid profiles. A general agreement was relevant on certain markers, as daily consumption of nuts (mean = 67 g/d) induced a pooled reduction of total cholesterol concentration (10.9 mg/dL [5.1% change]), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentration (LDL-C) (10.2 mg/dL [7.4% change]), ratio of LDL-C to high-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentration (HDL-C) (0.22 [8.3% change]), and ratio of total cholesterol concentration to HDL-C (0.24 [5.6% change]) (P <0.001 for all) [42]. All meta-analyses showed no significant effects of nut (including walnut) consumption on HDL cholesterol or triglyceride concentrations in healthy individuals [41], although reduced plasma triglyceride levels were found in individuals with hypertriglyceridemia [42]. Interestingly, the effects of nut consumption were dose related, and different types of nuts had similar effects on blood lipid concentrations.

There is only limited evidence from observational studies to suggest that nuts have a protective role on blood pressure. A pooled analysis of prospective cohort studies on nut consumption and hypertension reported a decreased risk associated with increased intake of nuts [32]. Specifically, only a limited number of cohort studies have been conducted exploring the association between nut consumption and hypertension (n = 3), but overall reporting an 8% reduced risk of hypertension for individuals consuming >2 servings per week (Risk Ratio [RR] = 0.92, 95% CI: 0.87-0.97) compared with never/rare consumers, whereas consumption of nuts at one serving per week had similar risk estimates (RR = 0.97, 95% CI: 0.83, 1.13) [32]. These findings are consistent with results obtained in a pooled analysis of 21 experimental studies reporting the effect of consuming single or mixed nuts (in doses ranging from 30 to 100 g/d) on systolic (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) [44]. A pooled analysis found a significant reduction in SBP in participants without type2 diabetes [MD: -1.29 mmHg; 95% CI: -2.35, -0.22; P = 0.02] and DBP (MD: -1.19; 95% CI: -2.35, -0.03; P = 0.04), whereas subgroup analyses of different nut types showed that pistachios, but not other nuts, significantly reduced SBP (MD: -1.82; 95% CI: -2.97, -0.67; P = 0.002) and SBP (MD: -0.80; 95% CI: -1.43, -0.17; P = 0.01) [44].

Nut consumption and CVD risk Clustering of metabolic risk factors occurs in most obese individuals, greatly increasing risk of CVD. The association between nut consumption and CVD incidence [29-31] and mortality [24] has been explored in several pooled analyses of prospective studies. The overall risk calculated for CVD on a total of 8,862 cases was reduced by 29% for individuals consuming 7 servings per week (RR = 0.71, 95% CI: 0.59, 0.85) [30]. A meta-analysis including 9 studies on coronary artery disease (CAD) including 179,885 individuals and 7,236 cases, reporting that 1-serving/day increment would reduce risk of CAD of about 20% (RR = 0.81, 95% CI: 0.72, 0.91) [31]. Similar risk estimates were calculated for ischemic heart disease (IHD), with a comprehensive reduced risk of about 25-30% associated with a daily intake of nuts [29, 30]. Findings from 4 prospective studies have been pooled to estimate the association between nut consumption and risk of stroke, and a non-significant/borderline reduced risk was found [29-31, 45]. CVD mortality was explored in a recent meta-analysis including a total of 354,933 participants, 44,636 cumulative incident deaths, and 3,746,534 cumulative person-years [24]. One serving of nuts per week and per day resulted in decreased risk of CVD mortality (RR = 0.93, 95% CI: 0.88, 0.99 and RR =0.61, 95% CI: 0.42, 0.91, respectively], primarily driven by decreased coronary artery disease (CAD) deaths rather than stroke deaths [24]. Overall, all pooled analyses demonstrated a significant association between nut consumption and cardiovascular health. However, it has been argued that nut consumption was consistently associated with healthier background characteristics reflecting overall healthier lifestyle choices that eventually lead to decreased CVD mortality risk.

Nut consumption and cancer risk Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the elderly population. After the evaluation of the impact on cancer burden of food and nutrients, it has been concluded that up to one third of malignancies may be prevented by healthy lifestyle choices. Fruit and vegetable intake has been the focus of major attention, but studies on nut consumption and cancer are scarce. A recent metaanalysis pooled together findings of observational studies on cancer incidence, including a total of 16 cohort and 20 casecontrol studies comprising 30,708 cases, compared the highest category of nut consumption with the lowest category and found a lower risk of any cancer of 25% (RR = 0.85, 95% CI: 0.86, 0.95) [46]. When the analysis was conducted by cancer site, highest consumption of nuts was associated with decreased risk of colorectal (RR = 0.76, 95% CI: 0.61, 0.96), endometrial (RR = 0.58, 95% CI: 0.43, 0.79), and pancreatic cancer (RR = 0.71, 95% CI: 0.51, 0.99), with only one cohort study was conducted on the last [46]. The potential protective effects of nut consumption on cancer outcomes was supported also by pooled analysis of 3 cohort studies [comprising the PREDIMED, the NHS, the HPS, and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS) cohorts] showing a decreased risk of cancer death for individuals consuming 3-5 servings of nuts per week compared with never eaters (RR = 0.86, 95% CI: 0.75, 0.98) [24]. The analysis was recently updated by including results from the Netherlands Cohort Study reaching a total of 14,340 deaths out of 247,030 men and women observed, confirming previous results with no evidence of between-study heterogeneity (RR = 0.85, 95% CI: 0.77, 0.93) [47]. However, a dose- response relation showed the non-linearity of the association, suggesting that only moderate daily consumption up to 5 g reduced risk of cancer mortality, and extra increased intakes were associated with no further decreased risk.

Nut consumption and affective/cognitive disorders Age-related cognitive decline is one of the most detrimental health problems in older people. Cognitive decline is a paraphysiological process of aging, but timing and severity of onset has been demonstrated to be affected by modifiable lifestyle factors, including diet. In fact, the nature of the age- related conditions leading to a mild cognitive impairment (MCI) differs by inflammation-related chronic neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and depression. Evidence restricted to nut consumption alone is scarce, but a number of studies have been conducted on dietary patterns including nuts as a major component. A pooled analysis synthesizing findings of studies examining the association between adherence to a traditional Mediterranean diet and risk of depression (n = 9), cognitive decline (n = 8), and Parkinson’s disease (n = 1) showed a reduction of risk of depression (RR = 0.68, 95% CI: 0.54, 0.86) and cognitive impairment (RR = 0.60, 95% CI: 0.43, 0.83) in individuals with increased dietary adherence [10].

The study that first found a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in individuals highly adherent to the Mediterranean diet was conducted in over 2,000 individuals in the Washington/Hamilton Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project (WHICAP), a cohort of non-demented elders aged 65 and older living in a multi-ethnic community of Northern Manhattan in the US (Hazard Ratio [HR] = 0.91, 95% CI: 0.83, 0.98) [48]. These results have been replicated in further studies on the Mediterranean diet, however nut consumption was not documented [49, 50]. A number of observational studies also demonstrated a significant association between this dietary pattern and a range of other cognitive outcomes, including slower global cognitive decline [51]. However, evidence from experimental studies is limited to the PREDIMED trial, providing interesting insights on the association between the Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts and both depression and cognitive outcomes. Regarding depression, the nutritional intervention with a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts showed a lower risk of about 40% in participants with type-2 diabetes (RR = 0.59, 95% CI: 0.36, 0.98) compared with the control diet [52]. However the effect was not significant in the whole cohort overall [52]. Regarding cognitive outcomes after a mean follow-up of 4.1 years, findings from the same trial showed significant improvements in memory and global cognition tests for individuals allocated to the Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts [adjusted differences: -0.09 (95% CI: -0.05, 0.23), P = 0.04 and -0.05 (95% CI: -0.27, 0.18), P = 0.04, respectively], compared to control group, showing that Mediterranean diet plus mixed nuts is associated with improved cognitive function [53].


Potential mechanisms of protection of nut consumption Despite the exact mechanisms by which nuts may ameliorate human health being largely unknown, new evidence has allowed us to start to better understand the protection of some high-fat, vegetable, energy-dense foods such as nuts. Non- communicable disease burden related with nutritional habits is mainly secondary to exaggerated intakes of refined sugars and saturated fats, such as processed and fast- foods. Nuts provide a number of nutrient and non-nutrient compounds and it is only recently that scientists have tried to examine their effects on metabolic pathways.

Metabolic and cardiovascular protection With special regard to body weight and their potential effects in decreasing the risk of obesity (or weight gain, in general), nuts may induce satiation (reduction in the total amount of food eaten in a single meal) and satiety (reduction in the frequency of meals) due to their content in fibers and proteins, which are associated with increased release of glucagon-like protein 1 (GLP-1) and cholecystokinin (CCK), gastrointestinal hormones with satiety effects [54, 55]. The content in fiber of nuts may also increase thermogenesis and resting energy expenditure, and reduce post- prandial changes of glucose, thus ameliorating inflammation and insulin resistance. Moreover, the specific content profile of MUFA and PUFA provides readily oxidized fats than saturated or trans fatty acids, leading to reduced fat accumulation [56, 57]. The beneficial effects of nuts toward glucose metabolism may be provided by their MUFA content that improves the efficiency of pancreatic beta-cell function by enhancing the secretion of GLP1, which in turn helps the regulation of postprandial glycemia and insulin sensitivity [58]. MUFA and PUFA are also able to reduce serum concentrations of the vasoconstrictor thromboxane 2, which might influence blood pressure regulation. Together with polyphenols and anti-oxidant vitamins, nuts may also ameliorate inflammatory status at the vascular level, reducing circulating levels of soluble cellular adhesion molecules, such as intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1), and E-selectin, which are released from the activated endothelium and circulating monocytes [59]. Moreover, nuts may improve vascular reactivity due to their content in L-arginine, which is a potent precursor of the endogenous vasodilator nitric oxide. Nuts content in microelements is characterized by a mixture that may exert a direct effect in modulating blood pressure, including low content of sodium and richness in magnesium, potassium and calcium, which may interact to beneficially influence blood pressure
Despite the exact mechanisms by which nuts may ameliorate human health being largely unknown, new evidence has allowed us to start to better understand the protection of some high-fat, vegetable, energy-dense foods such as nuts. Non- communicable disease burden related with nutritional habits is mainly secondary to exaggerated intakes of refined sugars and saturated fats, such as processed and fast- foods. Nuts provide a number of nutrient and non-nutrient compounds and it is only recently that scientists have tried to examine their effects on metabolic pathways.

Cancer protection The potential mechanisms of action of nuts that may intervene in the prevention of cancer have not been totally elucidated. Numerous hypotheses have been proposed on the basis of basic research exploring the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds characterizing nuts [61]. Vitamin E can regulate cell differentiation and proliferation, whereas polyphenols (particularly flavonoids such as quercetin and stilbenes such as resveratrol) have been shown to inhibit chemically-induced carcinogenesis [62]. Polyphenols may regulate the inflammatory response and immunological activity by acting on the formation of the prostaglandins and pro-inflammatory cytokines, which may be an important mechanism involved in a number of cancers, including colorectal, gastric, cervical and pancreatic neoplasms [62]. Among other compounds contained in nuts, dietary fiber may exert protective effects toward certain cancers (including, but not limited to colorectal cancer) by the aforementioned metabolic effects as well as increasing the volume of feces and anaerobic fermentation, and reducing the length of intestinal transit. As a result, the intestinal mucosa is exposed to carcinogens for a reduced time and the carcinogens in the colon are diluted [62]. Finally, there is no specific pathway demonstrating the protective effect of PUFA intake against cancer, but their interference with cytokines and prostaglandin metabolism may inhibit a state of chronic inflammation that may increase cancer risk [63].

Cognitive aging and neuro-protection There is no universal mechanism of action for nuts with regard to age-related conditions. A number of systemic biological conditions, such as oxidative stress, inflammation, and reduced cerebral blood flow have been considered as key factors in the pathogenesis of both normal cognitive ageing and chronic neurodegenerative disease [64]. Nuts, alone or as part of healthy dietary patterns, may exert beneficial effects due to their richness in antioxidants, including vitamins, polyphenols and unsaturated fatty acids, that may be protective against the development of cognitive decline and depression [65, 66]. Both animal studies and experimental clinical trials demonstrated vascular benefits of nuts, including the aforementioned lowering of inflammatory markers and improved endothelial function, which all appear to contribute to improved cognitive function [67]. The antioxidant action may affect the physiology of the ageing brain directly, by protecting neuronal and cell-signaling function and maintenance. Moreover, certain compounds contained in nuts may directly interact with the physiology and functioning of the brain. For instance, walnuts are largely composed of PUFA, especially ALA, which have been suggested to induce structural change in brain areas associated with affective experience [66]. Moreover, PUFA have been associated with improved symptoms in depressed patients, suggesting an active role in the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms [68]. Thus, the mechanisms of action of nut consumption on age-related cognitive and depressive disorders are complex, involving direct effects on brain physiology at the neuronal and cellular level and indirect effects by influencing inflammation.


Summary From an epidemiological point of view, nut eaters have been associated with overall healthier lifestyle habits, such as increased physical activity, lower prevalence of smoking, and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables [24]. These variables represent strong confounding factors in determining the effects of nuts alone on human health and final conclusions cannot be drawn. Nevertheless, results from clinical trials are encouraging. Nuts show promise as useful adjuvants to prevent, delay or ameliorate a number of chronic conditions in older people.

Read Full Post »

Populations with Low Cancer Risk, Implications for Early Detection Research

Curator: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

Amish Have Lower Rates Of Cancer, Ohio State Study Shows

Report from Ohio State University
COLUMBUS, Ohio – When Ohio State University cancer researchers first began studying a large sect of Amish living in Ohio, they theorized they would find higher incidence rates of cancer. That’s because Amish religious beliefs and traditions limit contact with mainstream society, and intermarriage within this relatively small population could increase the incidence of cancer-related gene mutations.

Instead, they found just the opposite, said Dr. Judith Westman, division director of Human Genetics at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC-James).

The study of Amish suggests that clean living can lead to healthier life. Overall cancer rates in this population were 60 percent of the age-adjusted rate for Ohio and 56 percent of the national rate. The incidence of tobacco-related cancers in the Amish adults was 37 percent of the rate for Ohio adults, and the incidence of non-tobacco-related cancer was 72 percent.

“The Amish are at an increased risk for a number of genetic disorders but they probably have protection against many types of cancer both through their lifestyle – there is very little tobacco or alcohol use and limited sexual partners – and through genes that may reduce their susceptibility to cancer,” said Westman, who co-authored the study with OSUCCC-James researcher Amy K. Ferketich, who specializes in epidemiology.

The findings were reported in a recent issue of the journal Cancer Causes & Control. The study, which spanned 1996-2003 and is the first of its kind, looked at the incidence of 24 types of cancer in the Amish population. Of the 24 types of cancer studied, the incidence of seven of them – cervical, laryngeal, lung, oral cavity/pharyngeal, melanoma, breast and prostate – was low enough compared with the Ohio rate to be statistically significant.

Westman and Ferketich chose to study the Amish to gain a better understanding of the contributions of environment and genetics to developing cancer. Ohio is home to the largest Amish population in the world, and of the approximately 26,000 Amish living in Holmes County, all descended from the same 100 people who immigrated here 200 years ago.

Researchers interviewed 92 Amish families as part of a cross-sectional household survey and charted their family cancer histories obtaining cancer information on all relatives back three generations and as far forward as possible. For example, researchers interviewing a set of grandparents could gather cancer information on both their ancestors and descendants, said Ferketich.

The study population consisted of 9,992 Amish adults residing in the Holmes County area. Researchers also collected death certificates and cross-checked cancer cases reported to the Ohio Cancer Incidence and Surveillance System. Between 1996 and 2003, there were 191 incident cancer cases identified.

“Because this is a small, relatively closed population, we needed to interview just 92 families to cover 90 percent of the population in Holmes County,” said Ferketich.

The low cancer incidence in the Ohio Amish may be partially explained by lifestyle factors such as limited tobacco consumption and lack of sexual promiscuity. The Amish, as a whole, consume very little tobacco and alcohol, and they lead active, labor-intensive lives as farmers, construction laborers and factory workers.

“One of the things we can learn from the Amish is that they don’t typically smoke or use tobacco products,” Westman said. “They have limited sexual partners and monogamous relationships, so they don’t have some of the cancers that are related to sexual promiscuity.”

Even skin cancer rates are lower for Amish, despite the fact though many Amish make their living working outdoors where they are exposed to sunlight and UV rays.

“They are typically covered and dress to work in the sun the way that is recommended by wearing wide-brimmed hats and generally wearing long sleeves to protect their arms,” Westman said.

Other Ohio State researchers involved in the study include Steven N. MacEachern, J.R. Wilkins III, Robert T. Pilarski, Rebecca Nagy, Stanley Lemeshow, Albert de la Chapelle and Clara D. Bloomfield.

The study was funded by the Ohio Division of the American Cancer Society, National Institutes of Health and the Leukemia Clinical Research Foundation.

Read Full Post »

From the NIH Website

New NIH breast cancer research to focus on prevention

A new phase of the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP), focused on prevention, is being launched at the National Institutes of Health. Grant-funded researchers will now work across scientific disciplines, involve new racially and ethnically diverse communities, and expand the study of risk factors that precede breast cancer, such as breast density.

These new directions reflect recommendations made by the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCERCC) in 2013. IBCERCC was congressionally mandated to review the state of the science around breast cancer and environmental influences by the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act. Recommendations included prioritizing prevention, involving transdisciplinary research teams, engaging public stakeholders, collaborating across federal agencies, and communicating the science to the public.

This broadened research focus will add to the growing knowledge of environmental and genetic factors that may influence breast cancer risk across the lifespan. The six new BCERP projects, plus a new coordinating center promoting cross-project collaboration, are jointly funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Cancer Institute. All projects involve strong partnerships between researchers and organizations focused on breast cancer prevention or environmental health.

The new research will be conducted at the following institutions

  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston
  • City of Hope/Beckman Research Institute, Duarte, California
  • Columbia University, New York City
  • Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Washington, D.C.
  • Michigan State University, Lansing
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • University of Wisconsin – Madison (Coordinating Center)

“The beauty of this research is that scientific discoveries and community observations inform each other, in order to dive deeper into the complex causes of breast cancer,” said Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.

The focus on minority and socio-economically disadvantaged women is an important step in addressing disparities in breast cancer outcomes. Although African-American women are diagnosed with breast cancer less often than white women, more aggressive cancers and breast cancer deaths are more common among African-American women.

Another new direction for BCERP is research on the role of breast density as a possible intermediate risk factor for breast cancer. Dense breast tissue is one of the most common risk factors for breast cancer. Identifying links between environmental exposures and high breast density may provide new insights into prevention.

“These priorities reflect our continued commitment to breast cancer prevention,” noted Caroline Dilworth, Ph.D., BCERP program lead at NIEHS. “Our goal is to build on the high quality science we’ve been funding for more than a decade, while also being responsive to the expert recommendations of the IBCERCC report.”

Grant Numbers: U01ES026130, U01ES026137, U01ES026122, U01ES026132, U01ES026119, U01ES026140, U01ES026127

NIEHS supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health and is part of NIH. For more information on environmental health topics, visit Subscribe to one or more of the NIEHS news lists to stay current on NIEHS news, press releases, grant opportunities, training, events, and publications.

The National Cancer Institute leads the National Cancer Program and the NIH’s efforts to dramatically reduce the prevalence of cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families, through research into prevention and cancer biology, the development of new interventions, and the training and mentoring of new researchers. For more information about cancer, please visit the NCI website at or call NCI’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

Other posts on this site on  Cancer and Early Detection  include

Early Detection of Prostate Cancer: American Urological Association (AUA) Guideline

Mechanism involved in Breast Cancer Cell Growth: Function in Early Detection & Treatment

Warning signs may lead to better early detection of ovarian cancer

‘Mosaicism’ is Associated with Aging and Chronic Diseases like Cancer: detection of genetic mosaicism could be an early marker for detecting cancer.

CDC Findings: Due to Aging Population, Actual Number of Cancer Deaths is Rising while Risk of Dying From Cancer is Falling in the US

Read Full Post »


Ethical Concerns in Personalized Medicine: BRCA1/2 Testing in Minors and Communication of Breast Cancer Risk

Reporter/Curator: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

Dealing with the unexpected: consumer responses to direct-access BRCA mutation testing[1]

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing and genetic health information in 2007 with the advent of personalized testing services by companies who offered microarray-based genotyping of single-nucleotide-polymorphisms (SNP) which had strong correlations to disease risk.  Three companies started to offer such services directly to the consumer:

A common test which is offered analyzes the consumers BRCA1/2 mutation status.  Three mutations in the BRCA gene are known to predispose women to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer: BRCA1 185delAG, BRCA1 538insC, and BRCA2 617delT.  These BRCA1 mutation confer a 60% breast cancer risk and a 40% risk of ovarian cancer while the BRCA2 mutation confers a breast cancer risk of 50% and 20% risk of ovarian cancer.

However, the commercial availability of this genetic disease-risk associated testing has led to certain ethical issues concerning communication and responses of risk information by:

  1. Consumers who request BRCA1/2 testing (focus of the Francke article
  2. BRCA1/1 testing and communication of results to minors and relatives (Bradbury: see below)

There has been much opinion, either as commentary in literature, meeting proceedings, or communiques from professional societies warning that this type of “high-impact” genetic information should not be given directly to the consumer as consumers will not fully understand the information presented to them, be unable to make proper risk-based decisions, results could cause panic and inappropriate action such as prophylactic oophorectomy or unwarranted risk-reduction mastectomy, or false reassurance in case of negative result and reduced future cancer screening measures taken by the consumer.  However, there have been few studies to investigate these concerns.

A report by Dr. Uta Francke in the open access journal PeerJ, assesses and quantifies the emotional and behavioral reactions of consumers to their 23andMe Personal Genome Service® report of the three BRCA mutations known to be associated with high risk for breast/ovarian cancer.  One hundred thirty six (136) individuals, who tested positive for BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 mutations as well as 160 users of the service, who tested mutation-free were invited to participate in phone interviews addressing personal and family history of cancer, decision and timing of viewing the BRCA report, recollection of results, emotional responses, perception of personal cancer risk, information sharing, and actions taken.  Thirty two (32) mutation carriers (16 female and 16 male) and 31 non-carriers responded to the phone questionnaire.

Questions were based on the following themes:

  1. When you purchased the 23andME Personal Genome Service® were you aware that it included testing for mutations that predispose to breast and ovarian cancer?
  2. Were you aware that having Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry influences your risk of carrying one of the three mutations?
  3. Have you or a first or second degree relative been diagnosed with breast, ovarian or any other cancer?
  4. What did you learn from your results?
  5. Were you surprised by the result?
  6. How did you feel about this information (extremely, moderately, somewhat upset or extremely relieved)?

Results:  Eleven women and 14 men had received an unexpected result that they are carriers of one of the three mutations however none of them reported extreme anxiety and only four reported moderate anxiety which did not last long.  Participants were at least 8 years of age. Five women and six men described their reaction as neutral.  Most carrier women sought medical advice and four underwent risk-reducing procedures. Some to the male carriers felt burdened to share their test results with their female relatives, which led to additional screenings of relatives.  Almost all of the mutation-positive customers appreciated learning their BRCA mutational status.

Other highlights of the results include:

  • More women got tested if they had a first or second degree relative previously diagnosed with breast/ovarian cancer
  • Ten mutation-positive individuals who were surprised at the test results cited the lack of family history of breast/ovarian cancer as the reason for their surprise.  The rest who were surprised at their positive test results believed that the frequency of these mutations were low in the general population so they shouldn’t have been affected.
  • For the mutation-positive group, none of the 32 reported as being “extremely upset”.
  • Interestingly, on male who learned, for the first time, he was a positive carrier for BRCA mutation, reported feeling “relieved” because his daughter who was also tested by 23andMe had not acquired his mutation.

A brief interview with Dr. Francke follows:

Q:     In your results you had noted that none of the mutation carriers showed extreme anxiety about their reports however there were many of Ashkenazi descent who was well aware of the increased risk to breast cancer.  In another study by Dr. Angela Bradbury, anxieties and communication to their children depended on mutation status and education status.  Do you feel that most women in your study were initially aware they could be in a high risk category for cancer, whether breast, ovarian, or other?

Dr. Francke:   As we show in Table 1, 6 of 16 women and 6 of 16 men who found out that they were BRCA mutation carriers had not been aware that being of Ashkenazi descent confers an increased risk of breast/ovarian cancer.  In Table S1, we show that 6 of these 32 people did not self-identify as Ashkenazi.
Q:     The reporting and communication of test results to offspring and genetic testing of offspring as a result of positive tests has been under much debate.  I had noticed that there was a high proportion of relatives who went for screening after learning of a family members BRCA testing, whether it showed a mutation or not.  Some studies have shown that offspring of carriers may misinterpret genetic testing results and take inappropriate action, such as considering having early testing  before age 25.  It appears some anxiety may be due to misinformation and lack of genetic counseling.  Should these test results be considered in guidelines for oncologist such as NCCN guidelines with respect to informing family members using genetic counselors as an intermediary?

Dr. Francke:    The “high proportion of relatives who went for screening after learning of a family member’s BRCA testing”, were only those related to a BRCA-positive person. Most of the BRCA testing of relatives was done through health care providers at Myriad as these people were eligible for insurance coverage of the test. In our interviews we found no evidence for inappropriate action of carriers or non-carriers. With one exception, we found no evidence for misinterpretation or “anxiety due to lack of genetic counseling”.  In our online reports we recommend genetic counseling for all customers who have questions about their results.

Q:     I was also particularly interested the male carrier felt a heightened burden to tell their offspring.  This has been suggested in other studies.  I would assume the mothers and not the fathers would feet more pressure to tell their children.  Is there a reason for this?
Dr. Francke:     The heightened burden reported by the male carriers was mostly about the realization of the risk for their daughters, not so much about to telling their offspring.  Female carriers were primarily concerned about their own health risk and management, and decision-making about preventive measures – therefore, the risk for offspring appeared to be of secondary concern for them.

However, the availability of this type of predictive genetic testing for hereditary cancer has raised some ethical issues regarding the communication of risk and genetic results to family members and especially offspring, specifically whether informing minors would incur unnecessary testing, anxiety among minors of parents who tested positive for genetic risk-factors, or even premature risk-reduction surgeries or medical interventions.

The aforementioned ethical issues concerning communicating results of BRCA mutational testing to offspring was addressed by two large studies conducted by Dr. Angela Bradbury M.D. and colleagues at Fox Chase Cancer Center Family Risk Assessment Program (now she is at University of Pennsylvania) and University of Chicago Cancer Risk Clinic.  These studies evaluated the parental opinions regarding BRCA1/2 testing of minors, and how parents communicate BRCA1/2 genetic testing with their children.

In the JCO article (Parent Opinions Regarding the Genetic Testing of Minors for BRCA1/2)[2], Bradbury and colleagues used semistructured interviews (yes/no questions and open-ended questions) of 246 parents at Fox Chase and University of Chicago, who underwent BRCA1/2 whether they supported testing of minors in general and testing of their own offspring.  Parents were asked, “If you were deciding, do you think children under 18 years old should be given the opportunity to be tested” and followed by the open-ended question: “Why do (don’t) you support the genetic testing of minors for BRCA1/2?”.

Results:  In response to the first question (Would you support testing in minors) 37% of parents supported testing of minors in the general population.  The follow-up open-ended question revealed that 4% support testing minors in some or all circumstances.  This decision was independent of parent sex or race.  44% of parents would test their own offspring.  Parents who opposed testing in minors thought testing would cause fear and anxiety for their children but those who supported unconditional testing (regardless of whether they were positive for the BRCA mutation or not) mentioned that the medical information would foster better health behaviors in their offspring.  21% of parents who opposed testing minors, in general, actually supported testing of their own children.  Interestingly parents who tested positive for the BRCA1 overwhelmingly (64%) opposed testing of minors, in general.  In addition, statistical analysis of the open-ended questions revealed that parents who did not have a college degree, had a negative test result, and were non white favored testing of their own children.  The authors had suggested larger studies before any guidelines were given as to whether testing in minors of BRCA mutation carriers should be standard.

In a recent publication by Dr. Bradbury and colleagues (Knowledge and perceptions of familial and genetic risks for breast cancer risk in adolescent girls)[3],  studied how adolescent girls understood and responded to breast cancer risk by interviewing 11-19 year-old girls at high-risk and population-risk for breast cancer. Although most girls said they were aware of increased risk because either a family member had or was predisposed to breast cancer (66 %) only 17 % of girls were aware of BRCA1/2 genes. Mother was the most frequently reported source of information for breast cancer among both high-risk (97 %) and population-risk (89 %) girls.  The study also showed that most girls who believe they are at high-risk could alter their lifestyles or change dietary habits to lower their risk.

In an adjacent study in the journal Cancer[4], Bradbury and colleagues at Fox Chase Cancer Center had gauged the frequency with which parents had told their children of their BRCA1/2 teat results and how their children felt about the results.

When parents disclose BRCA1/2 test results: Their communication and perceptions of offspring response[4]

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with parents who had BRCA1/2 testing and at least 1 child <25 YO.  A total of 253 parents completed interviews (61% response rate), reporting on 505 offspring. Twenty-nine percent of parents were BRCA1/2 mutation carriers. Three hundred thirty-four (66%) offspring learned of their parent’s test result. Older offspring age (P ≤ .01), offspring gender (female, P = .05), parents’ negative test result (P = .03), and parents’ education (high school only, P = .02) were associated with communication to offspring. The most frequently reported initial offspring responses were neutral (41%) or relief (28%). Thirteen percent of offspring were reported to experience concern or distress (11%) in response to parental communication of their test results. Distress was more frequently perceived among offspring learning of their parent’s BRCA1/2 positive or variant of uncertain significance result.


Many parents communicate their BRCA1/2 test results to young offspring. Parents’ perceptions of offspring responses appear to vary by offspring age and parent test result. A better understanding of how young offspring respond to information about hereditary risk for adult cancer could provide opportunities to optimize adaptive psychosocial responses to risk information and performance of health behaviors, in adolescence and throughout an at-risk life span.

Below is an excellent article by Steven Reinberg from HealthDay interviewing Dr. Angela Bradbury concerning their JCO study: (reported for ABC News at

Many Parents Share Genetic Test Findings With Kids

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

Mar. 23

FRIDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) — As genetic testing for diseases becomes more commonplace, the impact of those findings on family members may be underestimated, researchers say.

For instance, some women who discover they have the BRCA gene mutation, which puts them at higher risk for breast cancer, choose to tell their children about it before the children are old enough to understand the significance or deal with it, a new study found.

“Parents with the BRCA mutation are discussing their genetic test results with their offspring often many years before the offspring would need to do anything,” said study author Dr. Angela Bradbury, director of the Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Family Risk Assessment Program, in Philadelphia.

According to Bradbury, more than half of parents she surveyed told their children about genetic test results. Some parents reported that their children didn’t seem to understand the significance of the information, and some had initial negative reactions to the news.

“A lot of genetic information is being shared within families and there hasn’t been a lot of guidance from health-care professionals,” Bradbury said. “While this genetic risk may be shared accurately, there is risk of inaccurate sharing.”

In the study, Bradbury’s team interviewed 42 women who had the BRCA mutation. The researchers found that 55 percent of parents discussed the finding and the risk of breast cancer with at least one of their children who was under 25.

Also, most of the women didn’t avail themselves of the services of a doctor or genetic counselor in helping to tell their children, Bradbury’s group found.

Bradbury is concerned that sharing genetic information with young children can create anxiety. “The children could be overly concerned about their own risk at a time when there is nothing that they need to do,” she said.

But, she added, “it may be possible that sharing may be good for children in adapting to this information.”

The findings are published in the Aug. 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The lack of definitive data on when — or if — to discuss genetic test results with children is a real problem, Bradbury said.

“As we move genetic testing forward for cancer or other illnesses, we have to consider the context of the whole family and focus our counseling to the whole family, and not just the person who comes in for testing,” Bradbury said. “We should learn more about how and when we should talk to children about this, so that we can promote healthy behaviors without causing too much anxiety for the offspring.”

Barbara Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, agreed that the psychological component of genetic testing needs more attention.

“This is the tip of a very scary iceberg,” Brenner said. “We don’t know the psychological consequences [of BRCA testing], not only to the person who has the test, but to her family members.”

Brenner thinks guidelines to help parents deal with this information are needed. So is help from doctors and genetic counselors in counseling family members, especially children, she added.

LEGACY (Lessons in Epidemiology and Genetics of Adult Cancer from Youth), supported by the National Institutes of Health. This study will follow the girls prospectively in order to evaluate epidemiologic and epigenetic pathways of childhood exposures in relation to pubertal development, age at menarche, breast tissue characteristics, biomarkers of exposure, genomic DNA methylation, and the psychosocial impact of increased breast cancer susceptibility in 6-13 YO girls.

1.         Francke U, Difamco C, Kiefer AK, Eriksson N, Moiseff B, Tung JY, Mountain JL: Dealing with the unexpected: consumer responses to direct-access BRCA mutation testing. PeerJ 2013:1-21.

2.         Bradbury AR, Patrick-Miller L, Egleston B, Sands CB, Li T, Schmidheiser H, Feigon M, Ibe CN, Hlubocky FJ, Hope K et al: Parent opinions regarding the genetic testing of minors for BRCA1/2. Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2010, 28(21):3498-3505.

3.         Bradbury AR, Patrick-Miller L, Egleston BL, Schwartz LA, Sands CB, Shorter R, Moore CW, Tuchman L, Rauch P, Malhotra S et al: Knowledge and perceptions of familial and genetic risks for breast cancer risk in adolescent girls. Breast cancer research and treatment 2012, 136(3):749-757.

4.         Bradbury AR, Patrick-Miller L, Egleston BL, Olopade OI, Daly MB, Moore CW, Sands CB, Schmidheiser H, Kondamudi PK, Feigon M et al: When parents disclose BRCA1/2 test results: their communication and perceptions of offspring response. Cancer 2012, 118(13):3417-3425.


Other article on Ethics and Personalized Medicine on the site include:

Genomics in Medicine- Tomorrow’s Promise

Attitudes of Patients about Personalized Medicine

Genomics & Ethics: DNA Fragments are Products of Nature or Patentable Genes?

Volume One: Genomics Orientations for Individualized Medicine

Directions for Genomics in Personalized Medicine

The Way With Personalized Medicine: Reporters’ Voice at the 8th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference,11/28-29, 2012, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

Highlights from 8th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference, November 28-29, 2012, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

Clinical Genetics, Personalized Medicine, Molecular Diagnostics, Consumer-targeted DNA – Consumer Genetics Conference (CGC) – October 3-5, 2012, Seaport Hotel, Boston, MA

Genetic basis of Complex Human Diseases: Dan Koboldt’s Advice to Next-Generation Sequencing Neophytes

2013 Genomics: The Era Beyond the Sequencing of the Human Genome: Francis Collins, Craig Venter, Eric Lander, et al.

Improving Mammography-based imaging for better treatment planning

Read Full Post »

Author: Ziv Raviv, PhD


Cancer is one of the top causes of death in the Western world and one of the emergence outcomes of modern society after the industrial era. In high-income countries more than two thirds of all people live beyond the age of 70 and many of them die of chronic diseases e.g., cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, cancers, diabetes or dementia. It would not be wrong to assume that cancer was always there, yet now in the modern era it is only much more manifested and very common. The reasons of cancer being a new epidemic lies within several concepts: (i) the overall increase in life expectancy of human population, especially in the Western world, which is a consequence of better hygienic conditions and health care systems, that dealt well with old times epidemics,  altogether expose “modern epidemics” where cancer is one of them as stated. Indeed, many types of cancer are of elderly population; (ii) the excess exposure to environmental hazardous materials and factors (e.g., air pollution, tobacco products, sun irradiation, asbestos etc); and (iii) the life style that characterizes modern life i.e., the consistence being of man in the Western society under stress conditions. For nearly a half century there has been a worldwide war on cancer. Much capital has been spent while still millions of lives were lost from cancer. Yet with all this effort little has changed in this battle and the rate of cancer remained constant. Moreover, despite many drugs developed to treat cancer after it has already developed, there is still no change in the amount of people that will actually develop cancer. Thus our approach of fighting cancer should be changed.

Much research effort is spent over the genetic background of cancer. The genetic factor was always there probably and what has been changed is the environment, namely the interactions between the genetic grounds with socio-environmental causes are the factors that have been changed. Thus the new scientific approach in cancer research should consists a broad perspective that will integrate all risk factors, internal as well as external, in order that a great portion of cancer research effort would be directed toward the interaction between socio-environment causes and genetics. The best example should come from lung cancers. It is most prevalent that smoking tobacco products has an undoubtedly direct initiation effect on most of lung cancer types i.e., tobacco smoking is the very common cause among many lung cancer patients. Tobacco smoking became common in the last century and there is a direct and clear correlation between lung cancer incidence and smoking, supporting the notion that lung cancer is a modern disease that arose from modern life style behavior (smoking) and environmental factors (passive smoking). Indeed, not every smoker gets lung cancer and there are many types of lung cancers with various severities. This is the place where genetics play a role. Thus, understanding the relationship between genetic and socio-environmental risk factors could assist fighting lung cancer. Prevention of smoking is the most cost-effective means of fighting lung cancer; however, tobacco smoking is still widespread. Thus there are also psychological considerations that have to be taken in account when coming to deal with the issue of treating tobacco-dependent lung cancer.

Along the history of cancer research , the major efforts were taken in the rode of understanding the molecular mechanisms of tumorigenesis and its genetic background. From the single cell level molecular mechanism of deregulation of intracellular signaling and factors that control the cell fate, through the mechanisms of cancer metastasis, back to cancer stem cells and forward to tumors microenvironment and the relationships of cancer with the immune system. These efforts have tremendous importance on understanding the biology of cancer and had led, and further will, to the development of anti-cancer treatments. However, since cancer is a very complex disease, where multiple intracellular and systematical factors are orchestrated, the benefits of single agent therapy developed from the ever efforts of cancer research is very limited. Modern concept in anti-cancer therapy is the personalized medicine approach, where in an ideal condition a person would undergo a genetic test for his tumor to realize what are the genetic and molecular essences of his disease, and following that, to make a tailor-made anti-cancer regimen. With the modern tools of genetics and gene sequencing, it should be readily to perform such genetic (and epigenetic) screens. However, it is not certain that specific drug(s) aimed to deal with these genetic/molecular moieties would be available in the foreseeing time. In addition, in such screening the genetic signature of cancer is obtained after the tumor is already established.

Many socio-environmental causes for cancer are known, although this knowledge is not always estimated correctly to its full extent and implication on cancer therapy. Cancer research in its current platform is extremely expensive. Developing new drugs are highly costly, take many years to develop and are complicated to produce. Thus cancer prevention programs are extremely essential to be developed as a better general cancer therapy approach. It is not hard to envisage how the reducing of cancer incidences is very economical in terms of hospitalization days and costs of drugs that are being paid from governmental subsidies. It is by far much more chipper to invest finance and efforts on cancer prevention programs. Such agenda should include educative programs aimed for teenagers and the overall population, together with plans for good dietary and relaxed life style; increasing the population awareness of environmental hazardous that can causes cancer; raising taxes on cigarettes and enforcing anti-smokers rules and regulations; enforcement of industrial anti-pollution regulations; developing and supporting anti-cancer vaccinations research and development; encouraging people to carry out routine checks for early detection of cancer and of genetic background that should be conducted in prevention centers in hospitals and within the community.

An inseparable matter embedded well under the big umbrella called cancer prevention programs is the continuous search for cancer biomarkers. As early detection is crucial to positive cancer prognosis, the need of finding, developing, and establishing detection methods for the identification of cancer biomarkers is priceless. Developing such tools of early detection would be very helpful in preventing cancer or at least favoring the chances of complete cure. An ideal cancer biomarker should be detectable upon routine blood tests, yet that is not always possible. By early detection of the disease early signs, much capital could be saved on hospitalization days and expensive and inefficient treatment of advanced staged cancer patients.

Major resistance to such comprehensive cancer prevention programs could come up from the pharmaceutical companies and from cancer research scientists, as much of the research and developing and costs efforts would be lost. It is not suggested herein to abandon completely the ongoing contemporary cancer research efforts, yet it is a wishful thinking that there will be a shift in the research of cancer toward the integration of prevention and basic cancer research, a matter that should yield better treatments and reducing cancer incidences. Moreover, shifting into cancer prevention-directed research could bring also prosperity to the drug companies as new treatments such as vaccinations to cancer would be developed. It is hard to perceive in present times the world without the vaccination to papillomavirus (HPV) that prevents many incidences of cervical cancer. The companies developed and selling these vaccinations surly had made fortune out of it.

In summary, developing new comprehensive prevention programs would be beneficial hence to the patients, the society and governmental authorities, reducing the burden of cancer incidences and the terrible consequences of this awful disease on human society.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »