Medical News Today: Cancer: Using copper to boost immunotherapy

An interdisciplinary group of scientists has successfully destroyed tumor cells in mice by using nano-sized copper compounds alongside immunotherapy. Importantly, the tumors did not return after the treatment ceased.

According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide — in 2018, it was responsible for approximately 9.6 million deaths.

Reducing behavioral or dietary risks associated with cancer is an important way of lowering the total number of cancer deaths; however, finding effective treatments is also crucial.

Doctors usually treat cancer with chemotherapy, but this often has significant side effects. For example, some chemotherapy medication can wipe out a person’s white blood cells, leaving their immune system compromised and open to infection.

Although chemotherapy treatment can be successful, there is always a risk that a person’s cancer might return.

Recent advances in cancer treatment include immunotherapy, which involves using a person’s immune system to fight cancer cells. However, this does not always work or may only slow down the growth of cancer, so it cannot yet replace chemotherapy.

Copper nanoparticles

In the new study on mice, the scientists combined immunotherapy with copper-based nanoparticles. This combination treatment destroyed the tumor cells without the use of chemotherapy. Most importantly, however, the tumor cells did not return after treatment ceased.

The team of scientists — from KU Leuven in Belgium, the University of Bremen, the Leibniz Institute of Materials Engineering both in Germany, and the University of Ioannina in Greece — found that tumors in mice are sensitive to copper oxide nanoparticles.

Typically, these nanoparticles are toxic when inside an organism. The scientists found that by using iron oxide to create the nanoparticles, they could control which cells the nanoparticles destroyed, leaving healthy cells unaffected. They recently published their findings in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Prof. Stefaan Soenen and Dr. Bella B. Manshian from the Department of Imaging and Pathology at KU Leuven worked together on the study. They explain how “any material that you create at a nanoscale has slightly different characteristics than its normal-sized counterpart.” They continue:

If we ingest metal oxides in large quantities, they can be dangerous, but at a nanoscale and at controlled, safe concentrations, they can actually be beneficial.”

The scientists began by using only the nanoparticles to target the tumor cells. As expected, the cancer returned. However, the team discovered that the nanoparticles could work in conjunction with the mice’s immune systems.

“We noticed that the copper compounds not only could kill the tumor cells directly, they also could assist those cells in the immune system that fight foreign substances, like tumors,” said Dr. Manshian.

Blocking cancer’s return

When the scientists combined the nanoparticles with immunotherapy, the tumor cells died and did not return.

To confirm the results, the scientists injected the mice with new tumor cells. The mice’s immune systems immediately destroyed the new tumor cells.

The researchers believe that a combination of nanoparticles and immunotherapy could work as a vaccine for lung cancer and colon cancer, which were the two types of cancer the scientists studied.

However, they think that this technique could treat up to 60% percent of cancers, including breast cancer and ovarian cancer, that develop from the same gene mutation.

“As far as I’m aware, this is the first time that metal oxides [have been used] to efficiently fight cancer cells with long lasting immune effects in live models,” Prof. Soenen says. “As a next step, we want to create other metal nanoparticles and identify which particles affect which types of cancer. This should result in a comprehensive database.”

Results derived from animal testing do not necessarily work when it comes to humans, and to take the research further, the team intends to test the treatment on human tumor cells. If that is successful, they will conduct a clinical trial.

However, according to Prof. Soenen, there are still several hurdles along the way:

Nanomedicine is on the rise in the United States and Asia, but Europe is lagging behind. It’s a challenge to advance in this field because doctors and engineers often speak a different language. We need more interdisciplinary collaboration so that we can understand each other better and build upon each other’s knowledge.”

Medical News Today: Does turmeric have anticancer properties?

A recent literature review investigates whether turmeric may be useful for treating cancer. The authors conclude that it might be but note that there are many challenges to overcome before it makes it to the clinic.

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family. Native to India and Southeast Asia, people have used turmeric root to flavor their food for thousands of years.

Historically, people associated turmeric with healing properties. Even now, some hail turmeric as a panacea for all ills. Recently, its popularity has surged, as evidenced by the recent turmeric latte fad. However, as with many things in life, the reality rarely matches the hype.

The chemical in turmeric that most interests medical researchers is a polyphenol called diferuloylmethane, which is more commonly called curcumin. Most of the research into turmeric’s potential powers has focused on this chemical.

Turmeric as a healer?

Over the years, researchers have pitted curcumin against a number of symptoms and conditions, including inflammation, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, liver disease, obesity, and neurodegenerative diseases, with varying levels of success.

Above all, though, scientists have focused on cancer. According to the authors of the recent review, of the 12,595 papers that researchers published on curcumin between 1924 and 2018, 37% focus on cancer.

In the current review, which features in the journal Nutrients, the authors mainly focused on cell signaling pathways that play a role in cancer’s growth and development and how turmeric might influence them.

Treatment for cancer has improved vastly over recent decades, but there is still a long path to tread before we can beat cancer. As the authors note, “the search for innovative and more effective drugs” is still vital work.

In their review, the scientists paid particular attention to research involving breast cancer, lung cancer, cancers of the blood, and cancers of the digestive system.

The authors conclude that “curcumin represents a promising candidate as an effective anticancer drug to be used alone or in combination with other drugs.”

According to the review, curcumin can influence a wide range of molecules that play a role in cancer, including transcription factors, which are vital for DNA replication; growth factors; cytokines, which are important for cell signaling; and apoptotic proteins, which help control cell death.

Challenges remain

Alongside the discussions surrounding curcumin’s molecular influence over cancer pathways, the authors also address the possible issues with using curcumin as a drug.

For instance, they explain that if a person takes curcumin orally — in a turmeric latte, for example — the body rapidly breaks it down into metabolites. As a result, any active ingredients are unlikely to reach the site of a tumor.

With this in mind, some researchers are trying to design ways of delivering curcumin into the body and protecting it from undergoing metabolization. For instance, researchers who encapsulated the chemical within a protein nanoparticle noted promising results in the laboratory and in rats.

Although scientists have published a great many papers on curcumin and cancer, there is a need for more work. Many of the studies in the current review are in vitro studies, which means that the researchers conducted them in laboratories using cells or tissues. Although this type of research is vital for understanding which interventions may or may not influence cancer, not all in vitro studies translate to humans.

Relatively few studies have tested turmeric’s or curcumin’s anticancer properties in humans, and the human studies that have taken place have been small-scale. However, aside from the difficulties and limited data, curcumin still has potential as an anticancer treatment.

Scientists are continuing to work on the problem. For instance, the authors mention two clinical trials that are underway, both of which aim to “evaluate the therapeutic effect of curcumin on the development of primary and metastatic breast cancer, as well as to estimate the risk of adverse events.”

They also refer to other ongoing studies in humans that are evaluating curcumin as a treatment for prostate cancer, cervical cancer, and lung nodules, among other diseases.

The authors believe that curcumin belongs to “the most promising group of bioactive natural compounds, especially in the treatment of several cancer types.” However, their praise for curcumin as an anticancer hero is tempered by the realities that their review has unearthed, and they end their paper on a low note:

“[C]urcumin is not immune from side effects, such as nausea, diarrhea, headache, and yellow stool. Moreover, it showed poor bioavailability due to the fact of low absorption, rapid metabolism, and systemic elimination that limit its efficacy in diseases treatment. Further studies and clinical trials in humans are needed to validate curcumin as an effective anticancer agent.”

Medical News Today: Flu vaccines may shrink tumors and boost cancer treatment

Recent experiments in mouse models have shown that injecting an inactivated flu virus into cancer tumors makes them shrink and boosts the effectiveness of immunotherapy.

When it comes to cancer tumors, many factors influence whether or not they will respond to treatment. One of these is whether the tumors are “hot” or “cold.” What does this mean?

In recent years, a new type of anticancer therapy has been gaining in popularity: immunotherapy. This form of therapy works by boosting the body’s own immune response to cancer tumors.

However, for the therapy to have a higher chance of working, the tumors have to be “hot” tumors — that is, they must contain immune cells. If a tumor does not contain (enough) immune cells, or contains immunosuppressant cells, it is called a “cold” tumor.

One question that researchers have been trying hard to answer is: How do we turn cold tumors into hot tumors that will respond to immunotherapy?

A team of investigators from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL, may now have found an effective way of doing just that by using inactivated flu viruses — essentially, flu vaccines — in mouse model experiments.

The researchers explain their process, as well as their findings, in a study paper that now features in the journal PNAS.

New approach shrinks tumors in mice

The researchers got the idea for their new study by looking at data from the National Cancer Institute. The data indicated that people with lung cancer who had also been in the hospital with influenza-related lung infections tended to live longer than those with lung cancer who had not had a flu virus.

When they recreated this scenario in mouse models, the researchers confirmed that those with cancer tumors and influenza-related infections tended to live longer.

Going forward, the team wants “to understand how our strong immune responses against pathogens like influenza and their components could improve our much weaker immune response against some tumors,” says senior study author Dr. Andrew Zloza.

“However,” he adds, “there are many factors we do not understand about live infections, and this effect does not repeat in tumors where influenza infections do not naturally occur, like skin.”

So, the researchers injected an inactivated influenza virus into melanoma tumors in mouse models.

They found that this “vaccine” turned tumors from cold to hot by increasing the concentration of dendritic cells in the tumors. These cells can stimulate an immune response, and indeed, they led to an increase in CD8+ T cells. These can recognize and destroy cancer cells.

As a result, the mice’s melanoma tumors either grew at a slower rate or started shrinking.

Also, the researchers saw that delivering the flu vaccine into a melanoma tumor on one side of a mouse’s body led to the reduction not just of the growth of the injected tumor, but also to the slower growth of another tumor, on a different side of the body, which they had not injected.

The researchers saw similar results when delivering the flu vaccine to tumors of metastatic triple-negative breast cancer in mouse models.

“Based on this result, we hope that in [humans], injecting one tumor with an influenza vaccine [will] lead to immune responses in their other tumors as well,” says Dr. Zloza.

Flu shots might boost immunotherapy

“Our successes with a flu vaccine that we created made us wonder if seasonal flu vaccines that are already [Food and Drug Administration]-approved could be repurposed as treatments for cancer,” Dr. Zloza adds.

Since these have been used in millions of people and have already been shown to be safe, we thought using flu shots to treat cancer could be brought to patients quickly.”

Dr. Andrew Zloza

The researchers therefore worked with specially engineered mouse models, into which they were able to transplant both tumors and immune cells from humans with lung cancer and metastatic melanoma.

Dr. Zloza and colleagues found that injecting these human-derived tumors with a regular, FDA-approved flu shot led them to shrink.

“Such [a] transplant allows us to utilize patient-grade drugs in a living system. This is as close as we can get to testing something ahead of a clinical trial,” he explains.

The researchers also wanted to see if they could use flu shots as an adjuvant therapy — that is, as an aid to existing anticancer therapies.

So, in additional experiments, they delivered the flu shots alongside a form of immunotherapy that relies on immune checkpoint inhibitors. These are drugs that stimulate immune cells to mount an attack against cancer tumors.

In doing this, the researchers found two things. The first was that the flu vaccines were able to reduce tumor growth on their own, regardless of whether or not the targeted tumor responded to checkpoint inhibitor therapy.

The second was that when the tumor did respond to immunotherapy, the flu shot combination led to an even more pronounced reduction in tumor growth.

“These results propose that eventually both [people] who respond and who do not respond to other immunotherapies might benefit from the injection of influenza vaccines into the tumor, and it may increase the small proportion of patients that are now long-term responders to immunotherapies,” says Dr. Zloza.

“Since humans and mice are about 95% genetically identical, the hope is that this approach will work in patients. The next step planned is to conduct clinical trials to test various factors,” he concludes.

Medical News Today: Through my eyes: Surviving cancer twice

“Helen, I’m so sorry to tell you that you have stage 4 ovarian cancer.” I will never forget hearing those words.

through my eyes surviving cancerShare on PinterestCancer treatment was pretty grueling in the 1980s, and outcomes were a lot gloomier than they are today.

Nothing could ever prepare you for hearing your doctor say you have cancer. My life flashed before my eyes. I was in disbelief. How could I have cancer for the second time in my life?

I was only 48 years old at the time of my second cancer diagnosis, and I was already a survivor of a radical mastectomy due to breast cancer at the age of 32, just 2 years after I had given birth to my daughter, Julianne.

I received my diagnosis of breast cancer in 1972, and in those days, treatment was limited. The surgeon believed that a radical mastectomy of my right breast would give me the best outcome.

The doctor would prove to be correct, but I was no less devastated in the interim. I was the mother of three children, and instead of tending to my active children, I now needed to focus on my health and well-being.

However, I continued to live a blessed life. I was the wife of an Orthodox priest, a secretary, and a preschool Sunday school teacher. I was like any other mother, trying to prioritize my life. The difference being, if I got my priorities wrong, it could cost me my life.

Second cancer diagnosis

The second episode began almost 2 decades later when I woke up feeling very bloated and fatigued.

I didn’t think much of it at first and thought I would feel better the next day. Yet the bloating continued, especially after eating, and I began feeling pressure in my lower abdomen. I decided it was time to contact the family physician.

The doctor ordered tests, but various X-rays, an ultrasound, and an MRI showed nothing. My doctor thought it was a case of gastritis and that I needed to rest and relax. However, 2 years later, my belly was now protruding, and I felt horrible pressure, so I asked my doctor for another test. This time they ordered a CT scan.

The CT scan showed something was not right, and I would need exploratory surgery to get more information. They found ovarian cancer tangled and webbed intricately through a large part of my lower anatomy.

The surgery lasted many hours, and my surgeon believed he had debulked 90% of the cancer. He also told me that I needed to undergo chemotherapy.

Cancer treatment was pretty grueling in the 1980s, and outcomes were a lot gloomier than they are today. I had already beaten cancer once, and the chance of surviving a second round seemed bleak.

I was offered a cocktail of Cisplatin, anthramycin, and Cytoxan as my best defense. Chemotherapy lasted 7 hours a day, and my side effects lasted even longer.

I was unable to complete my final round of chemo as my white blood count dropped too low. My oncologist thought the last round of chemo might have done more harm than good, so he discontinued the therapy one month short of 6 months.

The surgeon didn’t mention a survival time frame to me, of course. He knew I had enough on my mind and didn’t need to tell me that the consensus was that I had 6 months to live.

I guess God had a different plan.

Road to recovery

I was sitting at the dinner table, having no appetite, looking frail and gaunt, with numbness and tingling in both my hands and feet. I was so tired and thinking that I can’t go on.

I didn’t realize that I had said that out loud until I was snapped out of my daze by my daughter telling me: “You can’t give up, you already lived longer than the doctor said you would.”

I was shocked. I expected to be gone already but felt emboldened by the fact that I wasn’t.

Like a boxer in the late rounds of a fight, I summoned energy I didn’t know I had. I vowed to not only go another round but to win this fight. I did it once, and I’ll do it again.

I got a second wind, but I needed something more, so I began exploring other avenues to find my cure. This wasn’t an easy task in the days before internet searches, and it would take considerable effort.

In retrospect, I feel there were three things I did that helped in my healing and recovery. The surgery and chemotherapy were a big part of my treatment plan, but I knew I couldn’t sit back and relax and let the doctors do all the work.

I went to church many nights, sometimes by myself. With my head bowed and body low, I asked God for forgiveness and strength, and to help rid me of any anger or resentment I had. As the wife of a priest, I received a lot of support, and people began praying for me all over the United States.

I also began juicing (long before the juicing craze began). I juiced mainly carrots, and once in a while, I would add garlic or an apple. I actually developed carotenosis, a condition that turns your skin orange — I drank so much carrot juice that I looked like a carrot!

The juice gave me valuable nutrition, and I found it easy to digest. The juicing seemed to provide me with energy, so I could continue to take care of my daily needs and responsibilities.

The third and possibly the most interesting approach that I discovered through a dear friend was a technique called “hands on therapy” by Janet Ziegler.

I met Janet through a friend, and during the introduction, I told her my name is Helen, and I have cancer. She turned towards me with a gentle, compassionate touch and told me, “You are Helen, and you had cancer.”

She taught me a process called visualization. It was as if she retrained my mind into thinking the opposite of what I knew as fact.

Before falling asleep that night, I remember asking God to give me a sign of a rainbow that things would be alright. It was that evening I clearly saw a rainbow full of vibrant color. I woke up the following morning feeling refreshed and thankful. Shortly after that experience, I no longer believed I had cancer.

Counting my blessings

The most difficult time in my recovery process was that first year. Once I developed a routine of self-care, I continued to nurture myself and focus on my loved ones. I slept a lot and took many breaks.

Looking back, I really believe there was a time when I was in recovery that I stopped believing I had cancer. Perhaps I was in denial, or possibly my deep faith carried me through.

The days continued, turning into months and then years.

It’s been 31 years since my battle with cancer. I’m now a widow, a grandmother five times, and a most appreciative multiple cancer survivor.

I can genuinely say, I have experienced God’s loving grace in what my oncologist says is a medical miracle. I want to reach out and tell anyone going through a similar trauma that if I can do this, so can you.

It may seem like there’s no end in sight, but if you keep fighting, you too can win. I want you to close your eyes and imagine yourself beating the odds just like me.

31 years cancer-free.