cure for acute myeloid leukemia

In the 9th October edition of Cancer Cell, a paper was released which announced the first molecule that directly attacks just cancer cells (not healthy cells) and pushes them into apoptosis (cell suicide).

Titled “Direct Activation of BAX1 by BTSA1 Overcomes Apoptosis Resistance in Acute Myeloid Leukemia“, the paper describes how the molecule, BTSA1, binds strongly to the activation sites on BAX, which is a protein in cells that triggers apoptosis, increasing the chance that the cell will be able to die properly.

You can think of this like a human messenger trying to send a message to someone (the damaged cell sending a message to itself to self-destruct), and a load of bullies constantly harassing the messenger, tripping her up and standing in her way (the cancer cell’s anti-apoptic proteins bind to the messenger protein). BTSA1 in this case is a strong security guard that travels with the messenger, pushing the bullies out of the way to let her send her message.

In normal cells, when it is time for a cell to die – for example, the telomeres are too short, or damage to the DNA is detected – messages are sent to the BAX protein to tell it to turn on cell suicide mode.

In some cancers, though, Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in this instance, a number of “anti-apoptic” proteins are produced which bind to BAX, so it can’t send its message to start the apoptosis.

In this study, Evripidis Gavathiotis was able to find a molecule which binds stronger to BAX than the AML anti-apoptic proteins do, letting them do their job.

Most importantly, this increase in the strength of the BAX messages only affects those cells that are already trying to commit suicide (the cancer cells)- normal cells are left alone.

In mouse studies, some mice were given AML, and some of those then given the new molecule. Those that received the treatment survived weeks longer than those that did not, with 43% of the treated mice still alive three weeks after the control mice had died and no sign of AML in them.

Even though this treatment was specifically tested on just AML, it is possible that it affects other cancers as well. Dr Gavathiotis has been asked to repeat the test using other cancers to see if this is true.

Recently, the CAR-T cell therapy for cancer was announced which was able to kill cancer cells after some therapy such that a year later 64% of the patients were still in remission. With BTSA1, the chances look even better.

CAR T-cell therapy (cancer cure) certified by FDA

Cancer is a hard collection of diseases to cure, because it is basically the cells of the body that are attacking itself, and the immune system is not supposed to attack cells that it recognises as belonging to the body.

The immune system has a group of cells called “T-cells”, which train themselves throughout your life to try to recognise invaders. However, cancer can look so similar to normal cells that the T-cells cannot differentiate them.

In the early 80s, a scientist had the idea of removing some T-cells, training them specially to attack cancer cells, and re-injecting them back into the body.

Recently, it has been found that this works very well. Some early trials resulted in illness and death, mostly due to inflammation caused by cytokine release from the T-cells as they did their job, but since those trials, scientists have learned to manage the side-effects.

In a recent trial, 83% of patients went into remission, with 64% still in remission a year later. The trial was not properly scientific, because it did not include a control group (people that do not receive the real treatment, in order to have numbers to compare the treatment against), but the results were still so stunning that a group of experts recommended unanimously to the FDA that the treatment should be immediately certified for public use.

After the treatment, the treated T-cells remember their training for at least six months, so if there is any remission in that time, they will spring back into action and destroy the fledgling cancer cells. And because one treated T-cell can kill 10,000 cancer cells, it doesn’t take a lot to cure the disease.

At the moment, the cost for T-cell treatment is almost half a million US dollars, but this is bound to shrink rapidly as the treatment becomes more and more popular. Also, the solution is being rolled out specifically to younger people with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia whose other treatments have failed, so it may be some time before it is available to everyone else. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is a cancer which attacks the immune system itself, making it one of the deadliest cancers around.

If this new treatment works as expected, we will have crossed an important threshold in the fight against cancer, taking one step closer to learning to live forever.

is aspartame safe

Someone tried very hard to convince me that aspartame, an artificial sweetener, is bad for you. The only paper that came close was this one which concludes that there is a significant risk of rats developing leukemia if they consume 2000ppm of aspartame daily.

However, if you do the math, the sheer amount of aspartame needed is incredible.

To show my point, I calculated how many cans of Coke Zero you’d need to consume per day in order to develop leukemia from the aspartame content.

9834.5 cans of Coke Zero.

If you drank 9834.5 cans of Coke Zero a day, you would be more likely to die of …well, anything, before the aspartame affected you.

How I calculate it:

The chance of developing a malignant tumour is significant at a level of 2000ppm in rats.

2000ppm = 2000mg per kg.

To convert to human dosage, you multiply the value by the NOAEL value for the drug and animal. That’s 4000.

So in humans, a dosage of 8000mg (8g) per kg of body weight is dangerous.

I weigh 71.3kg, so I shouldn’t consume more than 570400mg (570.4g) of aspartame a day.

There are 58mg of Aspartame in 1 can of Coke Zero.

570.4g/58mg is 9834.5 cans of Coke Zero.

Smoking and lung cancer

I was working on my book last night, extracting charts from the World Health Organisation’s databases to demonstrate improvements since 2000, and noticed something interesting.

This is a chart showing the decrease in deaths in Ireland, in people aged 30-49, for diseases strongly related to smoking:

Basically, since 2000, deaths from lung-related diseases have halved.

Why is that?

I believe it’s because in 2004, Ireland introduced a total ban on smoking in work-places. That includes restaurants and pubs.

Compare that to China, where there isn’t a ban on smoking, and where it’s actually considered polite to offer cigarettes to your visitors:

Or Russia, where smoking in public places was banned only in 2013:

The same pattern is visible in most countries. Countries that introduced a smoking ban saw a dramatic decrease in deaths, while those that don’t introduce a ban see their citizens continue to die of lung-related diseases.

37% life extension in prostate cancer sufferers

A clinical trial run by Cancer Research UK has shown that by combining androgen-deprived therapy (ADT) with the drug abiraterone in the treatment of prostate cancer sufferers, they reduced the chance of dying from prostate cancer in the next three years by 37%.

Prostate cancer currently kills about 11,000 people per year in the UK. In 2012, an estimated 310,000 people died from it worldwide.

According to the paper, the chance of dying within three years using just ADT, which is the standard treatment at the moment, was 76%. When combined with abiraterone, this increased dramatically to 83%. Out of the 1917 people that were recruited for the trial, nearly 80 of them were alive at the end of the trial that would have died if they had just been on ADT.