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Daily Archives: September 10, 2016

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A New Cancer Immunotherapy Leads to Remissions

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In a small new study published inScience Translational Medicine, researchers who are pioneering an immune-based treatment for cancer report encouraging results among people with otherwise untreatable non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer.

Led by Dr. Cameron Turtle from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the scientists gave a group of 32 people different chemotherapy regimens and then introduced immune cells specifically designed to target and destroy cancer cells. All of the patients had been given at least one traditional treatment, including some who had had stem cell transplants, but none had good responses to these approaches. After the immunotherapy, however, seven people in one treatment group went into complete remission, while another four saw their disease progress more slowly.

The treatment, called CAR-T cell therapy, is targeted toward blood cancers, where doctors can eliminate cancer cells and replace them with healthy blood and immune cells. The strategy hinges on two important steps. First, doctors need to remove as much of a patient’s cancer-ridden blood cells as possible — they do that with chemotherapy — in order to make room for a new population of healthy blood and immune cells. If too many of the cancer cells remain, then they could outcompete the new cells and simply destroy them. To ensure that doesn’t happen, Turtle and his team tested a two-drug chemotherapy regimen and compared it to a single drug chemo strategy. Those getting the combination showed the best results, amounting to a 64% complete remission rate; by comparison, only one of the people getting the single chemotherapy agent went into complete remission (an 8% rate).

Next, the researchers need to re-introduce the right amount of the right immune cells that can fight cancer. Known as T cells, these contain specific receptors that allow some of them to recognize and bind to cancer cells and others to destroy them. To enhance the potency of the therapy, the scientists coaxed these cells to grow in the lab and genetically engineered them to express the tumor-specific receptor. The idea is to then reintroduce these cells back into patients and give them new, healthy blood cells that are cancer-free.

The results mirror those that the same researchers found among patients with other types of blood cell, or B-cell cancers, but are particularly encouraging since previous immunotherapy strategies haven’t been as robust when applied to non Hodgkin lymphoma. The trial provides additional support for the idea that immune cells can be properly trained to recognize and destroy cancer — in this case, with the help of genetically manipulated T cells. The results show that doctors can indeed tip the scales in favor of having the body fight cancer in much the same way it tackles pathogens like bacteria and viruses.

The results also provide much-needed information on how to optimize the strategy for different types of cancer. These findings suggest, for example, that for harder to treat non Hodgkin lymphoma, a combination chemotherapy to eliminate as much of the existing cancer as possible, before the immune cells are re-introduced, might be the key to helping more patients with the condition to slow the progression of their disease or even achieve remission.

While effective, the therapy also comes with a down side. Because the T cells are agents of destruction, they can trigger adverse effects such as fever and inflammation as they tackle the cancerous cells. Twenty of the 32 people in the trial developed signs of inflammation and low blood pressure, with four people getting severe enough symptoms that they required time in the intensive care unit and treatment with steroids. Two people also developed toxic effects from the treatment that resulted in tremor or language problems, but these were reversible. Two people given the highest dose of the T cell therapy died; one of bleeding and another from bleeding due to an intestinal mass.

The scientists are hopeful. however, that more studies will help them figure out the right chemotherapy regimen and the right dose of T cells to achieve the best results with the least adverse effects. “We’re very encouraged by these responses,” says Dr. Stanley Riddell, one of the co-authors from Fred Hutchinson. “These patients all failed conventional therapies; we were treating patients who didn’t have very many options for treatments. Obviously it’s still early days, and we need longer follow up and need to understand more about when in the patient’s disease course is the best time to use this kind of therapy, but we certainly think it’s encouraging.”

 

This article originally appeared on Time.com.

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The Secret to Happiness, According to Yoga

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“How is yoga meaningful beyond its poses? How can we practice yoga beyond the physical experience?” asks yoga teacher and blogger Rebecca Pacheco in her book, Do Your Om Thing: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life ($17; amazon.com). “What do we need to know to get the most out of our yoga, and by extension, our lives?” In this excerpt, she explains the yogic approach to happiness, and how to make it work for you.

I’m not sure who said, “Happiness is an inside job,” but it’s a great thing to remember as a yogi. According to yoga philosophy, santosha, which means contentment, is a form of self-discipline. In other words, happiness is a skill and practice. Happier people do not have easier lives, with less hard work, grief, divorce, or financial strain than the rest of us. They’re simply more grateful for what they have and choose to be conscious of their contentment more often.

Modern yogis view yoga as a process of self-improvement. We do yoga so that we can get better at it. Gain greater flexibility. Become a kinder or more patient person. Excel at sports. Look better naked. The list goes on. In all the years I’ve practiced and taught yoga, I have never heard someone walk into a class and pronounce, “I’m here because I’m totally content with my life, body, and world view. There’s nothing I seek to change or improve. I just want to learn how to do yoga, for fun.” Never.

RELATED: Yoga Poses for Less Stress and Better Sleep

It’s not that seeking self-improvement is bad. It’s fantastic. The trick is to remember to enjoy the process. If we continually seek betterment, without a genuine appreciation for the present and “whatever fate may bring,” we run the risk of missing the entire essence of yoga and, quite frankly, life. There is no fancy pose, enlightened style of yoga, venerable guru, or brilliant book that can manufacture or deliver your happiness. It comes from within you, and finding it is a different process for everyone.

When I demonstrate challenging yoga poses for my students, I often joke that no matter how impressive, graceful, or fun a yoga pose looks, it cannot change the quality of their lives in any major way. Performing a headstand won’t save someone from getting a parking ticket, losing a job, or getting dumped. Meanwhile, the learning process, attention level, and attitude of the pose can have a positive compounding effect on the rest of our lives. Whenever you catch yourself hungry for the look and flash of an elaborate posture, remember your higher mission. Ask yourself if you’re enjoying the process, not just flinging yourself toward an idealized destination.

RELATED: 8 Tips for Leaving Yoga Class Totally Relaxed

When we forget that happiness is an inside job and look for validation externally—the house, car, or outfit—we will always end up disappointed. The house will never be big enough, car new enough, outfit in season enough. We’ll lose the bigger picture of the process and fixate on the small stuff. Selfish stuff. Ego stuff. Want to know the shortest, most direct route out of ego? The opposite of the obnoxious voice in your head that says: what about me? It’s santosha. It’s gratitude. It’s the skill of taking yourself out of the tailspin of scarcity and reconnecting to contentment. Because as soon as you put yourself in a state of gratitude (for anything, however small) you can no longer operate from ego. The two are polar opposites. The practice of santosha removes us from the rat race and rests us in a gentle hammock of gratitude for a little while. Ahhhh. Doesn’t that feel better?

Do Your Om Thing: Notice Contentment

Keep a gratitude journal in which you write one to three things each day for which you are grateful. They can be incredibly small and ordinary: a warm house, someone who held the door, an email that made you LOL. Review the list before bed. Notice how this makes you feel.
Think of someone in your life who seems to be deeply content. What do you think they might do to achieve that contentment?
To unhook from a feeling of discontentment or ego, a funk or feeling of scarcity, Judith Lasater, cofounder of Yoga Journal and author of Living Your Yoga, recommends using the mantra: How should it be? Notice how your response to this question is an expectation. Not reality. If we are discontented with reality every time it does not go as planned, we lose the skill and gift of santosha.

Excerpted from the book DO YOUR OM THING: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life by Rebecca Pacheco. Copyright 2016 by Rebecca Pacheco. Reprinted with permission of Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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5 Things Everyone Should Know About Brain Tumors

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Earlier this summer, retired U.S. soccer player Lauren Holiday was sailing through her first pregnancy when suddenly, she began experiencing painful headaches. An MRI revealed a tumor on the right side of the 28-year-old's brain near her orbital socket, the Times-Picayune reports. 

Fortunately, the two-time Olympic gold medalist's growth is benign, operable, and not a risk to Holiday's unborn daughter. She's scheduled to have the tumor removed about six weeks after her delivery.

Though Holiday has a positive prognosis, her story is still scary because she's young and otherwise healthy—elite-athlete-level healthy. But next time you get a piercing headache, don't jump to any conclusions. The ones brought on by brain tumors aren't aren't your average headaches, says John G. Golfinos, MD, chair of the department of neurosurgery and co-director of the Brain Tumor Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. They're persistent, and tend to be worse in the morning and improve throughout the day. “That’s because when people are lying flat, the pressure in the skull and brain goes up, and during the day some of the pressure starts to go away,” he explains. What's more, brain tumor headaches are often associated with nausea and vomiting.

More good news: brain tumors are pretty rare. You have just a 1% chance of developing a malignant brain tumor in your lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. 

Here, Dr. Golfinos reveals more facts to know about brain tumors: 

Not all brain tumors are cancerous

“There’s a whole spectrum and range of outcomes for brain tumors,” says Dr. Golfinos. As in Holiday’s case, some are benign, “which means they grow very slowly in the brain or just outside the brain,” he explains. Others are malignant, grow very quickly, and are incurable.

RELATED: Early Signs of Stroke You Need to Know—Even If You're Young

Even benign tumors can cause major issues

The reason brain tumors can be so risky is that the skull is a thick, confined space: “So anything that grows inside or just outside the brain can take up a lot of room and press on important parts of the brain, causing a lot of problems,” he says. “That’s why we say with brain tumors, it’s not just what type of tumor is it, but where is it.”

The problems can include loss of vision, difficulties with speech, issues understanding language, or weakness on one side of the body. Symptoms can be subtle in the beginning, especially if they're caused by a benign, slow-growing tumor, says Dr. Golfinos. But if you notice any of those changes, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.

RELATED: 5 Times You Really, Seriously Need to Go to the ER

Brain tumors can’t escape your skull

Brain tumors are unique in that they can't spread to other organs, since they don't have the same access to the blood stream that tumors in other parts of the body do, says Dr. Golfinos. “The brain itself is a very privileged part of the body,” he notes. “It's good at keeping things out, but also good at keeping things in.”

Your phone won’t cause a tumor

You may have heard the myth that constantly talking on your cell causes cancer. According to Dr. Golfinos, you have nothing to worry about, since there's no good evidence to suggest this is true. The reality, he says, is that “[w]e really don’t understand what causes brain tumors.”

RELATED: 4 Health Rumors You Seriously Need to Stop Believing

You can't prevent tumors from developing

“Many people ask me if there’s anything they can do to avoid brain tumors,” says Dr. Golfinos. “And right now the answer to that is ‘no.’” That said, to play it safe, Dr. Golfinos recommends avoiding exposure to excess radiation whenever possible (by opting for an MRI over a CT scan for example), especially for anyone under the age of 18. 

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