By Richard Saltus
If the human genome – the complete set of DNA blueprints in a cell for building a human being — is truly “the book of life, ” as it has been called, then 99 percent of life’s book is gobbledygook.
Only 1 percent of the DNA contains genetic instructions for making the body’s proteins; most of the rest of it has no known purpose, earning it the unappealing title of “junk DNA” or the more ominous sounding “dark matter.” In addition to containing all of life’s necessary genetic instructions, the 1 percent had also been home to all known cancer-causing mutations.
By Edward J. Benz, Jr., MD
The automatic budget cuts (or sequestration) that went into to effect as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, could have a chilling long-term effect on scientific research in the United States.
The automatic cuts will slash 5.1 percent – or about $1.6 billion in 2013 alone – from the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is the principal funder of biomedical research in the United States, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which is a major supporter of research at Dana-Farber.
By William Hahn, MD, PhD
Every year, hundreds of postdoctoral fellows and graduate students study cancer research at Dana-Farber under some of the world’s leading scientists. The Dana-Farber Postdoc and Graduate Student Affairs Office recently named the first recipient of its Mentor-of-the-Year Award: William Hahn, MD, PhD, the Institute’s deputy scientific officer and director of its Center for Cancer Genome Discovery. Here, Hahn discusses the lessons he learned from his own mentors and his efforts to instill the same principles in his own trainees.
Win or lose, Miss America contestant Allyn Rose made news with her decision to undergo a double mastectomy. According to the Associated Press, Rose, who lost her mother to breast cancer, inherited a rare genetic mutation which might put her at greater risk for developing cancer.
Her decision to have the preventive surgery has sparked questions about genetics, cancer risk and strategies for preventing cancer.
If you have a question about genetic factors that increase cancer risk, you can ask the Dana-Farber cancer genetics team.
For David Williams, MD, the field of pediatrics offers two great attractions.
“It is wonderful because of the kinds of patients you take care of,” he says. “But also because of the personalities of pediatricians – in pediatrics you find very compassionate and caring people.” Williams embodies that compassion and combines it with a drive to solve the medical problems of young patients, often with the use of cutting-edge technology.
When Jane Davis was diagnosed with breast cancer last July, she began learning as much as she could about her disease. Davis quickly discovered one of the most startling statistics about breast cancer: Up to 40 percent of women who have a lumpectomy require a second surgery. That’s because surgeons often cannot microscopically remove the entire tumor.
But Mehra Golshan, MD, FACS, director of Breast Surgical Services at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, is trying to change that with a phase I breast surgery pilot study. It’s the first of its kind in the world. Read more
When it comes to treating prostate cancer, proton radiotherapy (PRT) is no better than traditional intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), according to a new study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute on Friday.
PRT is an advanced but expensive treatment option for some prostate cancer patients. However, the researchers found that the therapy offers no added treatment benefit than the standard therapy. The article concluded: “Although PRT is substantially more costly than IMRT, there was no difference in toxicity in a comprehensive cohort of Medicare beneficiaries with prostate cancer at 12 months post-treatment.”
When Ken Anderson, MD, began working on multiple myeloma four decades ago, the disease, a cancer of the bone marrow, was untreatable. “People died within months,” says Anderson.
Today, the story is very different. In the past decade, eight new multiple myeloma treatments have been approved. Survival has doubled. “When we see new patients, we can look them in the eye and say it’s likely you will live a decade or longer with modern therapies,” says Anderson, who recently received a 2012 Medal of Honor award from the American Cancer Society for his contributions to these advancements. “And that’s continuing to improve.”
Like wombats and wildebeests, cancer cells are continually adapting to their environment. If that environment includes drugs meant to kill cancer cells, some cells may adapt so well, they eventually gain the ability to grow and divide in spite of those drugs – a process known as drug resistance. The result can be a resurgence of tumors that once were held in check by treatment.
Cancer scientists use a wide variety of techniques to study the growth and development of tumor cells. Laboratory research often focuses on individual cells or tissue samples, but to learn how cancers grow and respond to therapies in living organisms, scientists rely on other experimental models. In recent years, zebrafish have become the model of choice for studying many cancer types. Dana-Farber’s A. Thomas Look, MD, who uses zebrafish in his own work, explains why. Read more