‘Encyclopedia’ charts genetics of cancer

The Encyclopedia Britannica may have published its last print edition, but a group of Dana-Farber scientists and their colleagues recently produced one of the first encyclopedias to help researchers determine which subtypes of cancer are likely to respond to current drugs. The freely available, online encyclopedia lists hundreds of cancer subtypes – each with a unique set of genetic abnormalities that define it – along with drugs that are known to target those defects. The data, described alongside a similar catalog developed by another team of investigators, will guide researchers in designing clinical trials – improving the chances that the …

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The truth about melanoma

May is Melanoma Awareness Month. Often caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight, melanoma accounts for only 4 to 5 percent of skin cancer cases, but is responsible for most skin cancer-related deaths. When detected and treated in its earliest stages, however, melanoma is often curable. The key is to avoid overexposure to UV rays – by limiting time outdoors during the peak hours of sunlight and wearing sun-protective clothing and sunscreen – and to be on the lookout for changes in moles and other blemishes that can be an early sign of the disease. As with …

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Cancer biologist finds links between science, art

As a cancer biologist, Dr. Kornelia (Nelly) Polyak pores over countless images of breast cancer cells and their surrounding tissues, data tables, and graphs – visuals that only a scientist can find beautiful. But when she sits down to paint, Polyak fills large canvases with a riot of vivid and deeply saturated colors, with thick brushstrokes rendering landscapes like purple fields of lavender in France, red-tiled houses on the Italian coast, and lush English gardens. Polyak’s chosen medium is acrylic paint applied with little water and so thick that it resembles oils. She has been inspired by the Impressionist painters, …

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Prostate cancer: At what age should you be screened?

What age is appropriate to get screened for prostate cancer and begin treatment? Recent news surrounding Warren Buffett’s diagnosis, including a report on Boston.com, has some asking if age should factor into these decisions. Dr. Philip Kantoff, chief of the Division of Solid tumor at Dana-Farber and director of Dana-Farber’s Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology, speaks about PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) screening and the benefits associated with undergoing active surveillance, instead of opting for radiation or surgery in appropriate patients.      

Brain tumor doesn’t slow this fitness enthusiast

Bryan Reilly has a full-time job and a passion for exercise. He skis, climbs mountains, works out regularly, and runs a mile in under 8 minutes. Any 56-year-old could be proud of being so fit. But for Reilly, it’s a special triumph: Less than two years ago he was diagnosed with an often-lethal and aggressive brain tumor.

How do genes get their names?

Chinese scientists recently found a gene that encourages the growth of a form of lung cancer by switching on a circuit that includes a gene called sonic hedgehog. How do genes get their names? When a scientist discovers a new human gene, he or she submits a proposed name to the Human Gene Nomenclature Committee (HGNC), an international panel of researchers with exclusive authority over this area. Guidelines were established in 1979 by the HGNC and have been updated periodically. (The HGNC itself operates under the auspices of the Human Genome Organization, an international association of scientists involved in human …

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Two dads, one cause, and a whole lot of love

No one would choose the way Glen Jusczyk and Greg Kelly became friends: at the bedsides of their little girls with cancer. Yet these extraordinary circumstances created not just a friendship, but a desire to give back to the place providing their children’s care. On April 16, these dads, who consider themselves “out of shape,” will run the 116th Boston Marathon® as two of more than 550 runners on the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team to raise money for the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research at Dana-Farber. Jusczyk’s daughter, Malia, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer that …

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Family bonding in the Jimmy Fund Clinic

By Sara Dickison Taylor When our daughter Emily was diagnosed with leukemia at age 5, we found solace and support from other families facing pediatric cancer at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. Our visits to Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic became a well-rehearsed play. If it was Friday, it was clinic day. Instead of going to kindergarten or playing with her friends like most 5-year-olds, Emily had her vital signs taken, had blood drawn through her Port-a-Cath, and received a weekly infusion of chemotherapy, platelets, and blood. It was difficult at times, but making friends with other families going …

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Does sugar feed cancer?

Cancer cells have a voracious appetite for glucose, a form of sugar, and consume it in much greater amounts than normal cells do. The knowledge of cancer cells’ zest for sugar has led some people to wonder if eating less sugar would restrain tumors’ growth. While cancer cells do rely on a large intake of glucose to fuel their growth and proliferation, reducing sugar in your diet won’t curb tumors.

Cancer research updates from AACR

The American Association for Cancer Research recently held its annual meeting in Chicago. Dr. Loren Walensky of Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center talks about some of the highlights, including personalized medicine and a new grant that’s helping his team develop new technology to target cancer.