14 questions to ask about clinical trials

The National Cancer Institute says the answers to these questions can help you decide whether to participate in a clinical trial. Ask your health care provider:

  • Why is this trial being done?
  • Why do the doctors who designed the trial believe that the treatments being studied may be better than the standard treatment? Why may it not be better?
  • How long will I be in the trial?
  • What kinds of tests and treatments are involved?
  • What are the possible side effects or risks of the new treatment?
  • What are the possible benefits?
  • How will we know if the treatment is working?
  • Will I have to pay for any of the treatments or tests?
  • What costs will my health insurance cover?
  • How could the trial affect my daily life?
  • How often will I have to come to the hospital or clinic?
  • Will I have to travel long distances to take part?
  • What are my other treatment choices?
  • How does the treatment I would receive in this trial compare with the other treatment choices?
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Two patients wrote books about their cancer experiences

Author David Lankes, PhD, center, with his oncology nurses, from left to right, Carolyn Stafford, Heidi See, Cyndy Carr and Kevin O'Keefe.

Author David Lankes, PhD, center, with his oncology nurses, from left to right, Carolyn Stafford, Heidi See, Cyndy Carr and Kevin O’Keefe.

Professor sought to be boring

 Excerpt “Here is the hardest lesson I learned in chemotherapy. I was not battling cancer. The chemo was battling cancer. Battling is the wrong metaphor. I didn’t feel like I was on the front line of some war. No, I was the home front. Once the battle was endorsed, I was the one at home sacrificing to support the war effort: taking the rations and reductions as part of my duty in the fight. The chemo was storming the barricades.   “The key, I came to see, in beating cancer through chemo is not fighting, but acceptance. You must accept the drugs, and you must accept that the drugs are going to progressively take from you as much, or so it seems, as the cancer. You must accept that your legs will ache and weaken; that your breathing will constrict; that your bowels will constipate; that you will lose energy. You must accept that for the drugs to do their work – the true battle – you must accept a lack of control.”   --from “The Boring Patient,” by R. David Lankes


Excerpt
“Here is the hardest lesson I learned in chemotherapy. I was not battling cancer. The chemo was battling cancer. Battling is the wrong metaphor. I didn’t feel like I was on the front line of some war. No, I was the home front. Once the battle was endorsed, I was the one at home sacrificing to support the war effort: taking the rations and reductions as part of my duty in the fight. The chemo was storming the barricades.”

Publishing a book called “The Boring Patient” was Syracuse University professor R. David Lankes’ way of summing up his experience with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that starts in the white blood cells.

He was diagnosed in 2010 after doctors first thought he had bronchitis, then trans ischemic attacks and then a seizure disorder. Lankes, a professor in SU’s School of Information Studies, underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant and writes candidly about the ordeal in 17 chapters. Doctors and nurses go unnamed as Lankes tells it like it was.

He chronicles his thoughts and feelings (often wryly) as well as his treatment details. Lankes said he decided not to wallow in negative thoughts and to instead adopt a cheery outlook, even on days when he had to fake it. That helped. He also aimed to be the boring patient. He did not want to be interesting because that meant complications that would draw more attention and demand more treatment. He just wanted to quickly and quietly go through his treatment and have it be successful.

So far, the cancer has not recurred.

Hear an interview with Lankes about his book

She chronicled her year with breast cancer

Excerpt "Somewhere between smores over the pit and campfire breakfast, I noticed a hard lump on the side of my right breast. I'm a side sleeper and it became an obvious pain when I would roll a certain way."

Excerpt
“Somewhere between smores over the pit and campfire breakfast, I noticed a hard lump on the side of my right breast. I’m a side sleeper and it became an obvious pain when I would roll a certain way.”

Shelly Straub of Cicero shares the story, and photos, of her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer in a book she calls, “A Tale of Two Boobies: One Year with Cancer.”

Her diagnosis came in October 2013, followed by a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. “It was one year of hell,” she said. “It was difficult. It was very hard to get through. Everything in my life changed.”

Because the experience seemed so surreal, Straub wanted to write a book in order to remember her story. She included graphic photos – and a parental advisory on the book cover – in order to be instructional. Also included are her monthly calendars, which show the activities of everyday life (Thanksgiving, the start of winter) mixed with medical appointments (biopsy results, surgery for port installation.)

Hear an interview with Straub about her book

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Facts about four gynecologic cancers

Although all involve organs of the female genital tract, each of these four gynecologic cancers have unique symptoms and treatments, says Rinki Agarwal, MD, an Upstate gynecologic oncologist. An early assessment by a Gynecologic Oncologist is likely to improve outcomes.

Cervical

Cancer of the cervix is usually diagnosed in midlife. Most women with cervical cancer are infected with HPV (human papilloma virus). A vaccine, now available for girls and boys, has good efficacy and proven safety.

Symptoms

Cervical cancers may have no symptoms and may be detected by routine gynecological exams, especially at early stages. Symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual vaginal discharge or pain during intercourse.

Treatment

Regular pelvic exams can uncover pre-cancerous conditions. Surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy are options for treatment. Surgery is less effective in later stages.

Ovarian

Ovarian cancer is considered a silent disease as the symptoms are usually subtle. It does not have good screening tests available and is frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage.

Symptoms

Bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly and feeling the need to urinate urgently or often can be symptoms of ovarian cancer – along with fatigue, pain during intercourse, upset stomach or heartburn, constipation, back pain and menstrual changes. Because early detection can dramatically improve survival rates, seek medical care for these symptoms if they persist daily for more than a couple weeks.

Treatment

Ovarian cancer responds well to treatment, which usually includes a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.

Uterine

Also called endometrial cancer, this affects the lining of the uterus. It is diagnosed through a tissue biopsy and/or imaging studies.

Symptoms

This cancer is almost always caught early, because the early symptoms — irregular/ heavy vaginal bleeding or discharge and pelvic pain — send women to their gynecologists.

Treatment

Surgery is the main treatment, but a variety of radiation therapies and chemotherapies are also options for treatment. Hormones may also be prescribed.

Vulvar

Most cancers of the vulva are squamous cell carcinomas, which is a skin cancer, and this disease is more commonly seen in an older population. A vulvar cancer may be related to an infection with the human papilloma virus. The HPV vaccine may provide protection against vulvar cancer.

Symptoms

Itching, pain or burning, thickening of the skin or an open sore on the vulva that lasts for a month or more could signal vulvar cancer. Also be concerned if an area on the vulva looks different from normal — lighter or darker, red or pink. Wart-like bumps may be suspicious, too.

Treatment

Pre-cancerous conditions are likely to be discovered during regular pelvic exams. If cancer is diagnosed, patients and doctors may choose surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy, depending on how the stage of the cancer.

Need help finding a gynecologist? Contact Upstate Connect at 1-800-464-8668.

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Music adds to the healing environment

Pianist Sydney Fina, 14, and the North Syracuse Junior High School performed at the Upstate Cancer Center in December.

Pianist Sydney Fina, 14, and the North Syracuse Junior High School performed at the Upstate Cancer Center in December. If you would like to perform, volunteers can apply to perform at the Upstate Cancer Center by contacting Matt Capogreco at capogrem@upstate.edu or 1-315-464-3605. Be prepared to share a video or audio clip that demonstrates the type of music you wish to perform.

Daylight and sunshine pour into the Upstate Cancer Center lobby through walls made of windows. For musicians who perform there, “it’s definitely inspiring,” says music program coordinator, Victoria Krukowski.

Victoria Krukowski, who plays the clarinet, is the music program coordinator for the Upstate Cancer Center. Here are five songs she would enjoy performing: * "Give Me the Simple Life," by Rube Bloom & Harry Ruby * "Send in the Clowns," by Stephen Sondheim * “Imagine,” by John Lennon * “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” by Stevie Wonder * “The Entertainer,” by Scott Joplin

Victoria Krukowski, who plays the clarinet, is the music program coordinator for the Upstate Cancer Center. Here are five songs she would enjoy performing:
* “Give Me the Simple Life,” by Rube Bloom & Harry Ruby
* “Send in the Clowns,” by Stephen Sondheim
* “Imagine,” by John Lennon
* “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” by Stevie Wonder
* “The Entertainer,” by Scott Joplin

Visit the center weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. — when most appointments are scheduled — and you are liable to hear music from a cello, a harp, a string quartet, a piano, or a singer. Krukowski seeks upbeat performers from a variety of genres who are willing to play music appropriate to healing — softly. Sound travels up the glass to be heard in waiting rooms above the lobby.

“It’s amazing how much it adds to the environment,” she says.

Krukowski, who plays the clarinet, performed with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra for 14 years and now performs with Symphoria. As music program coordinator at the cancer center, she selects and schedules performers.

She is not looking for elevator music, but she does not want anything too loud that would overwhelm the senses.

Tunes that are upbeat and familiar are good choices, including Broadway favorites, ‘60s and ‘70s songs that appeal to lots of people, Mozart and Bach. Beatles tunes are always a hit. “People seem to like tunes that they know,” she says.

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How cancer care may be affected by depression, anxiety

A study by the Cancer Aging Research Group, which includes Upstate’s Ajeet Gajra, MD, examined the relationship between age, anxiety and depression in older adults with cancer.

Some facts:

More than half of all cancer diagnoses and almost three quarters of cancer deaths occur in patients older than 65.

Depression and anxiety are associated with poorer treatment outcomes, reduced ability to make treatment decisions, decreased adherence to lengthy treatment and longer hospital stays and suicide.

The study:

Researchers looked at data collected on 500 men and women age 65 and older who were about to start chemotherapy. The patients were recruited from outpatient oncology practices between November 2006 and November 2009. To assess their anxiety and depression levels, patients answered a 14-item validated tool survey called the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale.

The results: anxiety was apparent in 21 percent, and depression was apparent in 13 percent. Researchers compared those results with patient ages, genders, stages of cancer, education levels, social support and other medical problems.

Findings

–about depression:

People with an advanced stage of cancer were likely to have a higher level of depression.

Researchers found that depression was more likely in older patients who had multiple medical problems, poor social support and advanced cancer. They determined that screening or assessing such patients for depression is important. And, they suggest interventions that reduce loneliness and isolation could help.

–about anxiety:

As age increased, anxiety levels decreased. Some possible reasons why: Older adults 1. are more likely to take life on a day-by-day basis, 2. have learned to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, 3. may have developed better emotional regulation and the ability to cope with life’s challenges, 4. are at a stage of life where they are focused on making peace with their lives, and 5. may benefit from a shortened time perspective, allowing them to concentrate on what matters at the moment.

–about anxiety and depression:

People who lack social support were likely to have higher levels of anxiety and depression.

People with multiple medical problems were likely to have higher levels of anxiety and depression.

At Upstate:

A dedicated social worker and a psychiatrist who specializes in oncology are available at the Upstate Cancer Center. Both of these people can help mediate problems associated with depression and anxiety.

In addition, the Cancer Center helps reduce the stress for patients by offering:

  • services for cancer care located within the same building;
  • multidisciplinary care that allows patients to meet with each member of their care team in a single afternoon; and
  • customized care, which means caregivers consider the social effects of various treatment regimens as they make recommendations.

Gajra impresses upon medical students and colleagues the importance of screening patients for depression and anxiety and treating them appropriately, since both can impact cancer treatment.

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PSA mystery solved at Upstate

Paul Kruger, who lives in Dexter, NY, works at Fort Drum, north and east of Watertown. He underwent five biopsies of his prostate before a physician at Upstate located the cancer that was causing his elevated prostate-specific antigen test.

Paul Kruger, who lives in Dexter, NY, works at Fort Drum, north and east of Watertown. He underwent five biopsies of his prostate before a physician at Upstate located the cancer that was causing his elevated prostate-specific antigen test.

By Susan Cole

The uncertainty and the waiting were the hardest parts of Paul Kruger’s battle with prostate cancer.

Kruger, 56. a heavy equipment mechanic at Fort Drum, knew an elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level indicated trouble, but after five years of examinations and five painful biopsies, he was no closer to knowing why his level was so high. Then his wife, Nora read about the precision biopsies the urology team at Upstate University Hospital was using. The Krugers immediately booked an appointment.

Urologic oncologist, Srinivas Vourganti, MD, ordered a magnetic resonance imaging scan for Kruger, using a powerful 3 tesla machine. The MRI revealed areas of suspicion within the prostate and gave Vourganti some targets for the biopsy that would remove some cells for laboratory analysis. When the test results came back, Kruger learned that about a third of his prostate was taken over by cancer.

Hear an interview with Vourganti about the UroNav procedure

This red triangle is a 3-D image of Paul Kruger's prostate. The circular colored areas are areas of suspicion, as indicated by a magnetic resonance imaging scan. Using Upstate's UroNav fusion biopsy system, Srinivas Vourganti, MD, hones in on areas where cancer may be hiding. The cylinders show where the urologic oncologist removed tissue samples for biopsy. Cancer cells were found to occupy about a third of Kruger's prostate, in the green circular region.

This red triangle is a 3-D image of Paul Kruger’s prostate. The circular colored areas are areas of suspicion, as indicated by a magnetic resonance imaging scan. Using Upstate’s UroNav fusion biopsy system, Srinivas Vourganti, MD, hones in on areas where cancer may be hiding. The cylinders show where the urologic oncologist removed tissue samples for biopsy. Cancer cells were found to occupy about a third of Kruger’s prostate, in the green circular region.

The uncertainty over, he shifted his focus to cope with a cancer diagnosis. “All the waiting, not knowing and not understanding is what is hard,” he said. “Every time I went through another biopsy, I thought, ‘When are they going to find it?’ “

After Vourganti explained his options, Kruger decided to have his prostate surgically removed in a minimally invasive operation last June. Vourganti said the operation was a success. “Mr. Kruger’s tumor was well away from the erectile nerves, so I was able to perform a bilateral nerve-sparing surgery, “ he described.

Six months after the surgery, Kruger is cancer-free and back to his normal routine, keeping the snow plows running at Fort Drum.

He said he is grateful that his Upstate team worked so quickly and effectively to remove his cancer.

“We’ve had family members with cancer, and it was a death sentence, “ Kruger said. “To come to Upstate and meet Dr. Vourganti and have all my questions finally answered and my cancer gone? It’s amazing.”

What’s the PSA?

The PSA test measures the blood level of prostate-specific antigen, a protein that is produced by the prostate gland. The higher a man’s PSA level, the more likely it is that he had prostate cancer. However, there are additional reasons for having an elevated PSA level, and some men who have prostate cancer do not have elevated PSA.

Posted in community, surgery, urology | Leave a comment

Are you at risk for oral cancer?

Protect yourself Oral cancer frequently begins as a painless lesion in your mouth. Therefore, experts recommend you carefully examine your mouth on a regular basis for red or white spots, lumps or anything that looks abnormal.   Stand in front of a mirror. Using gauze for grip, lift your tongue so you can see beneath and in back of your mouth. Pull your cheeks away from your teeth to get a good look.   See your dentist or doctor if you find something unusual. “If it’s affecting your life, and it lasts longer than two weeks, then it requires professional evaluation,” advises oral surgeon Terrence Thines, a professor in Upstate University Hospital’s division of dentistry.

Protect yourself — Oral cancer frequently begins as a painless lesion in your mouth. Therefore, experts recommend you carefully examine your mouth on a regular basis for red or white spots, lumps or anything that looks abnormal.
Stand in front of a mirror. Using gauze for grip, lift your tongue so you can see beneath and in back of your mouth. Pull your cheeks away from your teeth to get a good look. See your dentist or doctor if you find something unusual. “If it’s affecting your life, and it lasts longer than two weeks, then it requires professional evaluation,” advises oral surgeon Terrence Thines, a professor in Upstate University Hospital’s division of dentistry.

Most of the people with oral cancers whom Terrence Thines cares for are in their fifth or sixth decades of life. But lately, the oral surgeon from Upstate’s division of dentistry is seeing younger patients with the same type of disease.

Many are infected with the human papilloma virus, or HPV. Infection with certain types of HPV, easily spread from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact, can cause some forms of cancer. Thines said research so far has not connected the increase in oral cancers directly to HPV, but some experts believe the rise is related to an increase in oral sex.

Hear an interview with Thines

Tobacco and alcohol use are among the strongest risk factors for oral and oropharyngeal cancers. Smokers are many times more likely than nonsmokers to develop these cancers, says the American Cancer Society, which adds that seven out of 10 patients with oral cancer are heavy drinkers. Combining the two vices ups the risk even more. “According to some studies, the risk of these cancers in heavy drinkers and smokers may be as much as 100 times more than the risk of these cancers in people who don’t smoke or drink,” the society says.

Thines said oropharyngeal cancers – cancers from the lips to the back of the throat – represent up to 4 percent of all cancer diagnoses. The death rate from oral cancer is on the decline, probably due to better diagnosis and better prevention strategies. “You have a good prognosis if the cancer is detected and treated early,” he said.

Depending on the location and type of cancer cells, surgery is likely to be the first step in treatment. That may be followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy. Surgery may be disfiguring. “That’s one of the reasons we promote early detection,” Thines said, explaining that the earlier oral cancers are detected, the smaller they are likely to be and the less tissue that has to be removed.

 Hear an interview with Thines

 

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Exceptional surgical suite allows for MRI during operations

Director of pediatric neurosurgery, Zulma Tovar-Spinoza, MD, reviews the patient’s magnetic resonance images prior to beginning surgery.

Director of pediatric neurosurgery, Zulma Tovar-Spinoza, MD, reviews the patient’s magnetic resonance images prior to beginning surgery.

The most advanced imaging options available are part of Upstate’s newest surgical suite, which allows patients to undergo magnetic resonance imaging during an operation.

The clarity of the 3-tesla MRI is ideal for conditions that involve the brain, spine and musculoskeletal system, including brain tumors, epilepsy and cancer. Its powerful imaging capabilities provide exceptional detail.

Surgeons are able to immediately verify the complete removal of tumors, verify the placement of probes and minimize the impact to healthy tissues. This helps improve patient outcomes.

Hear an interview about the new suite

This 3-D computerized image shows the inside of the patient's brain and the 3.1-millimeter opening -- a bit larger than the tip of a pen -- for the laser.

This 3-D computerized image shows the inside of the patient’s brain and the 3.1-millimeter opening — a bit larger than the tip of a pen — for the laser.

Using a laser and MRI guidance, Tovar-Spinoza will remove a tumor through a melting process called ablation.

Using a laser and MRI guidance, Tovar-Spinoza will remove a tumor through a melting process called ablation.

Once the neurosurgeon secures the laser in the patient's brain, the door to the MRI suite opens, and the patient -- still under anesthesia  -- is moved into the scanner.

Once the neurosurgeon secures the laser in the patient’s brain, the door to the MRI suite opens, and the patient — still under anesthesia — is moved into the scanner.

MRI technologists help position the patient in the scanner.

MRI technologists help position the patient in the scanner.

Tovar-Spinoza reviews the intraoperative scans to verify the tumor removal is complete.

Tovar-Spinoza reviews the intraoperative scans to verify the tumor removal is complete.

Hear an interview about the new suite

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Battling breast cancer by knocking on doors

She Matters advocate Martha Chavis-Bonner helps her neighbor, Edward Moody, sign his wife up for a mammogram at the Patricia J. Numann Center for Breast, Endocrine and Plastic Surgery at the Upstate Specialty Services Center. Moody's wife, says Chavis-Bonner, is typical of many African American women: "so busy working and taking care of her family that she doesn't take time for her own health."

She Matters advocate Martha Chavis-Bonner helps her neighbor, Edward Moody, sign his wife up for a mammogram at the Patricia J. Numann Center for Breast, Endocrine and Plastic Surgery at the Upstate Specialty Services Center. Moody’s wife, says Chavis-Bonner, is typical of many African American women: “so busy working and taking care of her family that she doesn’t take time for her own health.”

Lisa Bigelow says her father’s mindset was that he could avoid cancer simply by not getting tested for the disease. She believes early detection is the best protection – and she is helping to spread that word.

“Both my parents died of cancer. I wish they were still here. That’s why I’m involved,” Bigelow says. She is part of a team of resident health advocates that is raising awareness of breast cancer in their community.

Armed with tenants’ lists, sign up sheets, and flash cards with cancer facts, the team goes door to door at Syracuse’s Pioneer Homes, a public housing complex with 1,194 residents.

Their goal is to get women age 40 and older from Pioneer Homes and the neighboring community to have annual mammograms, and to deepen their understanding of breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and survival, which often depends on early detection.

So far, the resident health advocates — Bigelow, Martha Chavis-Bonner, Lawrence Diamond-Walls and Mary Harris — have enrolled more than 200 women in the “She Matters” breast cancer program, and 70 have had mammograms so far. (As a male, Diamond-Walls talks with men about male breast cancer and encourages them to get the women in their lives to get mammograms.)

Hear an interview about “She Matters”

What’s the process? The team works with Upstate staff to host educational sessions at the community room at Pioneer Homes, which are followed by mammogram “parties” at the Upstate Harrison Specialty Services Center. Reminder calls are made, and referral sheets are given to attendees so they can recommend friends and neighbors.

Statistics, personal experiences, and training and services from Upstate and the Onondaga County Health Department have prepared the team to do its health outreach work. The team completed a resident health advocate education program, designed and taught by Upstate staff and other local health experts. A $50,000 grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation pays for the program.

The statistics are daunting. Nationally, African American women are more likely than all other ethnic groups to die of breast cancer. In Syracuse, more than 160 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and the incidence of breast cancer is higher in Onondaga County than in the US as a whole. (In Onondaga County 132 women per 100,000 will develop breast cancer in a year. Nationally, the number is 124 per 100,000.)

Most of the women enrolled in She Matters have health insurance, reports project manager Linda Veit. Those who don’t are referred to the health department’s cancer service. Through that service, the uninsured women (five so far) receive a host of cancer screenings — colorectal, pap and clinical breast exams. Then, they return to Upstate for mammograms.

Harris says being a community health advocate means being there for the women in She Matters. “We’ll be your support system,” she promises. “We’re here if you feel nervous. We’re here if you need help.”

Plans include extending the She Matters program to other Syracuse Housing Authority residences. To find out more about the program, call She Matters at 315-464-6303 or 315-217-5825.

Hear an interview about “She Matters”

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Upstate researcher focuses on what a protein can teach about cancer

Fruit fly ovaries are made up of subunits called germanium, which house germline stem cells, as shown in green above. Germline cells are the sex cells that pass along genes to the next generation.

Fruit fly ovaries are made up of subunits called germanium, which house germline stem cells, as shown in green above. Germline cells are the sex cells that pass along genes to the next generation.

An Upstate scientist who conducts research in fruit flies is hopeful that her work will help our understanding of cancer and other diseases. Fruit flies are often used in research because their genome is similar to that of humans.

Francesca Pignoni, PhD, recently received a $161,000 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to support her research. She is an associate professor of ophthalmology, biochemistry and molecular biology; and neuroscience and physiology.

She is studying the function of a protein that was discovered in her laboratory in Upstate. The protein allows fruit flies to keep stem cells within its ovary where they divide to ensure the passage of genetic material to the next generation through reproduction. Cancer is one disease that can be explored through this research.

Pignoni says that he protein appears to play an important role in a type of molecular communication known as BMP signaling. BMP signaling is a major regulator of a cell’s fate – including its ability to grow an multiply and to form more specialized cells. The BMP molecule is the same in the fruit fly as in the human, where it has been linked to colon cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer and some diseases of the bone. When the newly discovered protein is added in excess, the stem cells develop into tumors. Learning more about how the protein works at a cellular level can lead to a better understanding of how BMP dysfunction causes cancer.

“We clearly show in the flies that the level of this protein needs to be regulated in order for the stem cells to be under control,” said Darin Dolezal, an MD/PhD student assigned to Pignoni’s lab. “The proliferation of stem cells has to do with the growth of cancers. What we don’t know is whether this protein does, as well.”

Dolezal admits that as a boy growing up on Long Island, then attending Cornell University and aiming for a career in the medical sciences, he never imagined he would study ovaries in fruit flies. It’s not because he is interested in insect biology. Rather, he wants to determine if this protein can lead to a better way to diagnose or treat cancer.

“There are things that we can learn in the fruit fly ovaries that can directly translate into human clinical medicine. We’ll figure it out in flies and then maybe move into more complex organisms and try to understand it there,” said Dolezal.

Pignoni said she wants to understand if the protein helps cells receive or interpret only the BMP signal, or if it is part of a more general biologic process that impacts multiple signaling systems.

“In the latter case, its dysfunction would profoundly affect the ability of cells to communicate with each other,” she said. Either way, determining how the protein works at a cellular level could help explain how dysfunction of BMP, and perhaps other signaling pathways, causes cancer and other human disorders.

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