Sunday, August 19, 2018

Can electric fields tweak genes in immune cells?

Cancer treatment revolution possible via new gene-editing technique, new report says

A new rapid gene-editing method potentially could revolutionize treatments for cancer.

According to a story by Gina Kolata in recent editions of The New York Times, researchers have reported in a new scientific paper that they've found a way to tweak genes in the body's immune cells by using electrical fields.

What could happen, Kolata reports, is that genes could be removed from white blood cells and beneficial replacements inserted — "all in far less time than it normally takes to edit genes."

In addition to cancer, the method apparently could profoundly impact "infections such as HIV and autoimmune conditions like lupus and humanoid arthritis."

The journal Nature first published details of the paper, but "because the technique is so new, no patients have yet been treated with white blood cells engineered with it," the Times story indicates.

Currently, Kolata notes, "scientists attempting to edit the genome often must rely on modified viruses to slice open DNA in a cell and to deliver new genes into the cell. The method is time-consuming and difficult, limiting its use."

Fred Ramsdell, Ph.D.
The use of electrical fields rather than viruses, a process that's vastly speedier, means that "in theory a treatment could be available to patients with almost any type of cancer," her story continues. And the Times writer then quotes Fred Ramsdell, Ph.D. and vice president of research at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in San Francisco, as saying, "I think it's going to be a huge breakthrough."

The institute, she writes, "is working with the authors of the new paper, led by Dr. Alexander Marson, scientific director of biomedicine at the Innovative Genomics Institute — a partnership between University of California, San Francisco and the University of California, Berkeley — to make engineered cells to treat a variety of cancers."

The scientists already are conferring with Food and Drug Administration employees about using the new method to attack both solid and blood cancers.

"Our intent," says Ramsdell, "is to try to apply this as quickly as possible."

Information about other cancer research can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Jury in landmark case rules against Monsanto

Court verdict awards man who claims that Roundup caused his terminal cancer $289 million

Monsanto plans to appeal a verdict that awarded $289 million to a dying man who blamed its herbicide Roundup for his cancer.

Attorneys for the 46-year-old former school groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, said the decision will bolster thousands of pending cases and open the door for countless people who blame their suffering on the weed killer, according to an Associated Press story by Paul Elias today.

"I'm glad to be here to be able to help in a cause that's way bigger than me," the plaintiff reportedly said about yesterday's verdict. 

The California Superior Court jury in San Francisco unanimously agreed that Johnson's heavy contact with Roundup contributed to his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and that, the story said, "Monsanto should have provided a label warning of the potential health hazard."

The $289 million was broken down into $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 in punitive damages. Johnson's lawyers had sought a total of $373 million.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an attorney for Johnson and the son of the late U.S. senator, declared on Twitter that the punitive damages were for "acting with malice and oppression."

He predicted that the verdict "is going to trigger a cascade of new cases."

An online Common Dreams story quoted Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association, an advocacy group and longtime Monsanto critic, to the effect that the verdict proves "there is no confusion" when "ordinary citizens, in this case a jury of 12, hear the facts about Monsanto's products, and the lengths to which this company has gone to buy off scientists, deceive the public and influence government regulatory agencies."
Robert Cummins

And, to twist the knife, he added: "This is a company that has always put profits ahead of public safety…We hope that this is just the first of many defeats for Monsanto, and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will pull this product off the market."

The case was the first filed by a cancer patient against the agribusiness giant to reach trial. It was fast-tracked because of the severity of Johnson's cancer.

Elias' story quoted Brent Wisner, Johnson's lead trial lawyer, as saying that the jury has told Monsanto, a unit of Bayer AG following a $62.5 billion acquisition by the German conglomerate"
"Enough. You did something wrong and now you have to pay…There's 4,000 other cases filed around the United States and there are countless thousands of people out there who are suffering from cancer because Monsanto didn't give them a choice…We now have a way forward."

Monsanto, one of the companies that produced for use by U.S. forces in Vietnam the defoliant Agent Orange, which has been linked to cancer and other diseases, has long denied any link between glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, and cancer.

It has cited hundreds of studies that glyphosate contending is safe.

Scott Partridge, a spokesman for the agribusiness giant, said the corporation will appeal "and vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective, and safe tool for farmers and others."

Johnson had used Roundup — and a similar product, Ranger Pro — as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district in Benicia, spraying from a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck. During gusty winds, Wisner said, the product would cover his face — and once, when a hose broke, the weed killer soaked his entire body.

He allegedly had applied Roundup up to 30 times a year.

When Johnson contacted the company after developing a rash, the attorney added, he was never warned it could cause cancer.

His non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was diagnosed in 2014. His landmark case was filed two years later.

George Lombardi, another Monsanto attorney, said that disease takes years to develop, so Johnson's cancer must have started well before he started working at the district, the AP story notes.

"The simple fact is," Wisner told the jury (which deliberated for three days at the end of the eight-week trial) in his opening statement in July, "he is going to die. It's just a matter of time."

His doctors have indicated that that's likely to happen within two years. Whether he dies before the appeal is adjudicated is anyone's guess.

The EPA, which is the past has often favored big business and now is being gutted by the Trump administration, has said glyphosate is safe for folks using it in accordance with label directions. But the French-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified it in 2015 as a "probable human carcinogen" — and California added it to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer.

More details on disease risks can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPresss book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Appeal expected on ruling on breakfast foods

Los Angeles court says industry doesn't need to put cancer warning labels on cereals 

There's a cereal war going on these days.

Between advocates of breakfast foods such as Grape-Nut flakes and Cheerios that contain whole grains and researchers who insist those cereals contain a chemical — acrylamide — that's a potential cause of cancer.

The latest shot in the skirmish, according to a story by Bob Egelko in the San Francisco Chronicle, came when a California court ruled recently that the breakfast cereals don't need cancer warnings.

The 3-0 ruling by the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles said the cereals, produced by Post, General Mills and Kellogg, needn't heed Proposition 65, a right-to-know law state voters passed in 1986 that "requires businesses to notify the public when their products, or any substances they release into the environment, contain ingredients that have been shown to cause cancer or birth defects" because such labels might discourage consumers from buying healthy food.

A huge win for the cereal industry, the decision was based on 2003 and 2006 letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to state health officials claiming that warning labels "would mislead consumers and lead to health detriments."

Requiring warnings on all foods containing the chemical at levels that pose any risk of cancer, the court indicated, might harm the value of "peanut butter, rye and whole wheat bread, sunflower seeds, and prune juice," according to the Chronicle piece.

Justice Chaney
Another story, by Eric Schroeder on the Food Business News website, reports that Associate Justice Victoria Gerrard Chaney had said no Prop. 65 warning "should be placed on foods, including breakfast cereals, unless and until the science supports such a warning."

The court decision observed "that when the state sought to require Prop 65 warnings on canned tuna because it may contain harmful levels of mercury, an appeals court said California law was preempted because federal health officials were already advising consumers of tuna's benefits and possible risks."

The state Supreme Court, Egelko's story continued, "followed officials' directions in 2004 by refusing to allow Prop. 65 warnings on anti-smoking patches containing nicotine, which can cause fetal damage."

An appeal of the court ruling — in which a dismissal of a suit by Richard Sowinski, a retired Walnut Creek physician who'd sought to require Prop. 65 warnings on 59 cereals — was expected.

The ruling, not incidentally, means the court has rejected arguments that Prop. 65 warnings would encourage the companies to make safer cereals.

Federal agencies have listed acrylamide as a carcinogen, and it was placed on the Prop. 65 list in 1990.

In 2002, researchers learned the chemical was "a byproduct of baking, roasting or frying carbohydrate-rich foods such as potato chips and French fries — both of which now carry Prop. 65 warning labels — and cereals," the Chronicle story stated.

Acrylamide has also been the recent focus of whether warning labels are necessary on coffee packaging.

Details on other cancer risks can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.