Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Of Dreams and Dendritic Cells

"His dream was to use his discovery to cure cancer and infectious diseases like HIV and tuberculosis. It's a dream that's pretty close." Michel Nussenzweig on his fellow researcher Ralph Steinman.

When my mom was newly diagnosed with lung cancer, I brought her a bunch of "Conan the Barbarian" balloons with an encouraging note calling on her immune cell to rally to the job of eliminating the cancer (which she ultimately bested, living on another 18 years!). At the time, however, she was less than amused and huffily informed me that "There is nothing wrong with my white cells."

Immunotherapy, wherein a patient's own immune cells are primed to attack their invasive cancer, is a rapidly advancing area of cancer research. Due to a wide array of ploys with which cancer cells hide from the immune system coupled with various host deficiencies in mounting the appropriate defense, cancer therapy has for years centered instead on chemotherapy. These toxic chemicals are designed to be more lethal to the rapidly dividing cancer cells than on normal tissue. Unfortunately, normal often falls along with the malignant.

One of the giants among researchers in immunotherapy is Ralph Steinman who ironically died September 30th, three days before winning the Nobel Prize in medicine earlier this week. In a further twist of fate, he died of pancreatic cancer, living much longer than most unfortunate souls with this disease perhaps because he applied his own discovery to his personal case.

Dr. Steinman's contribution to this important research was the identification of a unique little player in the immune cascade that he dubbed a dendritic cell due to its tree-like branching configuration reminescent of the dendrites of neurons. The dendritic cell is one of the initial workhorses of the immune system, processing foreign material such as viruses and then presenting it to T cells which are activated in turn to attack the unwelcome invaders.

Dr. Steinman isolated his dendritic cells, exposed them to his pancreatic cancer cells, and thus instructed his T cells to recognize those bad boys as unwanted visitors. A former student, now a collaborator, had this to say, "We'll never know [whether it worked] ...but one thing is for sure: he was able to make T-cells specific for his cancer. It obviously didn't cure him, but it may have prolonged his life."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Walking across Virginia

Wondering where I've been? Well, busy for one, very busy. For those of you who didn't get the mailing, we've moved our office. From our vintage little office building that was originally built by my pediatricians in 1949 to sleek revamped office digs on the old Children's Hospital medical campus. If you can get through on the phones and find the darned office (still a few glitches to work out!), I think you'll be pleased to see that Adele and I are business as usual under the auspices of Exempla Healthcare here in Denver.

In my spare time, however, I've been walking across Virginia. Well not really walking across Virginia which would doubtless be even hotter than Denver and logistically problematic. I'm talking traversing in a virtual sense. I urge my patients to find an exercise activity that engages their interest as well as their heart. Used to be Jazzercise for me, step aerobics too, but that was years and a lot of knee cartilage ago. Walking with a dog is a personal joy, but I've got no pooch on-site with whom to mosey. So instead, I'm walking solo across the United States with an eye on the West Coast by 2020.

Wanna' come along? Check out the TransAmerica Trail (aka Tools to keep you active) at http://exercise.lbl.gov/index.html. Sign me up as your partner--they'll put you on my map and me on yours at the same starting point. I'm walker number 65471 about to enter Kentucky but happy to join you back on the Virginia coast.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sesame oil may be some kind of cure-all!

This just in from my favorite naturopath, Dr. Jacob Schor. This news is particularly important for persons who are hypertensive, have high cholesterol, are diabetic, carry weight around their middle, or travel that overweight road to all of the above.

According to an article penned by Dr. Schor in the current issue of Natural Medicine Journal (1), just a spoonful of sesame oil (actually 2.4 tablespoonfuls/day) makes the blood pressure/cholesterol levels/blood sugar/waistline go down. He cites results from a group of scientists from India's Vinayaka Missions University about the remarkable results of daily sesame oil use in a group of 60 diabetics followed over 2 months. One third downed oil alone, one third used oil plus a diabetic medication called glyburide, and the remaining subjects took glyburide alone.

While those on drugs plus oil did best of all, the oil-alone group fared fairly well as well. The glucose-lowering effects of combo therapy were downright remarkable with blood sugar dropping by 36% and HbA1c (a value that reflects an averaged blood sugar over the prior three months) by 43%! All oil-users also had significant drops in total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and triglycerides plus a bonus rise in HDL-cholesterol.

The Vinayaka group conducted a similar study on locals with high blood pressure who took one of two commonly used anti-hypertensive drugs--hydrochlorothiazide or atenolol. Over a study period of 45 days, the subjects used sesame oil for all their cooking needs and blood pressures dropped to normal. The next 45 days were spent sans sesame supplementation, and blood pressures rose to pre-study levels. Body weight, body mass index, and waistline measurements dropped as well.

I plan to recommend this strategy to my patients willing to give it a try; I'll let you know what results we get. I personally have used sesame oil each a.m. for almost two years in an ayurvedic quest for oral health(4). That morning spoonful theoretically draws out nasty toxins and is meant to be spit out post-pull. Perhaps thereafter, I should consider actually swallowing a swig for the rest of me.
(1) http://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/article_content.asp?article=113
(2) Sankar, D et al. Sesame oil exhibits synergistic effect with anti-diabetic medication in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Clin Nutr. 2010 Dec 15. [Epub ahead of print]
(3) Sankar, D et al. Effect of sesame oil on diuretics or Beta-blockers in the modulation of blood pressure, anthropometry, lipid profile, and redox status. Yale J Biol Med. 2006 Mar;79(1):19-26.
(4) Asokan S. Oil pulling therapy. Indian J Dent Res 2008;19:169