Thursday, October 22, 2015

Making Cancer Patients Stronger: Tissue by Tissue

Many patients that have cancer begin to fade away as their cancer progresses. The malignant tumor(s) strengthen and eat at tissues bringing patients to their last breaths. The eating away of muscle and mass tissue is known as cachexia.  Cachexia affects 80% of cancer patients. Scientists, Amelia Johnson and Nick Hoogenraad set out to try and understand how a tumor becomes aggressive proposed by an idea from Harold Dvorak about tumors in 1986.  Dvorak proposed that tumors halt the body's healing responses and create a blood supply of it's own; growing and spreading rapidly.  Hoogenraad, in hopes of progressing with aggressiveness of tumors, came across a protein called Fn14. She came up with the idea of "turning off" this protein to see if growth of the tumor would continue. Unknowingly in her research, she had come across information that was relevant to tissue deterioration (cachexia).

Realizing this, Amelia Johnson and Nick Hoogenraad furthered this research and began a trial in mice.  Within this trial, cancer cells lacking the Fn14 protein were injected in some  mice and cancer cells with active Fn14 protein  were injected in others.  Observations concluded that the tumor in the mice lacking the protein had tumor growth, but no signs of emaciation or tissue loss.  The mice injected with the cancer cells with the Fn14 protein, had the same tumor growth and appeared to have tissue damage and was sickened within days.  What this meant for Johnson and Hoogenraad was that the Fn14 protein was the cause of the tissue destruction and cachexia.  With the suppressant of the protein, the cachexia was not evident and the mice had normal muscle and tissue mass.

The trial lasted for 27 days with the mice.  After the month-long experimentation and observations, conclusions were that the mice that had tumor growth with the Fn14 protein blocked were physically healthy, whereas the mice with the Fn14 protein not blocked became so sick that they had to be euthanized. The question remains if this same protein blocker could be used in humans that have diseases such as cancer, HIV, or TB. Antibodies containing the protein blocker are being made for human trials that undergo in a few years.  It is estimated that beyond these trials, if they are successful, doctors can incorporate this into treatment in about six to eight years.

I think if this is successful in human trials this will be a breakthrough in treatment for patients with cancer, HIV, or TB because it will be able to keep their bodies physically healthier to undergo more treatments.  Many people will not have to wither away as their tumors consume their bodies.  They can fight off the diseases and doctors can get a better understanding of the diseases as they progress into late and dangerous stages.


  1. Even though this is not a cure for cancer, I think this could definitely help aid in the fight against it. With the patient feeling stronger and healthier, it could help their bodies to fight off the cancer combined with other treatments. There is a mental part to fighting cancer and this could help to keep patients in the right mindset.

  2. This is an awesome article regarding the possible future of cancer treatments. The treatments are so demanding on the human body while it's already suffering enough fighting the cancer itself. This would be so wonderful to see applied in the future with hopes of improving cancer patients to allow them to get the treatments they need and even defeating cancer.