We’re Getting Better

No one said nursing was safe.
While the Internet keeps puking up stuff that is supposed to make you healthy but will, in reality, get you killed, or, at least, not make you any better, there have been some stunning advances in the real world. Granted, they use that magic science stuff and not something cool someone once said their Aunt Sadie swore might work. If you believed and sent $100 to someone somewhere. These remedies, and I use that term incorrectly here, are only slightly less effective than praying for rainbows or sending good vibes via Twitter. Steve Jobs chased a holistic rainbow and died because of it.

Alice G. Walton, over at Forbes, sums it up.

According to Steve Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, the Apple mastermind eventually came to regret the decision he had made years earlier to reject potentially life-saving surgery in favor of alternative treatments like acupuncture, dietary supplements and juices. Though he ultimately embraced the surgery and sought out cutting-edge experimental methods, they were not enough to save him.

Jobs’ cancer had been discovered by chance during a CT scan in 2003 to look for kidney stones, during which doctors saw a “shadow” on his pancreas. Isaacson told CBS’ 60 Minutes last night that while the news was not good, the upside was that the form of pancreatic cancer from which Jobs suffered (a neuroendocrine islet tumor) was one of the 5% or so that are slow growing and most likely to be cured.

Kids, those doctor people aren’t perfect, no human is, but when faced with something like this you should get a second diagnosis, not skip to Mexico and drink magic juices. Just FYI, the cure rate for what he had, in the stage it was caught, runs around 95%. In other words, had he lived the world would probably have been spared a $1,000 i-Phone that finally is capable of mimicking an Android.

I have previously written about how science is closer to an actual cure for Alzheimer’s, worked out a method so the paralyzed can walk, and heal wounds with an easy to apply polymer that requires no special treatment. You can read about all of those by clicking the link.

And now, since you’ve been kind enough to read this far, I’m going to share some new cures that are headed to a doctor near you.

Let’s start with cancer. Lydia Ramsey, on loan to Science Alert from Business Insider, says that science has discovered a way for patients to, literally, heal themselves with a little help from a medical professional.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved a cutting-edge cancer therapy.

On Wednesday, the FDA approved Novartis’s Kymriah, also known as tisagenlecleucel, a treatment for pediatric acute lymphoblastic lymphoblastic leukemia.

“I think this is most exciting thing I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Dr. Tim Cripe, an oncologist who was part of the FDA advisory committee panel that voted in favour of approving the drug in July.

The highly personalised treatment is called CAR T-cell therapy. It’s a type of cancer immunotherapy — or a therapy that harnesses the body’s immune system to take on cancer cells.

“We’re entering a new frontier in medical innovation with the ability to reprogram a patient’s own cells to attack a deadly cancer,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

“New technologies such as gene and cell therapies hold out the potential to transform medicine and create an inflection point in our ability to treat and even cure many intractable illnesses. At the FDA, we’re committed to helping expedite the development and review of groundbreaking treatments that have the potential to be life-saving.”

Short for chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, CAR-T treatment takes a person’s own cells, removes them from the body, re-engineers them, and then puts the cells back in the body where they can attack cancer cells.

Novartis’ therapy is one of two cutting-edge treatments for blood cancers are poised to get approved by the end of the year.

The FDA is also expected to make a decision about another CAR-T treatment from Kite Pharma, which just got acquired by Gilead Sciences. That’s for Kite’s CAR-T treatment for aggressive B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (more general than DLBCL).

In data Kite released in February, the company found that out of the 101 patients, 36 percent had a complete response to the treatment after six months.

It’s a type of cancer that Novartis wants to get approval for in the future.

In June, Novartis released data from its Phase 2 trial of CTL019 in patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL for short), an aggressive form of lymphoma that’s one of the two types Kite’s data looks at. The trial found that of the 51 patients with DLBCL, 23 had either a complete response (meaning cancer had disappeared completely) or a partial response (meaning their tumour displayed signs that it was shrinking).

Back in June of 2015 I wrote about how scientists were using stem cells to speed the healing of damaged bone tissue. For example, the kind of damage people suffer when they go through chemo, have muscular dystrophy, have been in a severe accident, and so on. That treatment, which works and is getting more advanced, basically grinds up the bones of random dead people, extracts the varied stem cells, and slams the resulting genetic slurree into a patient via a needle.

Scientists have long known that stem cells are key to human life and healing. Now they are figuring out how to make that knowledge work for you. And those you love.

Right now the treatments listed above for cancer cure run about $300,000 a pop. Everyone is well aware that’s not feasible for the average patient. But, if it can be mass produced, the treatment – not your stem cells, that will bring down the price. They are also looking to the government for subsidies. I’ll keep you posted on that.

One side note, while this is prohibitively expensive, the costs for current drugs can run around $10,000 a month, and some therapies can run upwards of $30,000 per month, not including the additional expenses for the care of the patient. Wiser minds than mine might see the new treatment as cost effective when everything is factored in.

Another thing stem cell treatment has been lauded for is its ability to repair permanently damaged cells. Well, in theory at least. Now, its a fact.

I’ll let Meg Aldrich, over at USC News, tell the story since she does a better job at it than I could.

On March 6, just shy of his 21st birthday, Kristopher (Kris) Boesen of Bakersfield suffered a traumatic injury to his cervical spine when his car fishtailed on a wet road, hit a tree and slammed into a telephone pole.

His parents were warned there was a good chance their son would be permanently paralyzed from the neck down. However, they also learned that he could possibly qualify for a clinical study that might help.

Enter Keck Medical Center of USC, which announced that a team of doctors became the first in California to inject its patient with an experimental treatment made from stem cells as part of a multi-center clinical trial.

Charles Liu, director of the USC Neurorestoration Center, led the surgical team, working in collaboration with the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center and Keck Medicine of USC, that injected an experimental dose of 10 million AST-OPC1 cells directly into Boesen’s cervical spinal cord in early April.

“Typically, spinal cord injury patients undergo surgery that stabilizes the spine but generally does very little to restore motor or sensory function,” Liu explained. “With this study, we are testing a procedure that may improve neurological function, which could mean the difference between being permanently paralyzed and being able to use one’s arms and hands. Restoring that level of function could significantly improve the daily lives of patients with severe spinal injuries.”

Two weeks after surgery, Boesen began to show signs of improvement. Three months later, he’s able to feed himself, use his cellphone, write his name, operate a motorized wheelchair and hug his friends and family. Improved sensation and movement in both arms and hands also makes it easier for him to care for himself, and to envision a life lived more independently.

“As of 90 days post-treatment, Kris has gained significant improvement in his motor function, up to two spinal cord levels,” Liu said. “In Kris’ case, two spinal cord levels mean the difference between using your hands to brush your teeth, operate a computer or do other things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, so having this level of functional independence cannot be overstated.”

Doctors are careful not to predict Boesen’s future progress.

“All I’ve wanted from the beginning was a fighting chance,” said Boesen, who has a passion for repairing and driving sports cars and was studying to become a life insurance broker at the time of the accident. “But if there’s a chance for me to walk again, then heck yeah! I want to do anything possible to do that.”

There is a lot more to that article and I hope you’ll take the time to click the link and read it all. In the meantime, if you, or someone you know, is interested in partaking in the treatment, here is the info:

To qualify for the clinical trial, enrollees must be between the age of 18 and 69, and their condition must be stable enough to receive an injection of AST-OPC1 between the 14th and 30th days following injury.

Keck Medical Center is one of six sites in the United States that is authorized to enroll subjects and administer the clinical trial dosage.

Just click the Keck Medical Center link to get in touch with them. They will help you find the treatment center closest to you.

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