Monday, July 6, 2009

Running for Cancer

Cancer acts very differently in young people than in older adults. They get different cancers, the cancers grow differently, and their bodies react differently. But very little research has been done to understand this reality. What is understood is that cancer is more aggressive in young people, and that their bodies can handle much more aggressive treatments. Therefore most childhood cancer treatments consist of injecting mega doses of adult chemo into our children.

But there is a problem. A big one. The average age of a cancer patient is 65, therefore very little research has focused on the long term effects of high dose chemo on young developing bodies. And, the data that does exist, is often only tracking the 5 year survival rate. But what does all this chemo and radiation do to the survivors of childhood cancer. Unlike the older adults, these young survivors need a body healthy and strong enough to survive another 50, 60, or 70 years.

The problem is that chemo does not heal anything. Chemo kills. Chemotherapy is a process of attacking the entire body with poison, under a theory that fast growing cancer cells tend to die before slower growing vital organ cells. This is why organ failure is one of the greatest concerns during chemotherapy, and causes almost as many deaths as the cancer itself. The amounts of chemo that is dumped into our children is incredible.

After using this strategy on children for over 20 years, it is just now being realized that chemo and radiation can create late term effects that begin to appear as they reach their adult years. Studies have shown that as many as 75% people who received high dose chemo and radiation as children and teens begin to have problems in their late 20's or early 30's. About 2/3's of them have severe complications, including heart and lung problems, secondary cancers, and organ failures.

So this is why I am running the marathons. To raise money for more research to find a better way. Blasting these young people with mega doses of chemo poison may be best available solution, but it is barbaric. And it will never provide ultimate cure for cancer. It is far too destructive to the rest of the body. There are many new ideas, but they are all lacking in funding. The answers are out there. We just need to find them.

The most promising research is in the area of "smart bomb" drugs, that can target and destroy specific cancer cells without effecting the rest of the body.

There is a chemo drug called Taxol. It is effective, but brings some very life threatening side effects. Researchers at the University of Central Florida have engineered nanoparticals that can carry a modified Taxol directly to the cancer cell without harming the healthy cells. They achieved this by attaching a folic acid derivative that cancer cells like to consume in high amounts.

It works like this. Cancer cells in the tumor connect with the engineered nanoparticles via cell receptors that function like docking stations. The nanoparticles enter the cell and release their cargo of iron oxide, fluorescent dye and drugs. The fluorescent dye and iron oxide allow doctors to use a MRI to follow the drug movement within the cells and observe how the tumor is responding. The nanoparticles are also biodegradable, therefore easily eliminated by the liver without effecting other tissues.

The research, begun 5 years ago, is very promising. But it will require a lot more time and research (which means money) before it will become reality.

In another "smart bomb" approach, researchers have spent many years studying a cancer therapy called "RNA inhibition", which stops the growth of cancer cells through double-stranded RNA fragments called siRNAs. In theory is should work, but they have not been able to get the siRNA's inside the cancer cells. The size and negative electrical charge of siRNA's prohibits them from entering the cancer cells.

Researchers at the University of California has discovered a small section of protein called PTD that has the ability to permeate cell membranes. They are now attempting to use PTDs as a delivery mechanism for getting siRNAs into cancer cells. Dr. Dowdy, head of the research team, said, "Cancer is a complex, genetic disease that is different in every patient. This is still in early stages, but I believe the siRNA-induced RNAi approach to personalized cancer treatment is the only thing on the table."

Again...all very promising, but more research (meaning more money) will be required to make this a reality.

So this is why I am running the Columbus and Tampa marathons. To raise money for more research. There is an answer out there. There are solutions. Our children are suffering because we have not dedicated the time and attention to finding the answers.

There are many great organizations to support cancer research. If you would like to support research into blood cancers (like Burkitt's), you can support my Marathon runs through the Leukemia Lymphoma Society by going clicking here. I have 1,000 miles of training runs, and two marathons. So far, I'm 118 miles into the training (wow-that sounds like a long way still to go). You can also keep up with my training schedule on the same running site.

So why is this important? Well, I admit it has become personal. We have lost lot of friends. Brett Workman, Ryan Salmons, Cameron Brown, Trey Martins, Mason Woods, Rob Kemp, and many more. We have good friends that are fighting, like Matthew Barr, Mason McLeod, Rachael Tippie, Joe Friend, and many more.

But most of all, it is personal because of Tyler. In 2007, he was diagnosed with advanced stage IV Burkitt's Leukemia and Lymphoma. The cancer had spread into every vital organ and 85% of his bone marrow. We found for drugs, we fought for information, we fought for new treatments, and we dug deep into the research. Then, just two weeks ago, finally in remission and off the "high risk" list, I went SCUBA diving with my healthy son. The answers are out there. We have to find them.


JD said...

That body of water sure does not look like Alum Creek!

It's way cool that you guys got go SCUBA diving...congrats, Tyler!

Anonymous said...

Hey Kyle,

Here's another stat for you...we were given a booklet at Olivia's "End of Treatment" confab...titled "The Mountain You Have Climbed." It stated that by 2010 one in 250 young adults will be a childhood cancer survivor! I thought that was an amazing number. Good luck with should have come to Kings Island...I'm sure that would have counted as a workout!

See you,
Taryn Langwasser