National News Feb 2011

Anti-cancer gene system pioneered

Published on Mon Feb 28 17:50:23 GMT 2011  Courtesy Of The Derry Journal

New gene technology that can cause breast cancer cells to self-destruct has been pioneered by scientists at Belfast's Queen's University.

Researchers have shown that by using an innovative, miniscule gene transport system they can deliver a gene directly into breast cancer cells, causing them to die.

The transport system called a Designer Biomimetic Vector (DBV) packaged a gene into a nanoparticle 400 times smaller than the width of a human hair, allowing it to be delivered straight into breast cancer cells in the laboratory.

Dr Helen McCarthy from Queen's School of Pharmacy revealed details of the work, carried out with the help of funding from the Breast Cancer Campaign, in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics.

"A major stumbling block to using gene therapy in the past has been the lack of an effective delivery system," Dr McCarthy said. "Combining the Designer Biomimetic Vector with the iNOS gene has proved successful in killing breast cancer cells in the laboratory.

"In the long term, I see this being used to treat people with metastatic breast cancer that has spread to the bones, ideally administered before radiotherapy and chemotherapy."

The iNOS gene forces breast cancer cells to produce poisonous nitric oxide, either killing the cells outright or making them more vulnerable to being destroyed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. As this approach leaves normal healthy breast cells unaffected, the experts said it would overcome many of the toxic side effects of current treatments.

The university said further investigation is needed on the system, but said it could be trialled in patients in as little as five years.

Dr McCarthy's next step is to turn the nanoparticles into a dried powder that could be easily transported and reconstituted before being given to patients.

Dr Lisa Wilde, of the Breast Cancer Campaign, said: "Gene therapy could potentially be an exciting avenue for treating breast cancer. Although at an early stage, Dr McCarthy's laboratory research shows that this system for delivering toxic genes to tumour cells holds great promise and we look forward to seeing how it is translated into patients."

Herceptin 'cuts chance of breast cancer relapse'

  • By Stephen Adams Friday February 25 2011 Courtesy of The Irish Independent
  • Researchers discovered that women with early-stage breast cancer who took it for a year after having chemotherapy, were almost half as likely to suffer from a relapse over that timescale than women who did not take it. Photo: Getty Images

Taking the breast cancer drug Herceptin significantly reduces the chance of the disease returning over at least four years, a study has found.

Italian researchers discovered that women with early-stage breast cancer who took it for a year after having chemotherapy, were almost half as likely to suffer from a relapse over that timescale than women who did not take it.

In a report published in The Lancet Oncology today, they also found that the effect of taking it for a year was long-lasting: it reduced the chance of having a relapse over four years by almost a quarter.

The authors concluded that giving Herceptin after chemotherapy had "significant and persistent benefits" for women with HER-2 positive breast cancer, which accounts for about one in five cases.

 

Cancer test leading to 'needless biopsies'

  • By John von Radowitz in New York Friday February 25 2011 Courtesy of Irish Indenpdent

Rapidly rising levels in a blood test for prostate cancer are a poor indication of whether or not a man has the disease, a study has shown. Doctors responding to the speed at which test results change -- known as "PSA velocity" -- may carry out unnecessary biopsies, say researchers.

PSA, or prostate specific antigen, is a protein produced by cells in the prostate gland and also prostate tumours. Blood tests for PSA are routinely used to decide whether or not a man may have prostate cancer.Both higher-than-average PSA levels and sharp increases over time can lead doctors to perform follow-up biopsies.PSA tests are controversial because they often produce misleading readings.

Dr Andrew Vickers, from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, who led the study published yesterday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, said: "We have found no evidence to support the recommendation that men with a high PSA velocity should be biopsied in the absence of other indications."

Health services in west face €104m cuts

By Gordon Deegan  Thursday, February 24, 2011

HEALTH services in the west face cuts totalling €104 million this year

The HSE West region stretches from Limerick, Clare and north Tipperary to Co Donegal.

Outlining the cuts, the regional director for HSE West, John Hennessy, said the service faces the additional challenge of carrying a €22m shortfall from 2010 into this year.

In spite of the cutbacks, the HSE West is projecting that it will deliver increased services in day case treatments, emergency department & cases and to inpatients and outpatients in 2011.

The cut of €104m represents a 5% cut on the total budget of €1.99 billion.

The plan states: "The financial constraints in 2011 and the continuing public sector recruitment moratorium will challenge our ability to recruit certain categories of staff — significant flexibility in relation to reconfiguration and redeployment will be needed."

The plan also states the continuing junior doctor "recruitment difficulties in many of our hospitals will pose challenges in the delivery of our acute services."

The plan points out that "delivery on cost reduction and service restructuring programme is crucial for 2011 in order to maintain services at current levels with reduced resources".

Mr Hennessy said the HSE West will achieve €38.8m in savings through cost containment measures.

These include a saving of €14.3m in procurement and contracts management, €7.8m in reducing discretionary spend along with €4.6m in logistics and inventory management.

Mr Hennessy also confirmed that €3m is to be saved in laboratory services, agency services and rent/lease renewal.

However, he said under the measures, a further €9m — included in the €38.8m — is to be saved at non-service impacting initiatives to be identified.

Mr Hennessy said the pay reductions through the moratorium will achieve a further €19.2m in savings.

The service is to also achieve savings of €16.2m in net once offs, €6.6m as part of strategic priorities realignment and €4.6m in legal retraction.

Outlining the cutbacks on the hospitals in the mid-west, the figures show that Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick is facing cuts of €17m with its budget this year at €131m.

The figures show that Limerick Maternity Hospital is to reduce by €2m to €15.4m, with budgets for Ennis General Hospital reducing by €840,000 to €19.6m and Nenagh General by €800,000 to €17.7m.

Mr Hennessy said that the HSE is aiming to deliver 172,300 day case treatments this year compared to 162,742 in 2010; 146,300 in-patients compared to 140,952 in 2010, 320,500 emergency department & presentations compared to 301,294 last year and outpatient attendances totalling 688,700 compared to 656,846 last year.

This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Thursday, February 24, 2011

Behaviour determines cancer chances

  • By Eilish O'Regan Monday February 21 2011 Courtesy of The Irish Independent

Most of us Irish are fair-skinned and freckled, so why is the incidence of the commonest form of skin cancer higher in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Waterford? Other areas with a high incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer are Donegal, Mayo, Clare, Kerry, west Cork and the coast of Waterford.The cancer atlas -- highlighting areas of the country where various forms of the disease are more prominent -- leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Dr Harry Comber of the National Cancer Registry, which compiled the atlas, said our external environment is less important than our own personal characteristics and lifestyle in trying to explain some of the differences.Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland but the outlook is usually very good and there is a lower risk that the cancer will spread to other parts of the body .The atlas, which covered the years 1994-2003, revealed:Female breast cancer: Not much variation per region. It was highest in urban areas, except Limerick. A slightly increased incidence was seen in west Cork, north Kerry and a large area of the east Midlands.

In Dublin there was a higher incidence in the south-east than in the north and west.

Bowel cancer: Incidence was higher than average in Co Cork, in an area centred on Cork city. Also marked was the far south-west and the north and centre of Ireland.Lung cancer: Highest rates were in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow.

A smaller incidence was seen in Cork city and smaller pockets were in around Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal.In Dublin the highest incidence was in the more deprived areas of the north and north-west of the city.Prostate cancer: Highest in major urban centres, with the exception of Limerick. In Dublin it was highest in the south of the city. There were also high incidences in Sligo and Donegal. Stomach cancer: Particularly pronounced in the area stretching from Dublin, Louth, Monaghan and Cavan and in south Donegal.

Melanoma of skin: West Cork, south Dublin, around Cork and Waterford and west coast of Donegal.

Among men it's highest in Co Galway and Co Mayo.

The associations between deprivation and cancer incidence in Ireland are generally the same as those seen in other countries, said Dr Comber in the journal 'Cancer Professional'.However the higher risk of cancer in areas with a high proportion of elderly living alone "is hard to interpret", he added.Not all risk factors for cancer are entirely clear or changeable, such as family history.But smoking, alcohol drinking, diet, screening, health awareness as well as access to services are basic to the dos and don'ts in determining our risk of the disease.Dr Comber said there is considerable scope for changing the geographical differences by changing people's lifestyle behaviours and habits

Over 50,000 now waiting for treatment

[Posted: Tue 15/02/2011 by Niall Hunter, Editor - www.irishhealth.com]

A record 50,000-plus patients are currently awaiting treatment in public hospitals around the country, it has emerged.

According to the latest hospital performance figures from the HSE, a total of 50,582 adults and children were on treatment waiting lists in December 2010, an increase of nearly 3,000 on the previous month's figure.The number of patients coming onto waiting lists and waiting for a period of less than three months rose from 28,210 to 29,948 between November and December last year, according to the statistics. The under three months waiting list numbers had also increased between October and November last.The numbers waiting over three months for inpatient or day case treatment increased by 1,257 to 20,634 between November and December last.The numbers waiting over six months for hospital treatment at the end of December was 8,626, compared to 7,970 at the end of the previous month.

The numbers waiting three to six months at the end of December was 12,008, compared to 11,407 the previous month.The total waiting list figure of 50,582 is the highest since the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) began collating and managing waiting lists in 2004- 2005.

The NTPF only counts those waiting over three months for treatment as being on an official waiting list.

However, the HSE's monthly waiting list figures also include "new hospital referrals" - those waiting up to three months for care.The NTPF arranges private care for those on public waiting lists for over three months.There are also many thousands more on waiting lists for hospital outpatient appointments, which patients must have before they can go on a treatment waiting list.However, the HSE has not produced official figures on outpatient lists for a number of years, and the NTPF has not yet made major inroads into these waiting lists.

HSE made big surplus in year of cuts

[Posted: Mon 14/02/2011 by Niall Hunter, Editor - www.irishhealth.com]

Despite a year of major health service cutbacks, the HSE actually underspent its budget by €105 million in 2010, it has emerged.

The same report shows that the number of patients waiting long periods in A&Es for treatment has increased.

The HSE's end-of-year performance report shows that while hospital services ran up a deficit of €78.3 million last year, overall there was a surplus of €105.4 million, excluding funding provided for the staff exit schemes. Including this funding, the total surplus was €147 million. According to the HSE, the surplus funding was given back to the Government.The HSE says the voluntary redundancy and early retirement schemes implemented late last year reduced its senior management staff by one-fifth. The HSE says a substantial amount of the surplus reported was "technical in nature and is reflective of the HSE vote for 2010." The HSE must make cuts of nearly €700 million in 2011.

The figures show that while hospitals ran up a deficit, the HSE underspent on medical card services, the Drug Payment Scheme, community care, pandemic flu vaccine, corporate services and the cancer control programme, among other areas.The reason for the underspend on medical cards is due larger numbers than budgeted for of younger medical card recipients, which cost the system less than older people with medical cards. This most likely reflects our high unemployment rates.The HSE report shows that staff numbers fell by nearly 1,800 in 2010, while there was a drop of 7% in absenteeism rates last year.The health excecutive said it had completed a national tendering process for agency staff in nursing, medical, suport services and allied health professionals, and this new tendering process will save €44 million.The HSE had been criticised last year for the amount of money it was spending on agency staff hired to fill vacancies arising from permanent staff not being replaced under the recruitment moratorium.

According to the performance report, the agency tendering process will result in better value for the public purrse while maintaining service standards and ensuring continuance of supply.Inpatient numbers treated were 8.8% above target and there was an increase of 7.8% in day case numbers last year.The figures show that in December last year, 40% of patients presenting at hospital emergency departments were not seen, that is, discharged or admitted to hospital, within six hours, which is the official target. This compares to 37% in November.The poorest performers under this heading were Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, where only 27% of patients were seen within six hours last December, followed by the Mater with 48%.

And figures for June to December last year show that 12% of patients presenting at Beaumont Hospital ED in Dublin had to wait over 24 hours to be seen (either discharged or admitted). The figure for Naas Hospital was 7%, it was 10% at the Mater and 28% at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

The report says 10 patients were reported as not being scheduled for an urgent colonoscopy within 28 days in the data returned on January 2 of this year. All have now received appointments, according to the report.

Chemotherapy patients to benefit from enzyme discovery

  • By Martin Beckford Friday February 11 2011 Courtesy of The Irish Independent

Cancer survival rates could increase following a discovery that will improve chemotherapy treatments.

Scientists have identified the role of an enzyme that can lead to heart failure among patients who are receiving drugs to kill tumours. By creating new drugs to block this enzyme, called NADPH oxidase, researchers will be able to increase the doses of chemotherapy that cancer sufferers can receive and so make the treatment more effective.

Scientists at Queen's University Belfast hope that in the long run, their discovery will increase cancer survival rates.

Dr David Grieve, jointly leading on the research at Queen's School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences said: “While chemotherapy drugs are highly effective in treating a wide range of tumours, they can also cause irreversible damage to the heart. This means that doctors are restricted in the doses they can administer to patients. In recent years, scientists have been searching for new drugs to prevent these side-effects. “Although we have known about the NADPH oxidase enzyme for many years, until now, we were not aware of its crucial role in causing heart damage associated with chemotherapy. Our research findings hold clear potential for the creation of new drugs to block the action of the enzyme, which could significantly reduce heart damage in cancer patients.

“Ultimately, this could allow for the safer use of higher doses of chemotherapy drugs and make the treatment more effective against tumours. Despite improved treatments, cancer is currently responsible for 25pc of all mortality in the western world. By reducing the risk of heart failure associated with chemotherapy, patient survival rates could be significantly increased.”

Up to 40% sent to prostate cancer clinic had disease

EITHNE DONNELLAN, Health Correspondent Courtesy of THe Irish Times

NEARLY 40 per cent of men referred by GPs to rapid access clinics set up in the past year by the national cancer control programme to ensure swift diagnosis of prostate cancer were found to have the disease.

Some 1,594 men were referred to the clinics during 2010 and more than 600 of them were diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Once referred to rapid access clinics, which are now located in each of the State’s eight designated cancer centres, patients must be seen within two weeks, thus ensuring an early diagnosis. Before the clinics opened patients could have waited months to be seen by a specialist after getting a GP referral.Rapid access clinics for the diagnosis of lung cancer – which is often only diagnosed at late stage disease – have also been established in seven of the eight designated centres, with the eighth one to be opened shortly at Galway University Hospital.

Some 426 patients were referred to these clinics last year and 185 of them or 43 per cent of those referred were diagnosed with lung cancer.

The figures were confirmed by Dr Susan O’Reilly, the new director of the State’s cancer control programme, yesterday. She said the percentages being diagnosed with cancer after referral to the rapid access clinics was very high. In Galway nearly half the men seen at the rapid access clinic for prostate cancer diagnosis had the disease.

Early diagnosis was very important, she stressed, as she urged people who may have persistent symptoms to see their doctor.

Meanwhile, she said it would take 10 to 15 years before Ireland will see the benefits of improvements being made in cancer services, including its screening programmes.

The uptake for BreastCheck is about 75 per cent and for CervicalCheck is about 30 per cent at this stage, she said, while a national bowel cancer screening programme will begin next January. In time she also hopes to put in place familial cancer screening for hereditary cancers.

She also said new radiotherapy facilities would open at two Dublin hospitals – St James’s and Beaumont – shortly, increasing the capacity to provide the therapy in the Dublin area by 50 per cent.In relation to cancer prevention she said there was no question but healthy lifestyles prevent at least one third of cancers worldwide. The priorities here had to be smoking prevention, increased exercise, reduced weight, reduced alcohol consumption and protecting one’s skin.“Smoking rates in Ireland are disgraceful. They are 29 per cent. A lot of countries that have done a lot of development around the no smoking approach have got it down to 18 or 19 per cent,” she said. Addressing a gathering at Dublin’s convention centre to mark the launch of this year’s Daffodil Day fundraiser, she warned: “If you are a lifelong smoker, half of you will die from smoking-related diseases and a quarter of you will die young, younger than 65, from smoking related causes”.This year the Irish Cancer Society’s annual Daffodil Day fundraiser takes place on March 25th when it hopes to raise €3.8 million to meet the increased demand for its services.It provided financial aid to more than 1,600 people with cancer last year who experienced hardship arising from their diagnosis. It also operates a helpline and night nursing service. One of the women attending the launch questioned Dr O’Reilly on why there were no beds at Galway University Hospital for some cancer patients travelling there from the northwest.

Dr O’Reilly said there had been challenges around access to beds in Galway, especially around Christmas, when some patients had to have their chemotherapy put off “for a week or so”.

Specialist centres offer 'best cancer treatment'

  • By EILISH O'REGAN  Thursday February 10 2011

Travelling to a specialist cancer centre may provide a patient with their "only shot" of getting the best possible treatment and cure, a leading medical expert warned yesterday.The director of Cancer Control, Dr Susan O'Reilly, said she understood why patients would want to be treated as near as possible to their families.

But for certain complex cancers the best hope was in making a journey to one of the specialist hospitals, which have a range of five to six consultants and a high volume of patients. She was speaking to 400 community organisers who were gathered in Dublin in advance of the Irish Cancer Society's major fundraising event, Daffodil Day, to be held on March 25.The Irish Cancer Society said its information helpline (1800 200 700) received 21,000 inquiries last year with growing numbers needing financial assistance.

The proceeds of Daffodil Day also fund night nurses looking after people with advanced disease.

HSE docks nearly €18m from 20 hospitals for efficiency failures

  • By Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent Wednesday February 09 2011 Courtesy of Irish Independent

TWENTY hospitals have been fined nearly €18m for failing an efficiency test, new figures revealed yesterday.

Tallaght Hospital in Dublin is the worst hit, with €2.5m taken from its budget this year, while Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda is being docked €2.2m.The penalty will leave hospitals -- already struggling with a cut in funding this year -- having to curtail some services. The €17.8m funding is being redistributed among 19 other hospitals as a reward for a good performance in key areas of efficiency last year.

The biggest winner is Mullingar Hospital which is receiving €2.1m, followed by University College Hospital Galway with €1.9m.

The fines are part of a 'penalty and reward' system operated by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to incentivise hospitals to become more efficient.The performance-related system -- introduced in 1993 -- aims to compare like with like -- measuring the operation of a hospital against its peers.

Hospitals are compared under headings, such as how long it takes to treat patients with the same conditions.

For example, the cost and time involved in treating a 75-year-old woman in need of a hip operation can be compared, looking at criteria such value for money and length of stay .The HSE said 39 hospitals, funded to the tune of €5bn ,voluntarily entered the performance tests and none of the money is taken out of the system.Hospitals heavily fined include Limerick Regional (€1.8m) and the Mater Hospital in Dublin (€1.1m) both of which have serious problems with overcrowding in emergency departments.

Saint James's Hospital in Dublin is better off by €1.5m and the South Infirmary in Cork has received over €1m. Hospitals have claimed that staffing difficulties can bring down their record. And the test only takes into account in-patient and day-case activity, but excludes accident and emergency performance.

1.3M will die of cancer in EU in 2011

[Posted: Wed 09/02/2011 by Deborah Condon - www.irishhealth.com]

Almost 1.3 million people will die of cancer throughout Europe this year, a new study estimates.

The figures are based on a new mathematical model for predicting cancer mortality. This is the first time this model has been used to estimate the number of cancer deaths in Europe.
It used data on cancer deaths in the EU for the period 1970-2007 to calculate rates of death each year and to identify trends which could then be used to predict death rates for 2011.
The Italian and Swiss researchers looked at overall cancer death rates in the EU's 27 member states. They also focused on individual rates in six EU countries - France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the UK.

The 2011 figures show a fall in overall cancer death rates for both men and women when compared with 2007. Altogether, 1,281,466 cancer deaths are expected this year - 721,252 men and 560,184 women.

This represents a death rate of 142.8 per 100,000 people in 2011, compared to 153.8 per 100,000 in 2007.

The number of deaths in men is expected to fall by 7% this year compared to 2007, while women's deaths will drop by 6%.
However, the researchers have highlighted some areas of concern, particularly rising rates of lung cancer in women.
According to the figures, the number of women dying from lung cancer is increasing steadily everywhere apart from in the UK, which has had the highest rates in women for a decade and is now seeing a levelling off.
In the EU as a whole, death rates from lung cancer in women are predicted to go up from 12.55 per 100,000 of the female population in 2007 to 13.12 in 2011.
According to the researchers, the overall downward trend in cancer death rates is driven mainly by falls in breast cancer mortality in women, and lung and colorectal cancer in men.
"Lung, colorectal and breast cancers are the top causes of cancer deaths and these are showing major changes," explained lead researcher, Prof Carlo La Vecchia, of the University of Milan.
Meanwhile, declines in mortality from other major cancers such as stomach, uterus, prostate and leukaemia are also likely to be seen in 2011. Furthermore, a worrying increase in deaths from pancreatic cancer in women, which had been observed in 2004, appears to have levelled off.
"Pancreatic cancer mortality is favourably influenced by the decline in smoking in men, but unfavourably influenced by the increased prevalence of obesity and diabetes," Prof La Vecchia said.
The researchers noted that a substantial decline in total cancer mortality rates has been observed since the late 1980s in men and since even earlier in women in the EU.

Between 1990-94 and 2000-04 the rates declined by 9% in men and by 8% in women.

"Despite these favourable trends in cancer death rates in Europe, the number of cancer deaths remains approximately stable, due to the ageing of the population. Further, there is a persisting gap in cancer mortality between central and eastern European countries compared to western Europe and this is likely to persist for the foreseeable future," Prof La Vecchia added.

The researchers plan to repeat the study to predict cancer deaths for 2012. They believe that such predictions can help countries to plan their allocation of resources and strategies for preventing, treating and managing the disease.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Annals of Oncology.

'Location lottery' in bid to see specialist

  • By Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent Thursday February 03 2011

PATIENTS needing to see a specialist or undergo scans to diagnose illness face a location lottery with major differences in waiting times, new figures have revealed.

The differences have emerged in information supplied by 29 acute hospitals to the Health Service Executive (HSE), which grades them according to how well they are performing in key areas.

Patients in Limerick Regional hospital can wait more than six months for a routine ultrasound scan compared to around six weeks in Wexford General.Ultrasound scans can be used to make a diagnosis or assess the effects of a treatment. And they can also be used to study blood flow and detect narrowing or blocking of blood vessels.Patients who have problems with the heart, liver, kidneys , eyes , bladder, pancreas and gallstones are among those who may need an ultrasound to ensure a proper diagnosis.People who are on waiting lists for an appointment to see a specialist in an outpatient clinic can see their condition deteriorate because of delays, while those in need of hip or knee operations can endure diminished quality of life for longer than they should.The differences in waiting times are due to various factors, including the availability of consultants and other staff in different specialties, the spread of hospitals in a particular region and the level of demand from patients.The average waiting time for a new routine appointment at a range of specialist's clinics in Cork University Hospital is 10 months, compared to a month in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin.A patient waiting for a routine appointment at a specialist's clinic in Galway University Hospital can face a delay of a year and eight months for eye, orthopaedic and ear, nose and throat conditions. There are also long waiting lists to see an orthopaedic specialist in the Midland Hospital in Mullingar, where delays can be a year and 10 months.The waiting time for an orthopaedic specialist in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin is over a year, whereas it is only around two months in Wexford General hospital.Patients needing routine physiotherapy can wait at least six months in Wexford General compared to a few weeks in Limerick Regional.

Acute

Overall, just five of the country's acute hospitals are at the top rank of the latest league tables for their "very good performance".

The hospitals at the top are Cavan General, Letterkenny General, Wexford General, as well as St Vincent's and St James's hospitals in Dublin.The other 24 hospitals are just "average" with "room for improvement", according to the rankings.Variations also emerged in the proportion of public patients who are being treated in each hospital. The quota should be 80pc but just 60pc of general surgery patients in Cavan General are public .The league table shows that there are no hospitals in the lowest rung, indicating their performance is unsatisfactory and in need of urgent attention.

The Irish Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Breakthrough by Irish researchers in battle against lung cancer

RONAN McGREEVY

IRISH SCIENTISTS have announced a breakthrough in lung cancer research which has been described as the potential to halt the progression of the disease.

The research, which is being carried out by St James’s Hospital and Trinity College Dublin and part-funded by the Irish Cancer Society, has focused on the role of the enzymes involved in blood clotting.

Blood clotting is 20 times more common in lung cancer patients and the research has focused on how enzyme levels, which play a role in blood clotting, are increased in lung cancer tissue.

Certain enzymes are known to break down normal cell tissue and help cancer cells to grow.

The enzyme being targeted in the research is called Thromboxane A synthase which helps lung cancer cells invade tissues through the barriers that hold cells together.

Prof Ken O’Byrne said the relationship between this particular enzyme and lung cancer had emerged as a result of analysis done on 650 samples collected from lung cancer patients at St James’s Hospital.

Studies were carried out in a laboratory at the hospital where researchers looked at cell-lines which had normal levels of the enzyme and some that over-expressed the enzyme.

“If you inhibit the enzyme, you may inhibit the cancer growth. Not only have we demonstrated that if we make cancer cells over-express these enzymes, they grow and spread, you can use medications to block their activity. In those situations, the cancer growth is stopped and the invasion is reduced,” he said.

Prof O’Byrne said the research was “very exciting” and part of several breakthroughs in the treatment of lung cancer, which remains stubbornly resistant to most forms of therapy and has the highest mortality rate of all the cancers.

At present, it is reported that only 12 per cent of lung cancer patients are alive five years after diagnosis although Prof O’Byrne believes this figure is closer to 5-10 per cent.

“It is an exciting area for the future and gives us a hint of how we might move forward in battling lung cancer,” he said.

“You may convert this aggressive disease into a less agressive disease over time and make it controllable,” he said. He predicted that outcomes for lung cancer would be much better within five to 10 years.

The researchers at St James’s Hospital are also involved in the clinical trial of a drug called Crizotinib which blocks an enzyme called anaplastic lymphoma kinase present in 5 per cent of lung cancer patients. It has been shown to shrink tumours by 70 per cent.

 

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