WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2012 — The latest episode in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) award-winning “Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions” podcast series discusses an innovative method for killing cancer cells by heating them up. It’s based on something called the “Lance Armstrong effect.”
While many advances have occurred in the 40 years since President Nixon declared a “War on Cancer” on December 23, 1971, cancer remains a leading cause of death worldwide, claiming almost 8 million lives annually. In a search for new, more effective approaches, a research team is conducting tests to determine whether information they have learned from treatment for one form of the disease might help them better attack cancer elsewhere in the body.
In the podcast, Robert Getzenberg, Ph.D., explains that patients with testicular cancer have a high survival rate — more than 70 percent — even if the cancer metastasizes, or spreads. For example, Lance Armstrong, the famous cyclist, beat metastatic testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain, and then went on to win the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times. But patients with pancreatic cancer have only a 25 percent survival rate in the first year and a 6 percent survival rate by the fifth year after diagnosis. Why is this?
In studying the cancers, Getzenberg’s team at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine discovered that the microenvironment of testicular cancer cells was a little different from other areas of the body attacked by the disease. Testicles are usually several degrees cooler than the rest of the body because of their position outside the body. When cancer cells from the testicles spread to other organs, such as the lungs or brain, they encounter a warmer environment. The researchers propose that this warmth shocks the tumor cells, making them more susceptible to conventional cancer therapies, leading to a higher survival rate among testicular cancer patients. This is the so-called “Lance Armstrong effect.”
Armed with this information, the researchers are trying a new approach to cancer treatment in various parts of the body. They are now carrying out tests on nanoparticle therapies to specifically heat other types of tumors above their normal temperatures to see whether this effect holds true for non-testicular cancers.
Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions is a series of podcasts describing some of the 21st century’s most daunting problems, and how cutting-edge research in chemistry matters in the quest for solutions. Global Challenges is the centerpiece in an alliance on sustainability between ACS and the Royal Society of Chemistry. Global Challenges is a sweeping panorama of global challenges that includes dilemmas such as providing a hungry, thirsty world with ample supplies of safe food and clean water; developing alternatives to petroleum to fuel society; preserving the environment and assuring a sustainable future for our children and improving human health.