Dartmouth Medicine Winter 2009 Roundup
February 11, 2010
Recent Cancer Research from Dartmouth Medical School
Alan Eastman, PhD: Lab Lover
A word of advice for applicants to the DMS Program in Experimental and Molecular Medicine (PEMM): When Alan Eastman asks about your hobbies, don't talk about your love of travel or the latest addition to your stamp collection. "Your answer is supposed to be research," says Eastman, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology, and co-director of the Molecular Theraputics Research Program at the Cancer Center. "If your research is not your hobby, you'll only work 9:00 to 5:00. You cannot do research working 9:00 to 5:00."
Of course, he continues, that "doesn't mean you can't go party hard, doesn't mean you can't walk the Appalachian Trail. But it means you've got to be thinking about science while you're doing it." Read more.
A Million Overdiagnosed - and Counting
Since the late 1980s, for every one man helped by the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test, about 20 men have been unnecessarily diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer. And that's an optimistic estimate. The real ratio is probably closer to 50 to 1. These are some of the conclusions of a recent study conducted by DMS's H. Gilbert Welch, MD, and Peter Albertson, MD, a urologist at the University of Connecticut.
Welch and Albertson analyzed national data on age-specific prostate cancer incidence and death rates between 1986 and 2005. They estimated that about one million additional men have been diagnosed with and treated for prostate cancer since the late 1980s as a result of the PSA test. Then they looked at how many of those men likely benefited from being diagnosed, and how many exposed themselves to potentially dangerous treatments, in the form of radiation and surgery, with no benefit to their life span or quality of life. Read more.
Anticancer Strategy is Stuff of Legend
Ovarian cancer succeeds in part by turning dendritic cells, important components of the immune system, into allies of the tumor. DMS scientists recently found a way to reprogram those cells, creating what the researchers describe as "Trojan horses."
Most cases of ovarian cancer are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread, and for patients with such a diagnosis the five-year survival rate is just 30%. One reason for that grim statistic is that the body's defenses often don't put up enough of a fight. "The established tumors that we treat represent failures of the immune system," says DMS immunologist José Conejo-Garcia, MD, PhD. Read more.
Researcher Builds a Better Microarray
Why do muscle cells contract, or neurons transmit signals, or cancer cells grow out of control? Every cell in a body has the same DNA, but which genes are turned on and which are turned off determines how a given cell acts.
The way scientists study gene expression has been revolutionized by a technique called a microarray. It used to be that only a few genes in a cell could be studied at once, but for the past few decades microarrays have allowed scientists to look at the behavior of tens of thousands of genes at once. Now, Dartmouth cancer researcher Craig Tomlinson, PhD, may have come up with a better way to do microarrays. Read more.