Friday Frontline: Cancer Updates, Research and Education on February 7th, 2020

From actress Shannen Doherty announcing she will continue to fight her stage 4 breast cancer to the Food and Drug Administration’s first hearing on asbestos testing in talc in 50 years, here’s what is making headlines in the cancer space this week.
BY Conor Killmurray
PUBLISHED February 07, 2020
On Tuesday, in an interview with Good Morning America, actress Shannen Doherty announced she now has stage four breast cancer after initially being diagnosed in March 2015.  "I definitely have days where I say why me. And then I go, well, why not me? Who else? Who else besides me deserves this? None of us do," Doherty said. "But I would say that my first reaction is always concern about how am I going to tell my mom, my husband."

Doherty, famous for her roles in popular shows like Charmed and 90210, has been open about her cancer journey through social media. While she has returned to shooting the 90210 reboot, she continues to advocate for awareness.

"I think the thing I want to do the most right now is I want to make an impact," she said. "I want to be remembered for something bigger than just me."

Nearly two thirds of patients with advanced cancer on a small preliminary trial of a new immunotherapy treatment that tweaked the use of CAR-T therapy went into complete remission, according to a new study. The small phase 1 and 2 trial looked to alter the T-cells in an effort to combat the cost of the therapy, the time it takes to get the t-cells ready and to eliminate the potentially harmful side effects but utilizing different immune cells called natural killer cells.

“Natural killer cells are the best killers of virally infected and abnormal cells,” said study co-author Dr. Katayoun Rezvani in an interview. “They can continue to patrol and recognize abnormal cells.”

The researchers further adjusted the natural killer cells to last longer and target blood cancers in 11 different patients who had such advanced cancer that their hope for a treatment had potentially passed years ago.

“I didn’t have any other options,” said J.C. Cox, 66, who received the treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, said. Cox was among the two-thirds of patients who went into complete remission.

The researchers are very excited by the new study and believe this opens a new door into immunotherapy for all patients with cancer, but cautioned that this was a very small trial and there was much more work to be done.

Leila Janah, a social entrepreneur who employed thousands of people throughout Africa and India, and founder of Samasource, died from epithelioid sarcoma in Manhattan. She was 37. Janah, a child of Indian immigrants and Harvard graduate, had her life changed forever in 2005 when she traveled to Mumbai, India, as a management consultant for an outsourcing company. What she saw was mostly educated middle-class workers, whereas, few of the individuals who lived in enormous nearby slums were unemployed for work they could easily do. She believed that the intelligence of the poor was the world’s greatest untapped resource and set out to create ventures that employed them and provided a living wage.

She started Samasource in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2008 — “sama” means “equal” in Sanskrit — looking to employ the poor and provide a living wage in digital jobs like image annotation and photo tagging in order to generate data for projects ranging from self-driving cars, video game technology and software that helps park rangers in sub-Saharan Africa prevent elephant poaching.

According to the company, at least half of their employees are women, and while the majority of the positions are entry level, many employees have gone on to become managers in the company or start their own small businesses.

“We are fighting the battle of birthing a new venture,” Janah wrote on her blog in 2018, “while at the same time trying to show the world that we can inject a sense of justice into the business itself, rather than merely trying to rack up profit.”

Controversial conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has announced he has been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. On his program earlier this week, Limbaugh announced he will be taking some time off from his show due to upcoming treatments and further tests. He was diagnosed over his birthday weekend.

Limbaugh started his first radio show in New York in 1988 and became an influential voice in right-wing politics due to his talk show that inspired other conservative broadcasters to adopt a similar controversy-oriented style.

The Food and Drug Administration held a hearing this week to examine asbestos testing for talc powders and cosmetics after traces of asbestos were found in several products. U.S. lawmakers and consumers are calling for stricter safety regulations to test for asbestos and protect public health. However, Johnson & Johnson, one of the leading manufactures of talc powder, defended the safety practices it already has in place.

“It’s time to end the honor system which has failed consumers for so long,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, at the hearing. “Let’s not wait another 50 years to finally protect consumers.”

One of the more significant findings from the panel was that mineral particles found in talc products that wouldn’t normally be categorized as asbestos, which is associated with causing lung cancer, could also be potentially harmful as they are small enough to be drawn into the lungs. These look-alike minerals should be classified with asbestos, according to the panel.

The FDA concluded from the hearing that they will continue to study the matter and have not announced when or if they will pursue new rules on asbestos testing in talc.
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