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By John Schieszer
Medical Minutes 

New information on breast cancer, Alzheimer's and artificial sweeteners


Breast cancer vaccine showing promise

The New Year is ushering in new hope for women who have advanced breast cancer. Researchers are now reporting success with a novel breast cancer vaccine that appears to be safe and effective for helping women with metastatic breast cancer. Preliminary evidence also suggests that the vaccine specifically primes the patients’ immune systems to attack tumor cells and help slow the cancer’s progression.

The vaccine causes the body’s immune system to hone in on a protein called mammaglobin-A, which is found almost exclusively in breast tissue. The protein’s role in healthy tissue is unclear. However, breast tumors express it at abnormally high levels.

“Being able to target mammaglobin is exciting because it is expressed broadly in up to 80 percent of breast cancers, but not at meaningful levels in other tissues,” said study investigator Dr. William Gillanders, who is with Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri. “In theory, this means we could treat a large number of breast cancer patients with potentially fewer side effects.”

The vaccine activates a specific type of white blood cell to seek out and destroy cells with the mammaglobin-A protein. In the new study, 14 patients with metastatic breast cancer that expressed mammaglobin-A were vaccinated. The Phase 1 trial was designed mainly to assess the vaccine’s safety. According to the authors, patients experienced few side effects and no severe or life-threatening side effects occurred.

Of the 14 patients who received the vaccine, about half showed no progression of their cancer one year after receiving the vaccine. In a similar control group of 12 breast cancer patients who were not vaccinated, about one-fifth showed no cancer progression at the one-year follow-up. Based on results of this study, Dr. Gillanders and his colleagues are planning a larger clinical trial to test the vaccine in newly diagnosed breast cancer patients.

Delaying Alzheimer’s onset and severity

For decades, researchers have been pursuing an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Yet, they have been unsuccessful and today’s treatments only slow the progression of the disease. Dr. Roger Rosenberg, who is an Alzheimer’s disease expert at the University of Texas Southwestern Medicine Center in Dallas, said there is still reason for optimism. He said there are several ways to delay the onset and severity of Alzheimer’s disease.

He advocates aerobic exercise for one hour three times a week. Evidence suggests that good circulation is related to good mental health because it improves brain function, removes waste products, delivers sugar to the brain, and favors the formation of new brain cells. He said mental exercises, such as doing crossword puzzles or playing bridge, may also be beneficial.

Dr. Rosenberg said many people may not be aware of the fact that being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, so maintaining a healthy weight can lower overall risk for the disease.

The onset of Alzheimer’s disease is directly related to aging, but staying physically and mentally active can help stave off many of its symptoms. Currently, Alzheimer’s disease falls sixth on the list of leading causes of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dr. Judes Poirier, who is with McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and his team have discovered that a relatively frequent genetic variant actually conveys significant protection against the common form of Alzheimer’s disease and can delay the onset of the disease by as much as 4 years. This discovery may open new avenues for treatment.

“This is an exciting breakthrough in a field where successes have been scarce these past few years,” said Dr. Poirier.

Lowering calorie intake without using artificial sweeteners

Many people who drink a lot of diet soda are now rethinking their soda habits. New research published just this past year suggests that artificial sweeteners, such as those containing saccharine or aspartame, may induce glucose intolerance, which can lead to type-2 diabetes.

The findings are preliminary and they warrant further investigation. However, nutritionists say if you’ve been using artificial sweeteners to control weight and are concerned about using them, there are options for keeping your calorie count down.

One option may be to drink water or unsweetened tea instead of diet soda. Nutritionists suggest try flavoring water with a small amount of fruit juice. Another option may be, instead of choosing a piece of sugar-free apple pie for dessert, order a slice of regular apple pie but only eat half. Another suggestion is to eat a handful of almonds or other nuts instead of a sugar-free cookie for a snack.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

Author Bio

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.



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