Weekend Wonderings

Written January 26th, 2014 by Ken

teacherWelcome to this week’s edition of Weekend Wonderings. The basketball teams are swimming upstream right now, and the current is strong. We see the destination, we need to just keep stroking.  Grab whatever beverage that you need and let’s proceed.

The James/Wexner, Cleveland Clinic

This is “virus” week on Weekend Wonderings. Let’s start with a brief refresher. From Berkeley Wellness article on August 2012:

“One in every six cases of cancer worldwide can be attributed to viruses and other infectious agents, a new study from the International Agency for Research on Cancer has confirmed.”

Which leads us to findings that the HPV virus can damage genes:

“Our sequencing data showed in vivid detail that HPV can damage host-cell genes and chromosomes at sites of viral insertion,” says co-senior author David Symer, MD, PhD, assistant professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics at the OSUCCC – James.

“HPV can act like a tornado hitting the genome, disrupting and rearranging nearby host-cell genes,” Symer explains. “This can lead to overexpression of cancer-causing genes in some cases, or it can disrupt protective tumor-suppressor genes in others. Both kinds of damage likely promote the development of cancer.”

So, we’re faced with the double-hit of not only can cancer-causing genes overexpress themselves, but tumor-suppressor genes are themselves suppressed or damaged. However, it’s not all that gloomy concerning HPV-related cancers, particularly oral cancers. In a somewhat surprising finding by a team at The James, the higher number of cancer stem-sells in this type of tumor may in fact make it easier to treat.

“Most cancer biologists would have expected tumors with high cancer stem cell numbers to be very difficult to cure because cancer stem cells are thought to convey resistance to conventional therapy,” adds Ted Teknos, MD, study collaborator and director of head and neck cancer surgery at the OSUCCC – James.
“However, it may be that HPV-induced head and neck cancer is highly curable primarily because the stem cells are sensitive to therapy. It’s not the presence or absence of stem cells that is important in cancer, but rather how well does your therapy eliminate them.”

Better to catch them when they’re vulnerable. This is an important finding in terms of treatment protocols since it gives a better glimpse  of what types of tumors can be effectively treated.


Speaking of health, mental, in this case, there’s the phenomena of “plasticity” in the human brain, where learning and stimulation, at any age can generate new neural connections to maintain or increase brain function. And who wouldn’t want a functioning brain?

Our (Lovely Bride and myself) resolved this year to increase our neural plasticity by taking some online courses. The idea actually came from a family dinner conversation where my brother and his wife mentioned they had taken several courses that were enjoyable, and yes, educational.  My wife and I went online to coursera.org and found a couple classes that interested us; my wife signed up for “Nutrition & Ligestyles” and I signed up for “Introduction to Genetics & Evolution”.  I’m sure my wife’s course will have immediate, practical benefits, and in my case, I’m just curious about the subject matter. Oh, did I mention that the courses are free? Yes they are..

I am not shilling for coursera.org, merely pointing out that site as an example of various others that offer online learning opportunities. You have these options, and probably your local high school may offer various classes as well. So, the point here is to look for these and similar educational opportunities. Maybe you can catch a Spring offering; I realize that people’s activity levels ramp up during summer, but  this is still something to explore. In fact, when my course ends in March, I’ll be looking for another. The next area for me may be in Astronomy or something in Physics. [Charles, Eric; I'm putting you both on notice..] 

Sunday’s Song

I dusted off the vinyls and pulled out a tune from the early 1970′s by I group that I really enjoyed; New York Rock Ensemble’s I’m Sending a Friend to You.

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