Beautiful kill: UVA doc takes aim at deadliest cancer

Glioma is the most common and deadly kind of brain cancer. Each year, 10,000 Americans are diagnosed, and only half survive beyond a year. Only a quarter after two years. But research at the University of Virginia has led to the discovery of a toxic molecule which targets the disease and might also be used to target other cancers.  

"The potential of this research is extremely high" said Dr. Benjamin "B.J." Purow at a recent fundraiser for his research.

Since 1997, the owners of Hamilton's at First & Main restaurant have held a fundraising dinner for the UVA Cancer Center, and the seven-course affair on March 6 raised $10,000 for Purow's research. The restaurant that night was a veritable brain trust, filled to capacity with doctors, researchers, grad students, cancer survivors, those who had lost loved ones to the disease, and those simply willing to pony up for a good cause. 

"Cancer is immensely complex," said Purow, a physician in UVA's Neuro-Oncology Center, "and we have had to lift up the hood and look at the circuitry of cells." 

Purow's research focuses on toxic microRNAs, a newly discovered molecule in cells that has the potential to target cancerous cells without damaging the normal ones. Purow earned a $375,000 grant in 2008 for his glioma work. 

He explained that current cancer therapies suffer from a whack-a-mole problem, "in that you whack one thing, and another one comes up." The various cancer-fighting "cocktails" used are sometimes too toxic and damage too many normal cells along with the cancer cells, he said. 

MicroRNAs were thought to be communication devices in cells, but it was found that they regulate protein in cells, and that some can boost cancer, while others can suppress cancer. The goal, said the doctor, is to find a single microRNA that attacks multiple cancer targets.  

"Of the microRNAs we found, one of them, RNA 297, was extremely toxic and had never been studied," said Purow, who described using it for a "beautiful kill" on glioma cells. 

Given the audience, Purow was quick to put a human face on his work.

"When I see the integrity and grace in patients as they fight this," he said, "words are just inadequate to describe it."

"B.J. is a star in a constellation of stars," said UVA's cancer center director, Michael Weber. "He's made remarkable discoveries."  

"Cures are going to be elusive," Purow cautioned. "But so far, so good."

"We would like to be a model for the country," said Medical School dean Steven T. DeKosky, himself a four-year cancer survivor. "And the cancer center is a model."

"Our project is very much in its infancy," said Purow, "but an event like this can really make a difference, to provide seed money, to get the research started."

"People ask me why I keep doing this," said Hamilton's co-owner Kate Hamilton. "Well, it's because it's what I can do. I was never good at biology, couldn't bear to dissect a frog, but I can put on a meal and bring people together."  


Of course we all want to see a cure for these horrible diseases, but the expense of the R&D to find the cure necessitates a huge cost for the drugs that finally are approved . A year ago I lost my best friend - in her early 60's - to brain cancer . For several years she had to take a pill that cost $500 dollars a day. Fortunately she had excellent health insurance that paid for this . But many are not so lucky .

Who will pay the cost ?

One other reality check . One half of all bankruptcies in this country are due to health care bills that individuals and families cannot pay.

If you are concerned about health care costs this NPR program is worth listening to . A timely subject with Obamacare in the news daily, and it's fate soon to be decided by the Supreme Court

" As Cancer Treatments Advance, So Do Costs "

I am a firm believer that your own government doesn't want to see a cure for cancer, and will do anything in their power to see that it is not made public if a cure is found.

Your first reaction is to assume ole Gasbag is drunk or on drugs. But think about what I said above. What dogs does the government have in this fight? First, social security. More people living longer would bankrupt the social secuirty system in as little as 2 to 3 years. Maybe sooner. The next issue is unemployment. Every cancer treatment center and research center nationwide would close. Hundreds of thousands people would be out of work overnight.

If a cure for cancer does come along, the cost of treatment and the drugs will be so expensive that only the privileged few will be able to afford it or get it. Much like a heart or lung transplant.

What's being done with all these large grants to research? The doctors and staff sit around playing test tube volleyball all day long while drawing large salaries off those large grants. How much did Purow pay himself out of his latest $375,000 grant as salary? Does anybody know? Does anybody care?

Cancer research is one of the biggest scams taking place in this country right now.

"Your first reaction is to assume ole Gasbag is drunk or on drugs." No my first reaction, as usual, is that Gasbag is clueless. Either that or one of our frequent conspiracy obsessed posters has attempted to hijack your handle.

No, it's me. Call me in about 30 years and tell me how much progress has been made towards a cure for cancer please. Hopefully, if all goes well, my number will be 1-800-INHEAVEN. Or there's a slight chance it might be 1-800-INHADES.

I used to be stupid too. I saw a show on The Discovery Channel one night, I placed no faith in it whatsoever at that time. It was about a man who had sewn up a promising cure for cancer. He was picked up by the CIA, deported, and told that he would be assassinated if he ever returned to the USA. I can't recall the man's name, and I to this day have no idea if the tale was true or not.

The frequent conspiracy obsessed posters who attempt to hijack my handle haven't had much to say lately. They finally realized people could tell when it was me talking, and when it wasn't me talking.

I doubt you are on drugs Gasman other than cholesterol lowering pills, or heart medicine.....I bet you ARE on Ho-Ho's and Ding-Dong's though. Perhaps you are also taking intravenous Sausage Gravy as well!

?, is that the best you have?

What exactly are some of the cholesterol lowering pills and heart medications out there? I wouldn't know one if it snuck up and bit me on the butt.

saywha?, looks like the Gasbag obsessed posters might be showing up again!


I'm with Gasbag regarding the sham that is "eternal cancer research." Cancer is an industry. You will never be provided a "cure." It keeps waaaay too many people employed, and the powers that be don't want a nation with millions of people who are living to be 100, 105, 110 years old. (which actually did used to be more common. When I was a teen at the turn of the 90s there were several spry post-100 year olds living in the nursing home I volunteered at.) Can you imagine how much that would cost to fund their social security, like Gasbag pointed out? So it's up to you to figure out what to do and not to do with your body to prevent cancer from developing, including what foods to eat, what supplements to take, and what behaviors and mindsets to not engage in. But the government will never provide people with some sort of magic pill or drip or zap to fix them of their cancer.

There's no way to get around cancer unless you're extremely lucky. Everything we pick up in the grocery store has chemicals of one sort or another in it. This is what's causing so much cancer nowadays.

Even your walking steaks and hamburgers (a/k/a cow) are fed things such as FORMALDEHYDE, LEAD AND STYRENE!!!!

All 4 of my grandparents owned and grew up on farms. They worked hard between daylight and sunset at growing their own crops, vegtables, beef and pork. They baked their own bread fresh daily. They ate country ham, eggs and bacon every morning. And they all lived into their 90's and died of old age and cancer free.

The old statement that there are more people living off cancer than dying from it is definitely true. This sounds like an example. With all the attempts and effort at innovative therapy for high grade glioma over the years it has only bought a few months of extra survival at best and at what financial cost and at what quality of life. The key to improved survival is definitely at the genetic level. More effort needs to be expended on determining why a few patients are long term survivors of this dreaded disease. No doubt that grants pay a significant portion of researchers salary after the dean and other hierarchy take their cut. There is nothing like an emotional devastating disease to get people to open their wallet particularly when it is personal. Case example the Couric cancer center at UVA.

And at least 49.9 million people wouldn't be able to afford these drugs -

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The number of people who lacked health insurance last year climbed to 49.9 million, up from 49 million in 2009, the Census Bureau said Tuesday.

Nationwide, 16.3% of the population was uninsured last year, statistically unchanged from 2009.

I know a guy who just died after fighting cancer for about 5 to 6 years. His total bills for treatment and medication exceeded $1 million dollars. Unless his insurance paid more than the usual 80%, this left the family with $200,000+ in bills. How many people have or can afford secondary insurance to pick up the other 20%? Who in their right mind would burden their family with $200,000 in bills just to live 5 more years? But sadly enough it's a hard decision, a decision that most patients and family don't even think about until after the fact. And it's a decision that is not discussed with the patient and family because the cancer treatment centers and doctors want the business/money!

81mg aspirin.

Geez, someone announces a possible breakthrough in cancer treatment and most of you are all doom & gloom. You could suck the fun out of a 5 year old's birthday party.

As far as insurance paying the usual 80% goes . . . the insurance plans I've had over the past 20 years or so pay the 80%, but they also have annual and individual caps on payments that come from the employee. My annual family cap is now $3,000, which means in the case of the hypothetical million dollar bill, I would pay $3,000. This came in handy when my daughter was in an ICU for 2 weeks a few years ago, so yes, I know it really does work that way.

As far as burdening a family with $200K of expenses for another 5 years of life goes . . . I'm sorry you don't think your life is worth $40K a year. Maybe others have a different opinion of their lives and we should let them make that choice.

@ Carrboro Pete...Just the usual cast of naysayers and malcontents.

"You could suck the fun out of a 5 year old's birthday party."...hahaha! You are so right!

There is no conspiracy going on with cancer research, for crying out loud. It's a complex disease with many different types and sub-types. There will never be a "take this pill" cure all. I have lost people to cancer and I hope the work continues to cure it. There are people making a living off finding a what? We pay fire fighters and EMT's as well. Do we say that they are making a living off our misery?

I wish people would think a bit before blindly accepting conspiracy theories put forth by entertainment programs. Gasbag's idea requires that hundreds of thousands of doctors and researchers worldwide be co-operating in an evil plan to pretend to work while they let patients die early. It's an obvious impossibility.

KB, don't forget that the "evil plan" also requires all those doctors and researchers to work counter to their own interests by having them fail to develop profitable drugs.

Well Gasbag, the truth of the matter is if you are unable to pay for your treatments there are these things called Clinical Trials which are all over this world and you can sign up to be in one where you get your medicine for .... drumroll please....FREE! What a concept! And many times if they are not covered by your health insurance one can write the drug company that manufactures the drug and they will GIVE you the drugs for your treatment - they want survivors! Survivors will sell more of their drugs!

I had a relative die of bone marrow cancer in the 1950s - wasted away and atticted to morphine that didn't give them any relief by the time they died. Today, what are the odds that someone with bone marrow cancer may survive? Breast Cancer? There is hope. Do I think there will be a "cure" - nothing is 100% and we don't get out alive. I would like to see better odds at everything!

To think our Government (that isn't that farsighted and curtainly isn't that smart) would not want a cure for cancer? They don't care - but the Pharma Companies that control our political people just may.

@Gasbag - you do make me laugh!

When the $500 dollar a day drugs failed my friend with brain cancer entered a clinical trial, the experimental medication caused her to become so ill ( a form of torture I would never wish on anyone ) that she spent a week in the hospital and died several months later peacefully off all drugs accept morphine under the care of hospice.

I guess now wouldn't be a good time to discuss how Americans are being used as guinea pigs in all this cancer and medication research? Not to mention the countless animals being tortured during this research?

When they develop a major breakthrough in some promising cancer treatment or medication, they should pay the patient and family to use the family member as a guinea pig.

How else are we to know a drug is safe? Seriously - give me a good way to test drug compounds out there and test surgical implants and procedures other than the ways we are doing it which adhere to ICH Guidelines and International Guidelines.

I can name about 15 people I know who were diagnosed with various forms of cancer who did go on management drugs who lived the rest of their lives fully and it gave them time to put everything in order. Of those 15 - ALL of them about a month prior to their death felt like they had "beat cancer" and were thinking of their futures 10 years from then, only the last few weeks did they go downhill. Do you have any idea how cancer was prior to that? Lets just say this pain couldn't be managed, it spread throughout the body and ate the body alive.

Now, guinea pigs are not utilized as much as mice, rats and lambs Gasbag. I love animals too. My question to you are you a vegan? Well the lab animals are treated much better than how the US Slaughter Houses out there treat their cattle, sheep and chickens. I'm just sayin'.

There also have been many drugs through clinical trials that did and do give adverse reactions - severe ones that the patient will have to take other drugs until they get used to the study drug. One I know of will knock the industry on it's butt for one particular disease when it hits the market. It is now in third stage and forth stage trials (third time and forth time in human subjects).

And if you choice is death or going into a clinical trial where you will be maintained or helped? You are given full disclosure of what that study drug can do, will do and may do. Patients are monitored.

Let's just stop all clinical drug testing and let the drug companies release to the public with no trials? Or what is the other solution you have - no more drugs or treatments for patients? You have a choice when diagnosed. I frankly, would like a choice.

Well, gasbag, so where does 375K go? About half off the top goes to the university. If the good doctor wants an assistant to help him do his work that is about 45 K + fringes for who he hires. Say 55K. Per year. Say it is a 3 year grant. Do the math 187.5 + (3 x 55) = 352.5. The rest is for chemicals you need to do your experiments. So the good doctor isn't padding his wallet.

Also, you have to be a little less paranoid. See doctors get cancer too. They die of cancer all the time. Do you think they want to die? Do you think they have a secret recipe somewhere in the lab that they do not reveal, so they can keep getting grant money. Then they get cancer themselves and do not treat themselves with the secret recipe and choose to die instead. I mean, if you want to come up with a conspiracy theory, at least make it plausible.

And before I forget, good for you Dr. Purow! More power to you. I hope your research works and results in at least a partial treatment. There are alot of people whose life and happiness depend on your efforts.

No paranoia here, Anthony. I just believe cancer research is one of the biggest scams in the USA right now. We're getting a very small return on all the money being invested in it.

My main concern is allocation of health care dollars . Hard decisions need to be made . Do we spend billions on drugs and treatments that extend life for a minimal amount of time for a small % of people and carry high costs, or do we put our research dollars toward a looming public health crisis that is not getting the attention of these experimental treatments.

You can't do it all and where are our priorities ?

" Worried about an impending public health crisis, government officials are considering offering financial incentives to the pharmaceutical industry, like tax breaks and patent extensions, to spur the development of vitally needed antibiotics. ..... bacteria steadily become resistant to virtually all existing drugs at the same time that a considerable number of pharmaceutical giants have abandoned this field in search of more lucrative medicines."

No scam taking place. It's incredibly expensive to develop and test these new drugs, no matter what they treat. Some just have a larger target audience and are therefore easier to pay for.

Wait til we really start having to pay for the obesity crisis over running the country. The statistic I heard the other afternoon was that 79 million Americans are pre-diabetic...

My theory on diabetes is not the same as that of the medical profession. Sugar and obesity are not to blame as much as the medical profession thinks. It's the chemicals in almost everything we eat now. The natural process in our bodies is becoming unbalanced by all of these chemicals.

I'm sure the medical establishment is anxiously awaiting your paper on the subject.

@ Gasbag

That might be a big part of it, but I do think the sugar issue is the major factor at work. Think about how much sugar and sweeteners are put into our food nowadays. I've been paying attention, because since the late 90s I started seeking out products that don't contain sugar or especially corn syrup. And as time has gone on, products that used to not contain sugar (such as Newman's Own salad dressings and spaghetti sauces, to name one offhand major brand example) now contain one or the other. So I had to scratch Newman's Own from the list, and resorted to having to make my own salad dressing, because finding a sugar free brand that was what I was looking for in all regards was getting too difficult.

They put sugar and corn syrup and a host of other sweeteners in EVERYTHING nowadays. Even products that don't need it! Seriously.....why does pasta sauce need corn syrup?? They used to make it without, and trust me, it tastes better that way. Most people have no idea how much sugar/corn syrup/sweeteners they're consuming on a weekly basis. It's unreal. So yes, I think this absolutely is playing a part in the diabetic epidemic, though there certainly could be other factors at work.

And don't even get me started on Splenda, and artificial sweeteners that are toxic to the body. If you want to talk about chemicals adversely affecting the body.......! I think that is absolutely contributing to people getting cancer nowadays. So much crap everywhere, in everything....

Gasbag Self Ordained EXPERT...says what it does, does what it says.

Love ya, Gasbag! ;)

As far diabetes goes, the vast majority of it is absolutely caused by too much food and lack of exercise. Not mysterious chemicals. This has been proven in multiple studies by having diabetic subjects exercise and lose weight, and poof, most subject's symptoms improved dramatically. No conspiracy hiding this cure, you can have it for free. Worked for my mom, BTW.

And there may be an even better way to cure diabetes -and if we must prioritize treatment money this certainly should be high on the list along with developing new antibiotics.

"Gastric bypass surgery is great for curing type 2 diabetes. It works for up to 80 percent of patients. Now scientists are beginning to figure out why. And weight loss may be the least of it.

It turns out that bypass surgery dramatically reduces the amino acids circulating in the blood – in particular, a type called branched-chain amino acids, which make up 40 percent of these nutrients in our diet. "

Mr/Mrs/Miss saywha?, I am waiting on my $375,00 research grant before I start proving my theories are accurate and correct.


I saw a news story on the gastric bypass surgery the other day. The researchers talked as if it has proven successful in almost 100% of cases in curing diabetes. And usually within hours.... not days, weeks or months. It's a serious surgery, but I would certainly consider it if ever disagnosed with diabetes, and if they can guarantee no drastic weight loss in the long term.

I know quite a few people with type 2 Diabetes and don't know any who aren't fat.