New method of detecting bone loss could help predict disease progression

August 11, 2014

A team of researchers from Arizona State University and Mayo Clinic is showing how a staple of earth science research can be used in biomedical settings to predict the course of disease.

The researchers tested a new approach to detecting bone loss in cancer patients by using calcium isotope analysis to predict whether myeloma patients are at risk for developing bone lesions, a hallmark of the disease. X-ray of skull Download Full Image

They believe they have a promising technique that could be used to chart the progression of multiple myeloma, a lethal disease that eventually impacts a patient’s bones. The method could help tailor therapies to protect bone better and also act as a way to monitor for possible disease progression or recurrence.

“Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that can cause painful and debilitating bone lesions,” said Gwyneth Gordon, an associate research scientist in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and co-lead author of the study. “We wanted to see if we could use isotope ratio analysis, a common technique in geochemistry, to detect the onset of disease progression.”

“At present, there is no good way to track changes in bone balance except retrospectively using X-ray methods,” said Ariel Anbar, a President’s Professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “By the time the X-rays show something, the damage has been done.”

“Right now, pain is usually the first indication that cancer is affecting the bones,” added Rafael Fonseca, chair of the Department of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic and a member of the research team. “If we could detect it earlier by an analysis of urine or blood in high-risk patients, it could significantly improve their care,” he added.

The research team – which includes Gordon, Melanie Channon and Anbar from ASU, as well as Jorge Monge (co-lead author), Qing Wu and Fonseca from Mayo Clinic – described the tests and their results in “Predicting multiple myeloma disease activity by analyzing natural calcium isotopic composition,” in an early online edition (July 9) of the Nature publication Leukemia.

The technique measures the naturally occurring calcium isotopes that the researchers believe can serve as an accurate, near-real-time detector of bone metabolism for multiple myeloma patients. Bone destruction in myeloma manifests itself in bone lesions, osteoporosis and fractures. The ASU-Mayo Clinic work builds on a previous NASA study by the ASU team. That research focused on healthy subjects participating in an experiment.

“This is the first demonstration that the technique has some ability to detect bone loss in patients with disease,” said Anbar, a biogeochemist at ASU.

With the method, bone loss is detected by carefully analyzing the isotopes of calcium that are naturally present in blood. Isotopes are atoms of an element that differ in their masses. Patients do not need to ingest any artificial tracers, and are not exposed to any radiation for the test. The only harm done with the new method, Anbar said, is a pinprick for a blood draw.

The technique makes use of a fact well-known to earth scientists but not normally used in biomedicine – different isotopes of a chemical element can react at slightly different rates. The earlier NASA study showed that when bones form, the lighter isotopes of calcium enter bone a little faster than the heavier isotopes. That difference, called isotope fractionation, is the key to the method.

In healthy, active humans, bone is in “balance,” meaning bone is forming at about the same rate as it dissolves (resorbs). But if bone loss is occurring, then the isotopic composition of blood becomes enriched in the lighter isotopes as bones resorb more quickly than they are formed.

The effect on calcium isotopes is very small, typically less than a 0.02 percent change in the isotope ratio. But even effects that small can be measured by using precise mass spectrometry methods available at ASU. With the new test, the ASU-Mayo Clinic researchers found that there was an association between how active the disease was and the change in the isotope ratios. In addition, the isotope ratios predicted disease activity better than, and independent from, standard clinical variables.

Anbar said that while the method has worked on a small set of patients, much still needs to be done to verify initial findings and improve the efficiency of analysis.

“If the method proves to be robust after more careful validation, it could provide earlier detection of bone involvement than presently possible, and also provide the possibility to monitor the effectiveness of drugs to combat bone loss.”

Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Journalism fellowship brings international reporters, communicators to ASU Cronkite School

August 11, 2014

A newspaper reporter from Uganda, a film producer from Armenia and a communications director from Afghanistan are among the 10 global journalists and communicators selected to the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

For the fifth year, mid-career professionals will study journalism, receive leadership training and develop professional affiliations with media organizations in Arizona and across the country. Last year, fellows leveraged their experience at the Cronkite School, spending their final six weeks in America at organizations such as Twitter, the World Bank, Amnesty International and Voice of America. Humphrey Fellows Download Full Image

The Humphrey Fellowship Program is an initiative of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, and is administered by the Institute of International Education. This year’s fellows from 10 countries represent a variety of communications disciplines, including print journalism, government communications, broadcasting and film production. They come from Afghanistan, Armenia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Lithuania, Nepal, Romania, Tanzania and Uganda.

“The Humphrey Fellowship Program is an important part of our school, fostering meaningful connections between our fellows, students, faculty and staff,” said Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School. “Whether it’s participating in one of our professional immersion programs or forging friendships at an event, the Humphrey Fellows make the Cronkite School a better place.”

The fellows study under the direction of associate professor Bill Silcock, director of Cronkite Global Initiatives, and interact with the school’s domestic students through classes and planned events, such as a Global Conversations speaker series, in which fellows share their journalism experiences and insights.

“The Humphrey Program offers an exciting opportunity for cross-cultural exchanges among the fellows and our students,” said Silcock, who serves as curator of the Humphrey Program at ASU. “They bring global perspectives on how truthful journalism can heal societies, and they energize our faculty and inspire our students.”

Established in 1978, the Humphrey Fellowship Program provides 10 months of non-degree academic study for experienced professionals from countries undergoing development or political transition. Sixteen major universities host a total of about 200 fellows each year. The Cronkite School is one of only two institutions to host Humphrey Fellows in journalism.

2014-2015 Humphrey Fellows in Journalism:

Tabua Francis Butagira from Uganda is the chief news reporter for the Daily Monitor newspaper. With more than 10 years of journalism experience, Butagira has been published in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian and The Times of London. He was among those, alongside young African leaders, that President Barack Obama hosted at the White House in 2010. He also is an alumnus of the International Visitor Leadership Program, the U.S. State Department’s premier professional exchange program. Butagira holds a bachelor’s degree in urban planning from Uganda’s Makerere University. He also is the country’s pioneer winner of the David Astor Fellowship. As a Humphrey Fellow, he plans to study digital journalism, data journalism and media management.

Lila Devi Ojha Dhakal from Nepal is editor-in-chief and publisher for the BYAPAR (Business) Weekly newspaper. She has been editing and publishing contemporary business, economic and market product news in Nepal since 2010. She has also led various programs on economic issues in her country. Dhakal earned her master’s degree in management, and also studied journalism in college. During her Humphrey year, she wants to develop technological skills and learn best practices in reporting, writing and editing, as well as public relations and media management strategies.

Said Intizar Khadim from Afghanistan is the former chief of staff and communications director for the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, a governmental agency that reports to the Afghan president’s office. Previously, he worked as a senior strategic communication adviser for Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, managing strategic affairs with political parties, civil societies and international establishments. Khadim frequently writes articles for websites and travels abroad as an activist. During his Humphrey year, Khadim hopes to sharpen his leadership and technological skills so he can continue to help his country’s young government grow.

Krista Kull from Estonia is head of public relations and tourism for Viljandi, an Estonian city with a population of approximately 19,000. She is responsible for public relations management as well as tourism and international relations development. She also participates in government operations for the city of Viljandi. A graduate of Pärnu College at the University of Tartu, Kull plans to devote her Humphrey year to learning more about communication and how to use innovative tools to serve public interests in more effective ways. She is also interested in discovering cutting-edge technologies to tell stories.

Evaldas Labanauskas from Lithuania is the chief editor of the independent weekly magazine Veidas, which focuses on political and business issues. Previously, he led newsroom operations of Diena Media News and was chief editor of the weekly newspaper Vilniaus diena. Labanauskas began his career as a foreign news reporter more than 10 years ago and covered the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations, and a master’s degree in journalism and communications. During his Humphrey year, he hopes to learn more about social media and business models for publishing.

Omar Mohammed from Tanzania is a senior consultant at africapractice, responsible for analytical and advisory services in media and stakeholder relationship management. Throughout his career, Mohammed has worked at the intersection of technology, journalism and communications. Previously, he served as a senior producer for a BBC Swahili Service’s weekly news magazine show “Haba na Haba.” He attended Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, where he majored in English literature. Mohammed plans to spend his Humphrey year learning more about digital business journalism to provide Tanzanian readers with a mixture of original reporting, commentary and news analysis on the big business and economic stories of the day.

Vlad Odobescu from Romania is a freelance journalist, member of the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism and correspondent for Casa Jurnalistului, an independent media platform based in Bucharest. His articles have been published by USA Today, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Der Standard, New Statesmen and many other media outlets. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and is currently studying anthropology. During his Humphrey year, Odobescu plans to examine funding models for investigative journalism across the U.S. in order to adopt similar solutions in his home country.

Priscilla Janet Nyenator Quiah from Liberia is a media trainer at the Liberia Media Center, an organization dedicated to improving media capacity as well as strengthening democracy and sustaining peace. With more than 16 years of newspaper and radio reporting experience, she educates community radio journalists in the fundamentals of journalism. Quiah has a bachelor’s degree in zoology and is studying public administration at the master’s level. She also completed media management courses at Rhodes University in South Africa. During her Humphrey year, Quiah hopes to receive training in new media and online writing, as well as best practices for coaching journalists.

Armen Sargsyan from Armenia is a television and film producer at the Media Initiatives Center, an organization promoting the dissemination of free and independent information in Armenia. Previously, Sargsyan hosted and produced TV shows and investigations on socioeconomic issues, as well as a weekly special series about Armenian elections that aired from 1996-2014. He managed international media projects about conflicts in South Caucasus, Armenia-Turkey rapprochement, cross-border dialogue films on war, social conflicts and cohesion. Sargsyan holds a State Diploma of Linguistics and Pedagogy and an Excellency Certificate of International Broadcast Journalism. During his Humphrey year, he wants to learn more about digital journalism, data visualization, media literacy and communication technologies.

Sholpan Zhaxybayeva from Kazakhstan is executive director of the National Association of Broadcasters of Kazakhstan, a non-governmental organization aimed at supporting independent private TV channels as pluralistic sources of information. She is also a member of the National Commission on Television in Kazakhstan, advocating for better journalism standards, the establishment of public television and transparent broadcast licensing and frequency allocation. Previously, Zhaxybayeva worked for several regional and national media outlets, covering social, business and cultural issues. She also lectured at Kazakh-American University on journalism and mass media. A graduate of Kazakh State University, Zhaxybayeva is looking forward to learning more about digital journalism, new media and public television.

Reporter , ASU Now