News & Current Affairs

August 13, 2008

Cheap drug hope for breast cancer

Cheap drug hope for breast cancer

Mammography

In the UK, almost 46,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year

A combination of two inexpensive existing drugs may offer a new way to treat breast cancer, according to UK and Finnish researchers.

The common chemotherapy drug and a brittle bone medicine almost completely stopped the growth of tumours in mice.

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute said the combination cost a twentieth of Herceptin, given to breast cancer patients by the NHS.

Specialists said the results of human trials now under way would be crucial.

The results of this study could change the way breast cancer patients are treated
Pamela Goldberg
Breast Cancer Campaign

In the UK, almost 46,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year.

Although modern treatments mean that cases caught sufficiently early, some via breast screening programmes, have an excellent chance of being successfully treated.

The study was a joint project between researchers at the University of Sheffield and the Kuopio University in Finland.

Its findings could offer an even more effective way to help some patients.

It used a dose of the drug doxorubicin, a common component of chemotherapy regimes, followed 24 hours later by zoledronic acid, currently given to osteoporosis patients.

In the mice, this stopped 99.99% of new cancer cell growth in tumours.

It is thought the first drug could be “priming” the tumour to be more sensitive to the cancer-cell killing qualities of the second drug.

Dr Ingunn Holen, who led the study, said that the study showed that the drug cocktail could “kill breast tumours”.

“These results show that a patient may benefit the most if these two drugs are given in this particular order.”

She said that the results of a human trial were expected later this year.

Speed advantage

If that proves successful, the drugs would not have to undergo a lengthy licensing process, simply have the change of use included in their current licence.

Breast Cancer Campaign, the charity which funded the study, said it was encouraged by the potential for the drug to be made swiftly available to women.

Its chief executive, Pamela Goldberg, said: “The results of this study could change the way breast cancer patients are treated.

“The good news is the that the two treatments are relatively inexpensive and already used in the clinic.”

A spokesman for Cancer Research UK said that a study in humans would be important.

“Establishing the most effective combinations of drug treatments and the timings in which they are given is an important area of clinical research.

“But the benefits of giving zoledronic acid after doxorubicin have only been shown here in mice and now need to be evaluated more fully in people with breast cancer.”

August 7, 2008

Hope for end to rejection drugs

Hope for end to rejection drugs

Surgery

At present patients must take powerful drugs

Scientists have developed a procedure which may help end theĀ  need for transplant patients to rely on powerful anti-rejection drugs.

The complex procedure involves mixing the patient’s infection-fighting white blood cells with cells from the donor.

One patient went eight months without immunosuppressive drugs and others were switched to low doses.

The study, by Germany’s University of Schleswig-Holstein, appears in Transplant International.

It could eventually offer patients who have had transplant surgery a much higher quality of life, free from complex drug regimes
Dr James Hutchinson
University of Schleswig-Holstein

Currently, transplant patients must take a cocktail of powerful drugs for life to dampen down their immune system, and prevent the new organ being rejected.

But the drugs themselves can cause side effects, and may not prevent the slow rejection of the organ over time.

The new technique involves giving transplant patients an infusion of specialised cells known as a transplant acceptance-inducing cells (TAICs).

The TAICs are created by isolating a type of white blood cell from the donor, and modifying them chemically in the lab.

Once modified, the cells gain the ability to kill off cells in the immune system which trigger the rejection process, and to boost the action of another type of immune cell which plays a beneficial role in guarding against rejection.

The cells are then cultured alongside those from the recipient – which helps prime the immune system further – before being injected into the patient.

The technique has been tested on kidney transplant patients, some of whom were given the cells before surgery, and others after the transplant, as an additional drug therapy.

Preliminary, but promising

Lead researcher Dr James Hutchinson said the technique was still at a preliminary stage, but results on 17 patients were promising.

He said: “It could eventually offer patients who have had transplant surgery a much higher quality of life, free from complex drug regimes.”

In the first stage of the clinical trials 12 patients received kidneys from deceased donors, and were given TAICs in addition to traditional anti-rejection drugs.

Ten patients were gradually weaned off the cocktail of conventional drugs, and six eventually took only a low dose of one particular drug, cutting the risk of side effects substantially.

In the second stage of the trial five patients who received kidneys from live donors were given an infusion of TAICs before their surgery was carried out.

One patient was able to go eight months without any immunosuppression drugs, and a further three were successfully weaned down to the single low-dose therapy.

Dr Hutchinson said: “Our research clearly shows that infusing TAICs into patients before they have a kidney transplant, or after the procedure has been carried out, is a practical and safe clinical option.

“Although this procedure is still being developed and refined, it poses an exciting possibility for clinicians and patients alike.”

Keith Rigg, a transplant expert and vice president of the British Transplantation Society, said: “This is interesting work which has the potential to both reduce the risk of rejection after organ transplantation and the amount of anti-rejection drugs that are required, both of which will be good news for patients.

“As the authors say this is still early and preliminary work, and further development and refinement of the process is required, but this procedure does seem to have potential.

“Further developments will be watched with interest.”

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