Support Local Journalism. Join Riverfront Times Press Club.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Drug + Chemo = Dead Cancer Cells

Posted By on Thu, Mar 29, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Leukemic cells, away from bone marrow, under the microscope.
  • Leukemic cells, away from bone marrow, under the microscope.

You know why leukemia patients sometimes have to get bone marrow transplants? It's because the cancer cells are far more resistant to chemotherapy when they're embedded in the bone marrow. It would be so much easier to get the little buggers if you could somehow herd them into the bloodstream, where they're more vulnerable...

Now a group of researchers at Washington University Medical School has figured out a way to do just that, with the aid of a new drug called plerixafor. In a recent study, 46 patients suffering from acute myeloid leukemia (AML) received a treatment that combined plerixafor with standard chemotherapy. Nearly half of them achieved complete remission.

The standard rate of remission, says Dr. Geoffrey L. Uy, one of the doctors who worked on the study, is between 20 and 30 percent.

"If these results are repeated in a larger study, it would be transformative," said Dr. John DiPersio, the lead researcher.

Plerixafor was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2008 and was originally intended used by doctors to clear out healthy stem cells from bone marrow so they could be used for stem cell transplants in patients with multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, two other forms of blood cancer.

"We helped in plerixafor's development for stem cell mobilization," DiPersio said in a statement. "So we thought if it makes normal stem cells leave the bone marrow to circulate, maybe it would do the same with leukemic cells."

Cancerous cells are most vulnerable to chemotherapy when they're in the process of dividing. For leukemic cells, bone marrow is a safe environment, where they don't have to reproduce as quickly. They tend to lurk inside the marrow even after chemotherapy clears out the bloodstream and then cause the cancer to show up again.

But once the cancerous cells have been flushed out of the marrow and into the bloodstream, they're not as protected and have to reproduce in order to insure their survival. That's when the chemo zaps them.

DiPersio points out that differences in patients' DNA make cancer notoriously tricky to treat. The plerixafor treatment, however, seems to work on everybody, regardless of genetic makeup, mainly because the drug doesn't target the cells themselves. "Instead we are targeting a common pathway that all leukemic cells are addicted to - in this case, the relatively normal environment of the bone marrow," he said.

The study has been published in the journal Blood.

In the next phase of research, DiPersio hopes to repeat the results in a larger study. He also notes that plerixafor targets just one of the means by which leukemic cells are tethered to bone marrow and that he plans to experiment with other drugs and pathways.

Tags: , ,

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

July 28, 2021

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

© 2021 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation