When we fight cancer, we want to target tumors aggressively and spare surrounding healthy tissue. But blood cancers present unique challenges. Fewer treatments can truly pinpoint the cancerous cells that flow in a person’s bloodstream.
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The answer may not be a new drug or therapy — but perhaps just a new way of using the drugs we have. New research shows that existing drugs used to fight blood-based cancers, such as leukemia, might work more effectively by adjusting treatment regimens. How much drug is administered and how often can be a game changer in cancer treatment.
New study explores blood cancer treatment
In a new study, researchers explored ways to treat life-threatening blood cancers in a less toxic way. They worked to wipe out cancer cells in the blood without destroying healthy surrounding cells. Yogen Saunthararajah, MD, who treats cancer patients at Cleveland Clinic, led the study. He explains how the new approach works by comparing it to a popular arcade game.
“The way the medicine works is like the game Whac-a-Mole™. You have a mallet and you’re only getting the moles that happen to be in a particular phase of their growth cycle. You don’t want a huge mallet because you’re just going to damage the golf green. You want a little mallet and you want to keep on whacking regularly,” Dr. Saunthararajah says.
In the same way, the new treatment involves using an existing drug but in a more targeted, repetitive way. The idea is to use more and smaller doses, as though the drug were the mallet you use to strike the cancer cells.
Sparing normal cells
Dr. Saunthararajah and his team focused the study on treating a blood cancer called myelodyplastic syndrome. It is typically treated with the drug decitabine. The researchers’ goal was to see if redesigning the regimen by which the drug is given would not only stop cancer cells from growing but also spare normal cells.
They recruited 25 people, whose average age was 73 to test their theory. Researchers lowered medication dosages, administered it by injection, and gave the injections more frequently.
Results show this treatment method does have the potential to stop cancer cells from growing, while sparing normal cells. Dr. Saunthararajah stops short of calling it a cure, but he says it is a good first step towards safely and effectively treating cancers without causing damage to healthy cells.
“These results are so striking that I have no doubt that this is going to be an expanding area. It seems likely that we will see more cancers treated this way in the years to come,” Dr. Saunthararajah says.
Complete findings for the study titled: “Evaluation of non-cytotoxic dnmt1-depleting therapy in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes” are in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Whac-a-Mole™ is a registered trademark of Mattel.