Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hope Springs Eternal

"I firmly believe it is not a matter of if this will help cancer patients -- but when this becomes a standard of care."
"It's not ready for prime time."
"This is the first time that someone has shown that this approach is effective and yet it has been asked, 'What took you so long?'"
Dr. Robert Korneluk, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute

Dr. Korneluk is referring to a combined therapy he is crediting with the refined potential to act as a new, more effective, less toxic cancer treatment. Its simplicity appears to have arisen from one of those scientific Eureka! moments; using previously-designed therapies in tandem for optimum effect. And CHEO institute researchers are anticipating setting up trials for their combination therapy.

Other laboratories world-wide, along with drug companies have been busy working on new discoveries into feasible treatments that extend the lives of cancer patients, improving their quality of life in the process. But it is these Ottawa-based researchers who have come up with the concept of the combined therapy which they say promises to be highly effective against cancer, and as a special bonus safe for children.

And potentially useful for many types of cancer.

Their breakthrough was to combine two types of treatments that were thought of as standalones. With the mindset that using them together could conceivably speed the evolution from lab discovery to treatment. That both agents in the combined therapy have proven themselves safe, they consider to be a huge step in the right direction.

The concept combines two experimental cancer treatments; viral therapy, which also was pioneered at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, led by Dr. John Bell, along with IAP (inhibitor of apostosis protein)-based therapies targeting cancer genes, another therapy discovered at CHEO 19 years earlier. Both of these therapies are yet in trial stages, viewed as alternatives to radiation and chemotherapies.

This discovery uses a drug that can knock out the genes that make cancer cells "bullet proof" giving it an extra push by priming the body's immune response, explained Dr. Korneluk. That these experimental therapies, unlike radiation and chemotherapy are not toxic; they don't kill white blood cells, patients don't lose their hair, is a decided bonus of inestimable value.

The researchers, whose new combination therapy details saw publication on Monday in Nature Biology, are hugely excited about the potential to treat cancer without incurring those dramatic side effects. The therapies that target cancer causing genes and oncolytics (cancer-fighting viruses), create a synergistic (amplified) cancer killing effect, many times more effective than each of these therapies used separately.

They saw a cure rate of up to 90% on experimental mice. But as with all similar such experiments resulting in perceived breakthroughs on animal models, this is only the beginning. It will take years before the protocol ever sees general use, once the experimental stage has moved on to human models and the results assessed, then authorization for use by federal license-granting agencies received.

In the meanwhile, we hope, and we wait.

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