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How Chemotherapy Drugs Block Blood Vessel Growth, Slowing Cancer Spread

Posted Jan 25 2009 3:45pm

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have discovered how a whole class of commonly used chemotherapy drugs can block cancer growth. Their findings, reported online this week at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition, suggest that a subgroup of cancer patients might particularly benefit from these drugs.

The anthracycline class of chemotherapeutics — doxorubicin (Adriamycin), daunorubicin, epirubicin, idarubicin — have been used for four decades to treat many types of cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma, sarcomas and carcinomas, The standard method of administration had been to use the highest tolerable dose every few weeks to kill all rapidly growing cells by preventing them from accurately copying their genetic material.

“But the late Judah Folkman discovered in 2000 that so-called metronomic treatment, giving patients lower doses of these drugs more frequently, can keep cancer growth at bay by blocking blood vessel formation, but the exact mechanism by which this occurred wasn’t known,” says Gregg L. Semenza, M.D., Ph.D., director of the vascular program at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering and a member of the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine. “Now we’ve shown how it happens and what players are involved, which could help shape future clinical trials for patients with certain types of cancers.”

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