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Possible cancer cure

UCI couple’s research equation shows if patients take a certain drug long enough, it will eradicate chronic myeloid leukemia.

October 03, 2007|By Joseph Serna

UC Irvine researchers have developed a mathematical formula they believe can cure a type of leukemia.

Until now, the drug Imatinib has been shown to be effective in driving chronic myeloid leukemia into remission, but eventually the cancer returns and it quickly kills the patient. The equation introduced by mathematician Natalia Komarova and her husband, biologist Dominik Wodarz, though, could show a way to cure the disease.

The scientists said their research proves that if a patient continues to take Imatinib past the time the disease is in remission, then the drug will kill the cancer.

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The problem is knowing how long the remission will last and that it’s impractical to have patients take it their entire lives.

“The fact that the cancer comes back when you take the drug off means that the cancer is not eradicated,” Wodarz said. “The model we did suggests in principle it is possible [to eliminate the cancer cells]. You just have to treat it long enough.”

Here’s how the formula works: Doctors determine how fast the cancer spreads, how quickly the drug can put it in remission and how long it will put the disease in remission. Using those variables, physicians could determine how long the patient needs to take Imatinib.

The next step for the UCI scientists is to team up with fellow researchers to figure out how to tailor the formula to individual patients.

If they can do that then they can figure out how long each patient must take the drug.

“The real challenge is to measure them in a patient. That becomes very, very difficult,” Wodarz said.

The couple’s results were published today in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, www.plosone.org.

Chronic myeloid leukemia is a fast-moving cancer that starts in the bone marrow and moves into the blood.

It has three stages, with the last stage giving patients only a few months. The National Cancer Institute estimates 4,570 people in the United States will develop chronic myeloid leukemia this year and 490 people will die from it.

Imatinib is a drug known for targeting cancer cells specifically, and it has few side effects, unlike chemotherapy.

Many scientists believe it does not, however, kill cancerous stem cells. The way normal stem cells maintain organs, cancer stem cells are very difficult to destroy and are believed to maintain cancer growth even when all other cancer cells have been eliminated.

“This basically tells you there’s no hope in eradicating cancer. We have a more optimistic hypothesis here,” Komarova said.

DRUG FACTS

 Imatinib is an FDA-approved cancer-fighting drug marketed under the name of Gleevec by the pharmaceutical company Novartis.

 This is the first drug of its kind approved by the FDA that targets at enzymes in the body that encourage cancer growth.

 The drug can be taken orally and is effective somewhat quickly, within one to three months.

 Patients should contact their physician for more information.

 For questions about Gleevec go online to www.gleevec.com or call 1-877-GLEEVEC.


JOSEPH SERNA may be reached at (714) 966-4619 or at joseph.serna@latimes.com.

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