OLD DRUGS – NEW TRICKS

Can an or­di­nary heart­burn med­i­ca­tion help those re­ceiv­ing chemo­ther­apy avoid se­ri­ous and per­ma­nent side ef­fects?

North & South - - Enterprise -

We’re in the busi­ness of teach­ing old drugs new tricks,” ex­plains As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor Michael Jame­son, a clin­i­cal re­searcher and men­tor of Dr Navin We­wala, the tal­ented young on­col­o­gist lead­ing the cime­ti­dine trial, which is ex­plor­ing the heart­burn med­i­ca­tion’s po­ten­tial to pre­vent se­ri­ous side ef­fects from chemo­ther­apy treat­ment.

“Cime­ti­dine ap­pears to se­lec­tively block the chemo­ther­apy drug from get­ting into the nerve cells, which means there’s a good pos­si­bil­ity that it can pro­tect peo­ple’s hear­ing and other nerves without com­pro­mis­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of the chemo­ther­apy – par­tic­u­larly in chil­dren,” says Dr Jame­son.

It’s projects like this that make a real dif­fer­ence to peo­ple and their fam­i­lies af­fected by can­cer. Chemo­ther­apy is a main­stay of can­cer treat­ment, but while the use of pow­er­ful drugs re­mains vi­tal to many pa­tients’ chances of sur­vival, these treat­ments of­ten cause per­ma­nent dam­age to the per­son’s qual­ity of life and dras­ti­cally af­fect their fu­ture em­ploy­ment and life­style op­tions.

Cis­platin is an ef­fec­tive but some­what toxic drug that plays an im­por­tant part in the cure for many can­cers, es­pe­cially in chil­dren and younger adults. Its longterm side ef­fects in­clude par­tial deaf­ness and re­duced kid­ney func­tion – and there are no cur­rent strate­gies for pre­ven­tion. But a new trial funded by the Can­cer Re­search Trust New Zealand aims to dis­cover if the heart­burn drug cime­ti­dine can pro­tect hear­ing and kid­neys from dam­age dur­ing cis­platin chemo­ther­apy in pa­tients with head and neck can­cer.

“Work­ing in re­search is all about col­lab­o­ra­tion,” says Dr Jame­son.

A com­mon pic­ture of can­cer re­search is that of white-coated sci­en­tists in the lab. But while Dr Jame­son agrees that this is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant work, he says it’s of­ten the clin­i­cians ‘out in the field’ who see the real needs of pa­tients and the op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove and re­fine the ex­ist­ing treat­ments through re­search.

If cime­ti­dine is found to pro­tect against side ef­fects in one group of pa­tients, fur­ther tri­als will be un­der­taken to see if it may also be help­ful to the many chil­dren and adults re­ceiv­ing cis­platin chemo­ther­apy for other types of can­cer.

“Early find­ings in­di­cate we can pro­tect hear­ing and nerves without com­pro­mis­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of chemo­ther­apy.”

Dr Michael Jame­son

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