OLD DRUGS – NEW TRICKS
Can an ordinary heartburn medication help those receiving chemotherapy avoid serious and permanent side effects?
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