Drug combo may boost cancer treat­ment: Study

The Straits Times - - HOME - Jose Hong

Fight­ing col­orec­tal cancer, mi­nus the toxic ef­fects of con­ven­tional treat­ment, could soon be pos­si­ble.

Sci­en­tists at the Na­tional Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore have found a way to make a promis­ing cancer treat­ment up to 10 times more ef­fec­tive.

They did this by com­bin­ing two known sub­stances – anti-malar­ial drug artemisinin and amino­lae­vulinic acid, which is al­ready used to treat some can­cers.

This points to a po­ten­tial new way of treat­ing Sin­ga­pore’s No. 1 cancer with­out the con­ven­tional op­tions of chemo­ther­apy or ra­dio­ther­apy, which can lead to many side ef­fects in pa­tients.

In lab­o­ra­tory stud­ies, the re­searchers found that com­bin­ing artemisinin with the acid killed col­orec­tal cancer cells and sup­pressed tu­mour growth sig­nif­i­cantly more than us­ing artemisinin alone.

Artemisinin tar­gets cells with high amounts of heme – a type of iron com­pound. As cancer cells con­tain much more heme than normal cells, artemisinin af­fects only them.

The re­searchers found that amino­lae­vulinic acid would make col­orec­tal cancer cells pro­duce much more heme, mak­ing artemisinin at­tack them more vi­ciously.

There were 9,807 new cases of col­orec­tal cancer di­ag­nosed here from 2011 to 2015.

The find­ings of the study were pub­lished in the July edi­tion of the jour­nal ACS Cen­tral Sci­ence.

Dr Lin Qing­song, who led the study with Dr Wang Ji­gang and Pro­fes­sor Shen Han-Ming, said the ex­per­i­ment was ex­cit­ing as both sub­stances are far less toxic than con­ven­tional cancer treat­ments.

“Chemo­ther­apy or ra­dio­ther­apy may kill cancer cells, but they will also kill a lot of other non-cancer cells. So they will have a lot of side ef­fects,” said Dr Lin.

He said he does not know how much the treat­ment will cost as it is still early days. His team is now seek­ing funds to con­duct clin­i­cal tri­als.

Na­tional Univer­sity Cancer In­sti­tute, Sin­ga­pore con­sul­tant Tan Ker Kan said that the re­sults were promis­ing as the study in­volved two drugs known to be safe.

“But the treat­ment needs fur­ther hu­man stud­ies to de­ter­mine its safety pro­file,” said Dr Tan, who was not in­volved in the study.

“And af­ter that you will need to test it against the ef­fi­cacy of cur­rent chemo­ther­apy drugs.”

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