Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Side effects from chemotherapy can be greatly reduced

Treating cancer with chemotherapeutics is a double-edged sword. While it is proven to be very effective in killing cancer cells, it also harms healthy tissue, which means clinicians have to balance between an effective dose and the associated side effects. Despite our best efforts, getting rid of chemotherapy and replacing it with more specific treatments will take a while. That is why some scientists instead look at improving chemotherapy instead of finding replacements. Scientists from KU Leuven found that it is possible to greatly reduce the side effects by providing patients with an additional treatment.

Their research focused on a receptor, called PHD2, that is present on the cellular surface, mostly on cells involved with blood vessels. Basically, it functions as an oxygen sensor, and performs its job in conditions where the oxygen level is low. That is the case with a lot of tumours, that use so much oxygen due to their fast growth, which eventually results in so-called hypoxia. Also, tumours are often characterized by having abnormally shaped and leaking blood vessels. That is a problem because a functioning transportation system is required to deliver chemotherapy to the site of a tumour.

According to the Belgian scientists, intervention based on the PHD2 receptor can be highly beneficial for cancer patients. They showed that blocking the receptor, thereby inhibiting its function, can improve blood vessel health, thereby reducing leakages. Correspondingly, more of the delivered chemotherapeutic dose ends up at the tumour site, leading to increased cancer cell death.

Even though the scientists showed in experimental setups that blocking PHD2 can be highly favourable for chemotherapy, there is no drug available yet for use in human patients. Therefore it is necessary develop a new drug before this newly acquired knowledge is of any use, something that can take many years. Nevertheless, it is an interesting concept that needs to be explored in order to get rid of the awful side effects of chemotherapy, even though finding more specific cancer treatments would always be more beneficial.

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