Scientists have developed a new test to spot a blood cancer that is vulnerable to a promising type of experimental drug that promotes cancer cell death.
The test was developed by scientists at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Using the test, they found that chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is an "easy mark" for the experimental drug ABT-737.
The findings are published in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
CLL cells are strongly dependent on a survival molecule called Bcl-2, which switches off self-destruct signals in the cancer cells. ABT-737 neutralizes Bcl-2, which leads to the release of molecules that trigger suicide in the cancer cells, the study said.
Each year, about 10,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with CLL, which is currently incurable.
It's expected that ABT-737 and similar drugs that prompt cancer cells to die will be relatively non-toxic to most healthy cells, because healthy cells don't rely so heavily on Bcl-2 to stay alive.
"It's essential to figure out which cancers are going to respond to the drug by identifying the cells that are dependent on Bcl-2 for survival. Up to now, there hasn't been a way to do this," Dr. Anthony Letai, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a prepared statement. The research on the test was conducted in his laboratory. The researchers are now working on making the test more automated.
(Healthday News, January 2007)
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