New treatment may reduce the side effects of chemotherapy

Australian researchers may have found a treatment to combat a serious side effect of chemotherapy treatments prescribed for cancer patients. Their research, which was conducted on rodents, will now go on to clinical trials on humans.

The study directed by Professor Wally Langdon at the University of Western Australia (UWA) could pave the way for more effective chemotherapy, which is often limited in terms of dosage and frequency because of side effects.

Myelosuppression is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. It is a form of medullary aplasia, that is to say a more or less severe reduction in the number of red blood cells (erythrocytes), white blood cells (leucocytes) and platelets (thrombocytes).

“This phenomenon can cause complications such as fatigue, dizziness, bruising, haemorrhage and potentially fatal infections,” explained Langdon.

The researchers found that a single dose of quizartinib, a small molecule currently being developed by the American pharmaceutical company Ambit Biosciences, could prevent the phenomenon of myelosuppression.

In 2012, quizartinib showed promising results in a phase II study of its effect on acute myeloid leukemia, which were presented at the Congress of the American Society of Hematology.

Put simply, the drug puts blood-producing cells in bone marrow into a dormant state, thereby protecting them from chemotherapy, while cancer cells remain active and can thus continue to be targeted.

The study showed that once a chemotherapy session was over, the healthy cells in the bone marrow were able to resume producing blood.

Taken before each session of chemotherapy, the drug could facilitate the long-term treatment of a range of cancers, the study concludes.

The next step will be to test the effectiveness of quizartinib in human cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

The research was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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Photo credit: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/

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