Combination therapy may improve treatment of blood cancer

Scientists at Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati have demonstrated in laboratory cell-based studies that by a new combined approach, resistant cells can be re-sensitized to drugs

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By Dr Swati Subodh

New Delhi: A group of Indian scientists have identified a new way to re-sensitise cells that become resistant to chemotherapy in some blood cancer patients.

Blood cancer or Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) occurs when a subset of blood cells start dividing in an unregulated manner ultimately resulting in bone marrow failure. A drug –Imatinib Mesylate (IM) – is used to treat this cancer. But, oncologists are seeing growing number of cases of resistance to this drug, resulting in recurrence of the cancer.

Typically, Imatinib disrupts the activity of BCR-ABL, an abnormal protein which is generated due to certain chromosome level changes. This protein promotes unregulated proliferation of blood cells. In many cases, however, cancer cells become unresponsive to the drug leading to treatment failure or recurrence. Scientists at Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati have sought to address this problem. Results of their study have been published in journal Science Reports.

“Our investigation shows that some key factors are responsible for such resistance which is in fact mediated by neighbouring non-cancerous cells. By blocking these molecules, the resistant cancer cells can be killed,” explained Dr Bithiah Grace Jaganathan, senior researcher at IIT Guwahati.

The research team has demonstrated in laboratory cell-based studies that by a combined approach – preventing adhesion of cancer cells with neighbouring healthy cells and inhibiting certain biological pathways – resistant cells can be re-sensitized to drugs. “Such an approach will help in treating patients who have become unresponsive to themainline cancer drug,” hopes Dr Jaganathan.

The researchers feel the study could help in effective treatment management as well.

The prevention of adhesion between cancer cell and healthy cells during early phase of a patient’s treatment can eliminate development of drug resistance, while treatment with certain molecules to block cancer propagating biological pathways can sensitize the resistant cells thereby ensuring complete elimination of CML and prevention of recurrence. The study provides a promising lead for further evaluation.

Apart from Dr. Jaganathan, the research team included Atul Kumar and Jina Bhattacharyya from IIT, Guwahati and Guwahati Medial College. The work was funded by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Department of Biotechnology (DBT). (India Science Wire)