A Shield Against Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy saves lives, but it can take a considerable toll on the body. Now, by inserting a mutated gene into cancer patients, researchers have found a way to protect them against the side effects of chemotherapy and boost their odds of surviving a particularly aggressive type of cancer.

Patients with glioblastoma, a fast-growing and usually fatal brain cancer, face overwhelming odds. Half die within 13 months of diagnosis, and very few survive long-term. Treatment is part of the problem. Many glioblastomas are resistant to chemotherapy because they harbor an overactive gene called MGMT, which repairs the cancer cells after chemotherapy damages them. To counteract the gene, physicians sometimes add an MGMT-blocking drug, benzylguanine, to the chemotherapy regimen to make the cancer cells easier to kill. But benzylguanine also makes healthy blood and bone marrow cells easy to kill.

To find a way around these severe side effects, Kiem and colleagues zeroed in on a mutated version of MGMT called P140K. The gene enables cells to resist chemotherapy and benzylguanine. The team wondered what would happen if healthy cells had P140K.

sn-cancer.jpg

Stem cell shield. Aggressive glioblastoma tumors (left) can be hard to treat without killing healthy cells. But stem cells armed with a mutated gene can shield noncancerous cells and help patients get the treatment they need to stabilize the disease’s progression (right).

Credit: Maciej Mrugala, Science Translational Medicine (2012)

via A Shield Against Chemotherapy – ScienceNOW.

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