Attacking Cancer at the Root

Chronic myeloid leukemia treatment by adding beta catenin inhibitors to imatinib therapy

(RxWiki News) Leukemia research has had some of the best results for effective pharmaceutical treatment, with the majority of cancers going into remission.

Scientists are now researching how to best attack that remaining stubborn minority of leukemias.

As a cell matures, it changes from a very basic, undifferentiated cell to developing characteristics that make it easier to recognize, and susceptible to specialized targeted drugs such as Gleevec (imatinib).

But cells early in the development process may be unaffected by cancer treatments.

"Ask your oncologist about beta catenin inhibitors."

Published results from a series of tests on mice show that combining Gleevec with beta-catenin inhibitors, which would target leukemic cells in early development, works well for eliminating that small toehold where the cancer still remains in the body, seemingly immune to treatment.

Widespread incorporation of the pharmaceutical Gleevec has shown good success in the treatment of leukemias, and the majority of patients with chronic myeloid leukemia have their cancer go into remission.

Unfortunately, the cancer comes back due to the small minority of the cancer cells still in the early stages of development which are not affected by imatinib.

Research into a new class of drug known as beta-catenin inhibitors shows promise in wiping out the remainder of cancerous cells in chronic myeloid leukemia, and results from initial research in using this new class of drug in the treatment of other types of cancer, such as colon cancer, have also had good results in clinical trials.

Beta-catenin is a protein involved in cellular signaling, and is one of the many molecules that play a role in cell growth and development. Large disruption of the signaling process could mean trouble, and blocking the beta catenin protein seems to stop some cancer cells from further growth.

Importantly, beta-catenin inhibitors have been linked to low levels of side effects, as healthy cells are relatively unaffected by their use. Cancerous cells, on the other hand, are especially sensitive to the drug, as they are more reliant on the cell growth pathway that is targeted.

Development of a reliable therapy for combining beta-catenin inhibitors with Gleevec is still underway as the drug is still experimental.

"It will take time because people with CML already do pretty well," Scott Armstrong MD/PhD, study author, stated.

"The appeal is that this pathway is important for the leukemia, but not for normal cells. It gives us an angle for therapy."

The article was published in the journal Stem Cell on April 6.

Review Date: 
April 25, 2012