Combining drugs ‘may extend lives of children with incurable brain cancer’

Experts believe that combining two powerful drugs could extend the lives of children with incurable brain cancer.

The lab found that two existing treatments for leukemia and melanoma cancer slow the growth of DIPG brain tumors (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma).

Scientists will do more work before testing the combination in a clinical trial on children, but they hope the therapy can be put into practice soon.

DIPG tumors develop in the brain stem and are very aggressive and mainly affect children between the ages of five and ten years.

There is no cure and most children die within 18 months of being diagnosed.

The disease is rare, affecting around 20 to 30 children in the UK each year.

In the new study, scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, found that the combination of two existing drugs was effective against cells that had developed resistance to a single drug treatment.

The drugs are called MEK inhibitors, and they often work well against tumors before the cancer becomes resistant to treatment.

The researchers looked at an MEK inhibitor called trametinib in mice and found that it had little effect on its own.

Further work showed that the enzymes MEK 1 or MEK 2 were involved in the development of resistance.

The researchers then tried using a drug, dasatinib, that could block these enzymes, along with trametinib, to treat DIPG cells from mice.

They found that the combination of the two drugs, each with a different mechanism of action, slowed tumor growth in cells that were resistant to trametinib when used alone.

The combination was able to reduce the growth of cancer cells grown on mouse brain tissue by over 60%.

Chris Jones, Professor of Pediatric Brain Cancer Biology at the ICR, said, “We have grown tumor samples from children with brain tumors in the laboratory to really understand the biology of their disease.

“We now have a much better understanding of how DIPG brain tumors can mutate and how they can develop resistance to treatment with a single drug.

“It has enabled us to find a new combination treatment for this terrible disease that we hope could be successful.

“Our results need further validation in the laboratory, but since we are using existing approved drugs that we know are safe, we hope it won’t be long before the new treatment enters clinical trials.

“These promising results have encouraged us to continue to analyze patient samples and model their response to treatment as they show how specific some of the treatments we need to develop are.

“We hope to identify more new combinations that can benefit children with DIPG tumors that carry other DNA mutations.”

Professor Kristian Helin, Executive Director of the Institute, said, “Cancer’s ability to develop in order to become resistant to treatment is one of the greatest challenges we face in developing effective targeted cancer therapies.

“But if we can identify the mechanisms of resistance, as in this study, we can stay one step ahead of cancer by suggesting new treatments or drug combinations that can keep patients alive and healthy for much longer.

“It is critical that we can continue to find ways to overcome the adaptive and evolving capacities of childhood cancer like DIPG – so that we can develop new treatments for young cancer patients who need them so badly.”

The study, published in the journal Cancer Discovery, was funded by a number of cancer charities, including Christopher’s Smile, Abbie’s Army, Islastones Foundation, the CRIS Cancer Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Children with Cancer UK, and the Ollie Young Foundation.

More stories from where you live can be found at Near you.


Leave a Comment