Drug that mimics vitamin D hormone may boost effectiveness of prostate cancer treatment

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. A drug designed to mimic the effects of Vitamin D hormone may be able to boost the effectiveness of radiation treatment for prostate cancer, report researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in the current on-line edition of the British Journal of Cancer.

"About 30 percent of men with locally advanced prostate cancer fail radiation therapy because the cancerous cells become resistant to treatment," said Constantinos Koumenis, Ph.D., lead researcher. "Any agent that increases the cancer cells' sensitivity to radiation, without significantly affecting normal cells, would be of great benefit."

Increasing radiation dose is not always a treatment option because it can affect urinary, bowel and sexual function. In laboratory studies, Wake Forest researchers found that Zemplar, a drug manufactured to mimic vitamin D hormone (the active form of vitamin D) worked in synergy with radiation therapy to kill cancer cells and prevent cancer cell multiplication, while having little effect on normal cells.

With the combination of Zemplar and external beam radiation therapy, researchers were able to lower the radiation dose by 2.4 times and get the same results as when radiation was the sole treatment.

"These results are very promising, but they must be duplicated in animal studies before being tested in humans," said Koumenis, an assistant professor of radiation oncology.

The Wake Forest study is the first to show that Zemplar can sensitize cancer cells to radiation treatment. Previous laboratory studies showed that the drug can reduce the proliferation, or growth, of tumor cells.

Zemplar is one of several drugs designed to mimic vitamin D hormone, and is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is used to treat high levels of parathyroid hormone and is being studied as a cancer treatment. Vitamin D hormone, also known as calcitriol, is not itself a viable treatment because in large doses it ca

Contact: Karen Richardson
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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