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Novel, even unlikely drugs may curb childhood leukemia

Philadelphia, Pa.While survival rates for childhood leukemias have soared in the past 30 years, about a quarter of pediatric cases remain stubbornly resistant to treatment. As a new attack strategy, scientists are adapting recent discoveries about cell development to coax leukemia cells back to normal growth patterns or to reprogram them into committing suicide.

"Reaching the next level of leukemia treatment will require many new approaches that draw upon our expanding knowledge about how healthy cells differentiate during normal growth and development," said Beverly Lange, M.D., director of experimental therapeutics within the Division of Oncology at The Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, who is an expert in these new attack strategies.

Unlike conventional cancer drugs, the newer drugs are based on detailed knowledge of cellular mechanisms that can be used to manipulate cancer cells in a way that is gentler to surrounding healthy cells.

Oncologists at Childrens Hospital are investigating a number of novel, even unlikely, drugs as highly specific, less toxic weapons against childhood leukemia. For example:
-- A form of vitamin A is being used to reprogram a cancer cell into becoming a harmless, normal white blood cell.
-- Borrowing from its use in traditional Chinese medicine, carefully controlled doses of arsenic can trigger cancer cells to commit suicide by mimicking the normal developmental process of "apoptosis," or programmed cell death.
-- A new type of leukemia drug, the bioengineered compound Glivec, can block the genetic signals that direct cancer cells to grow, while leaving normal cells largely unharmed.
-- The naturally occurring protein interleukin-2 may kick-start the bodys immune system to better fight leukemia.

Taming cancer cells

Some experimental new treatments rely on methods that neutralize or disrupt cancer cells rather than killing them outright in a frontal attack. "Most conventional ca
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Contact: John Ascenzi
ascenzi@email.chop.edu
215-590-7332
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
14-May-2001


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