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New Leukemia Drug for Promises to Help Older Patients

Monday, December 29, 2008 at 5:36 AM

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Ohio state University researchers may have found a new weapon against a common form of Leukemia. The drug is called decitabine (duh-SIGH-tuh-bean), and scientists hope it may one day give older patients a better hope for survival. Gretchen Cuda reports.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia or AML is a form of Leukemia most common in patients over 60.  But the massive doses of chemotherapy needed to treat the disease make many elderly, sick and frail patients sicker.  And it doesn’t even work that well - less than 10 percent of patients treated live beyond five years.  Consequently doctors and many patients often chose no treatment at all explains William Blum, a cancer researcher at Ohio State University.

BLUM: Really only about 30 or 40 percent of adults with AML get treated and that’s because people think well, why should I treat them? They’re not going to survive this.

But Blum and his colleagues at OSU are working on a drug that they hope will be both gentler and more effective. Blum says that where conventional chemotherapy is kind of like dropping an atom bomb on Leukemia cells - the new drug, simply “reprograms” them, by switching genes ON that the disease has switched OFF.  The theory is that genes that keep cells from growing uncontrollably and becoming cancerous are not damaged like previously thought.

BLUM: The gene’s fine - it’s just silenced.

And the drug removes the muzzle that’s keeping those important genes quiet. It’s currently in clinical trials, and researchers say that patients who were too ill for chemotherapy are demonstrating remission rates similar to chemotherapy patients, with fewer side-effects.

Gretchen Cuda, 90.3

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