A West Virginia-led team of researchers may have found a way to control the spread of rapidly growing cancers, including melanoma. The findings were published last month in the online journal Laboratory Investigation and suggest new combinations of therapies may be more effective in treating fast-growing cancers than current practices.
The researchers found that prevailing cancer treatments aren’t actually targeting rapidly growing cancer stem cells. Also, front-line therapies can be initially effective, but they often become ineffective and the cancer starts growing again.
So they decided to add an antibody to a protein called a nodal that is known to be active in early aggressive cell development. Antibodies are used by the immune system to fight undesirable bacteria and viruses.
“What we have discovered is if you can treat an aggressive cancer with a drug that kills most of the cells, and then come back and treat the remaining cells with something that destroys or inhibits the nodal in those cells, you’ll have a better effect on the aggressive cancer, and you have a stronger chance to live longer and survive the aggressive cancer,” said Richard Seftor, one of the WVU laboratory partners and coauthors of the study.
“These are new and novel findings that advance the field and hopefully give us new strategies for treating metastatic melanoma,” explained Shepherd University president Mary Hendrix, who led the team. Metastatic basically means a cancer that can spread beyond the tumor to other parts of the body. When cancer spreads – that’s when it can become deadly.
The method was tested in an animal subject and has not yet been brought to human trials. But it’s not that far away from getting there.
“Over the last few years, we have worked closely with a number of pharmaceutical companies to develop ways to potentially create antibodies and/or drug treatments that will decrease or slow down the process of cancer,” said Seftor.
Seftor said although the paper focuses specifically on melanoma, the treatment protocol they are developing could have implications for a number of fast-growing cancers.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation.