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Breakthrough test promises to cut cancer trauma


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Breakthrough test promises to cut cancer trauma

Kate Benson, Medical Reporter

October 8, 2007


A SYDNEY scientist has created a world-first test which could save or extend the lives of cancer patients by drastically reducing the trauma of chemotherapy - and make tens of millions of dollars for the University of NSW.

The test uses a dye to determine whether cancer cells are being destroyed, allowing for rapid changes in treatment and eliminating one of the most traumatic aspects of the cancer patient's ordeal: long, debilitating chemotherapy courses that can be found months later to be a waste of time.

Professor Philip Hogg, the director of the university's NSW Cancer Research Centre, has developed a family of molecules which attach themselves to dying or dead cancer cells, allowing doctors to determine if a particular course of treatment is working within 24 hours of the first dose.

The US pharmaceutical giant Covidien has bought the development rights in an undisclosed worldwide deal worth tens of millions of dollars in royalties to the university. It hopes to have the dye on the market within five years.

Patients receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy now have to undergo a full cycle of treatment, which can take up to six months, before doctors can determine whether the tumour has been reduced or has grown.

Professor Hogg said the dye would stop patients suffering unnecessarily from side effects if their combination of cytotoxic drugs proved ineffective. It would also allow doctors to personalise treatment.

"Chemotherapy has three outcomes - the tumour is reduced, stays the same, or it grows and spreads - but we have no way of knowing which way things are going until the end of a cycle of treatment, or several cycles," he said.

"If, at the end of a cycle, we find out the tumour has not been reduced, the oncologist must prescribe a new combination of drugs, or a different treatment, and the patient starts again. This means patients go through a lot of trauma and many don't have the time to waste on ineffective therapies."

Patients would be injected with the dye within 24 to 48 hours after the first dose of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. A CT scan would then show any dead or dying cancer cells. If there were none, or less than expected, an oncologist could immediately change the treatment.

"This discovery stems from more than 10 years of research focused on the design of molecular probes to study cellular processes," Professor Hogg said.

"We were working on another project when we found that these molecules attached to dead, cultured cells, so we decided to follow our noses and see where it took us. It is very exciting to be able to tailor treatment and to prevent people from the trauma of going through a chemotherapy cycle for months only to find out it didn't work."

Professor Hogg said clinical trials would begin within two years, but the dye was expected to work on all solid tumours, such as lung, breast, colon and prostate cancers. It would not be suitable for leukaemia.

Mark Bennett, the chief executive of NewSouth Innovations, which brokered the deal, said he was thrilled with Professor Hogg's discovery. He said the deal validated the university's cancer research expertise.

Covidien believes the dye could also be used for people suffering strokes and heart attacks.

This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2007/10/ ... 39428.html

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