Recently, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Boston is doing a small clinical trial involving volunteers with advanced pancreatic cancer. The study observed the ability of a commonly used anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, to slow down the growth of the aggressive malignancy.
The results of the study will be published in the April issue of Genes & Development and has been posted on the journal’s website.
After experiments in which lab mice, the team led by Dr. Alec Kimmelman embarked on the clinical trial that mimic human pancreatic cancer were treated with the drug.
Dr. Ronald DePinho, director of the Belfer Institute for Applied Cancer Science at Dana-Farber, said: “While these findings are indeed exciting and a cause for optimism, one needs to be mindful that so far the effects, while impressive, have only been shown in mice,”
Kimmelman and his team started their researches with hydroxychloroquine because it has been shown to block a cellular process known as autophagy.
Autophagy helps weed out damaged and aging cells by causing them to break apart. This creates what essentially is survival food for cells under stress such as being bombarded with chemotherapy drugs and other forms of cancer treatment.
Researchers believe autophagy can help cancer cells resists doctors’ efforts to kill them. The Dana-Farber team, however, found out that pancreatic cancer cells are always engaged in autophagy, not merely when they are under stress such as a lack of nutrients.
“This was a big surprise,” Kimmelman said. “These cells weren’t deprived of nutrients; they were swimming in all the nutrients they could ever want.”