Old drugs bring new hope for the treatment of an aggressive form of childhood cancer
May 23, 2013
Researchers at Children's Cancer Institute have discovered that beta-blockers, traditionally used in the treatment of hypertension, can increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy in childhood cancers, such as neuroblastoma.
In a study published in the British Journal of Cancer today, Children’s Cancer Institute scientists have shown that combining standard chemotherapy with beta-blockers can enhance the effectiveness of the chemotherapy.
Dr Eddy Pasquier, lead author of the study at Children’s Cancer Institute, initiated the project after receiving the Balnaves Foundation Young Researcher of the Year grant in 2010.
“Beta-blockers are drugs that are used in the clinic to treat high blood pressure. Retrospective studies have recently suggested that the use of beta-blockers in cancer patients may be associated with clinical benefits. We therefore asked the question: Could beta-blockers be directly combined with chemotherapy to increase its efficacy in hard-to-treat cancers?” says Dr Pasquier.
“What we’ve shown is that these drugs – which are very cheap and non-toxic – can increase the efficacy of certain types of chemotherapy used in the treatment of neuroblastoma – a particularly aggressive form of childhood cancer – by promoting their capacity to block the formation of blood vessels within the tumour.
“This is an exciting discovery on two levels: 1) the development of a more effective treatment for neuroblastoma and 2) the possibility of actually reducing the amount of chemotherapy administered to patients.
“Increasing the efficacy of chemotherapy through the use of beta-blockers means we can get the same anti-tumour effect with a lower dose of chemotherapy. Wherever possible we are working towards reducing the toxicity of children’s cancer treatment and minimising the short-term and long-term side effects of the chemotherapy,” says Dr Pasquier.
Dr Pasquier is hopeful that by working closely with colleagues at Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick and clinicians around the world, clinical studies can be designed to test the potential of this new approach for neuroblastoma tumours and rapidly improve treatments for children.
About Children’s Cancer Institute
Originally founded by two fathers of children with cancer in 1976, Children’s Cancer Institute is the only independent medical research institute in Australia wholly dedicated to research into the causes, prevention and cure of childhood cancer. Forty years on, our vision remains unchanged – to save the lives of all children with cancer and to eliminate their suffering. The Institute has grown to now employ more than 220 researchers, operational staff and students, and has established a national and international reputation for scientific excellence.
Our focus is on translational research, and we have an integrated team of laboratory researchers and clinician scientists who work together in partnership to discover new treatments which can be progressed from the lab bench to the beds of children on wards in our hospitals as quickly as possible. These new treatments are specifically targeting childhood cancers, so we can develop safer and more effective drugs and drug combinations that will minimise side-effects and ultimately give children with cancer the best chance of a cure with the highest possible quality of life.
We are currently leading the establishment of the Zero Childhood Cancer national child cancer personalised medicine program for children with the most aggressive cancers, in partnership with the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network. This program will revolutionise the way treatment decisions are made, with the aim of improving survivorship for those children at highest risk of treatment failure from their disease.