Malaria Drug Successfully Treated Chemotherapy-Resistant Brain Cancer
Researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center have devised a new drug combination that can both stabilize and increase the quality and quantity of life of patients suffering from aggressive glioblastoma, which is considered to be one of the deadliest form of brain cancer.
Their findings, described in the paper published in the journal eLife, showed that adding the anti-malaria drug chloroquine to the treatment made the cancer cells, which became resistant to chemotherapy and targeted treatments, to be more vulnerable to targeted treatments.
"We have treated three patients with the combination and all three have had a clinical benefit. It's really exciting - sometimes you don't see that kind of response with an experimental treatment," said first author Jean Mulcahy-Levy, MD, investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and pediatric oncologist at Children's Hospital Colorado, in a press release.
One of the patients being treated with the new drug combination is 26-year-old Lisa Rosendahl. Lisa was first diagnosed with brain cancer when she was 21.
Previously, vemurafenib was effective against the cancer cells in Liza's brain. However, a certain BRAFV600E mutation made the tumor to be dependent in autophagy. Autophagy is the process of cellular recycling in which unneeded cellular component were broken down into building blocks of energy and proteins. The broken down cellular components can be then used by the cell during times of low energy.
Additionally, autophagy could also make cells safe from poisons and different pathogens, making the cancer cells resistant to targeted treatments.
The anti-malaria drug chloroquine has the ability to inhibit autophagy. As the chloroquine began to nix the autophagy, the vemurafenib began to work again. The drug combination made the cancer cells in Liza's brain smaller.
With the positive result of the new drug combination, the researchers noted that the adding autophagy inhibition to targeted treatments may have benefits beyond glioblastoma and beyond only BRAF+ cancers.