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Drug tricks cancer cells to respond to chemo

March 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
It's the second deadliest cancer in men. One in six will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. Treatments are more effective than ever, but some patients reach a point where their cancer no longer responds to chemotherapy. Now, researchers have found a way to switch the chemo back on for these patients, and improve their chances.When Paul Roundy was diagnosed with prostate cancer five years ago, he approached it with the same determination that made him successful in business.

"Yes, I was very optimistic, although I was pretty much aware that prostate cancer does have a life of its own," said Roundy.

After surgery and years of treatment, Paul's chemo stopped working.

"The problem with chemo is that many patients do not respond to chemotherapy in the first place, and the patients that do respond stop responding after certain duration of treatment," said medical oncologist Dr. Rakesh Singal.

Dr. Singal discovered a gene necessary for chemotherapy to work. It's often shut off in cancer cells. He's testing a drug that would trick the cancer cells into responding to chemo. In trials, patients get the drug called Vidaza daily for five days before chemo.

"So this drug turns the gene on and the chemotherapy starts working again," said Dr. Singal.

So far Paul's PSA, a measure for prostate cancer, dropped from about 30 to three.

"You can't feel it in your body, but you can see the results and see the numbers as they come out every three weeks as the PSA continues to lower," said Roundy.

Positive signs that prove his fight is headed in the right direction.

Clinical trials of this gene activation therapy for prostate cancer are continuing at the University of Miami's Sylvester Cancer Center.

Researchers say the same kind of treatment could one day be used to treat other kinds of cancer that have become resistant to traditional drug therapy.