Treating Colon Cancer With Leukemia Drug

A study in mice suggests that the leukemia drug Imatinib could also be used to treat and prevent colon cancer.

AsianScientist (Apr. 7, 2015) – An existing chemotherapy drug used to treat leukemia could also be used prevent and control the growth of colorectal tumors, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine.

Colorectal cancer, or commonly referred to as colon cancer, is one of the three most common cancers worldwide and the most common in Singapore. Almost 95 percent of colorectal cancers are from malignant tumors.

The team of researchers from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Karolinska Institutet found that Imatinib, an enzyme blocker widely used to treat leukemia, works by blocking a signalling pathway related to a group of cell receptors called EphB. They showed that when used to treat mice with colon tumors, Imatinib was able to halve the growth of tumors in the intestines.

The finding is also significant as there is currently no drug available to prevent the recurrence of tumors in the intestine after the cancerous they have been removed by surgery.

One of the two principal investigators in the team of 13 international scientists was Sven Pettersson, Professor of Metabolic Disease at NTU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and Senior Principal Investigator with the National Cancer Centre Singapore.

“Our work has important clinical implications, since Imatinib is a potentially novel drug for the treatment of tumor formation and cancer progression in patients predisposed to develop colorectal cancer,” said Pettersson, who is also a Professor of Host-Microbe Interactions at Karolinska Institutet.

Dr. Parag Kundu, a senior research fellow with Pettersson’s lab and the first author of the study, said that in their tests, Imatinib was able to block tumor initiation at the stem cell level by half and significantly reduced tumor growth and proliferation.

“In mice which mimicked human colon cancer, Imatinib was shown to prolong their life span,” Kundu said. “The drug was also effective in increasing the survival of mice which had late-stage tumors and rectal bleeding.”

The same effects were also shown when Imatinib was tested on colon tumor tissues taken from human patients.

The EphB-signalling pathway. Credit: Kundu/Nanyang Technological University.
The EphB-signalling pathway. Credit: Kundu/Nanyang Technological University.

The scientists said these findings also suggest that short term intermittent chemotherapies could be possible as a treatment model, as this would substantially reduce the side effects known to occur when Imantinib is given for longer periods.

“Our findings provide experimental evidence that Imatinib treatment did not interfere with the tumor suppressor function of EphB receptors,” said Jonas Frisén, Professor of Stem Cell Research at Karolinska Institutet, who co-supervised the study.

This is beneficial as EphB receptors also function to keep the tumor intact, which prevents cancerous cells from spreading to surrounding tissue should the tumor break apart.

The article can be found at: Kundu et al. (2015) An EphB-Abl Signaling Pathway Is Associated With Intestinal Tumor Initiation And Growth.


Source: Nanyang Technological University.
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