The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded $1.7 million to support the work of a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) researcher in developing a therapy that can preserve bone health, and prevent or delay cancer relapse in people with multiple myeloma.
This form of blood cancer causes malignant cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, the soft spongy tissue found inside bones, progressively damaging the bones and causing them to become weaker and more prone to fractures.
At the same time, by living inside bones, the myeloma cells are harder to eliminate — the bone tissues shield them from cancer-killing therapies. That “protection” allows these cells to remain inside bones in a dormant state for long periods of time, until external conditions are ideal for them to become active and cause a relapse.
The awardee, Jesus Delgado-Calle, PhD, an assistant professor at UAMS, will attempt to develop a new form of bone therapy for multiple myeloma that focuses on maintaining bone health and breaking the interaction between cancer cells and their bone microenvironment. The ultimate result could be the prevention or delay of cancer relapses.
“The goal is to slow tumor growth, control dormant cancer cells, repair bone damaged by the disease, and avoid some of the toxic effects of chemotherapy within the body’s systems,” Delgado-Calle said in a university press release.
In his research, Delgado-Calle will investigate the therapeutic potential of two different drugs: one designed to break the interaction between myeloma cells and the bone microenvironment; and the other to enhance bone rebuilding in patients with the disease.
“We will study the effectiveness of a novel bone-targeted drug designed by our lab to interrupt the signaling pathway between cancer cells and tumor’s microenvironment to decrease tumor growth and relapse of the disease,” he said.
The second drug, which has shown promising efficacy at restoring bone mass in patients with osteoporosis, uses an antibody to neutralize sclerostin, a protein that normally prevents bone formation and is overly produced in bones containing myeloma cells.
“We will test whether a combination of those two bone-directed agents given together decreases tumor growth, prevents or delays relapse and encourages bone repair,” the researcher said.
According to Delgado-Calle, next steps in the project include investigating how both drugs interact with other treatments commonly used to treat myeloma patients, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and assessing their effects on animal models.
He also added that because these drugs specifically target bone tissues, the toxicity they might pose to other tissues and organs could be reduced. These therapies may be useful to treat other types of cancer that often invade bones tissues at later stages of development, such as breast or prostate cancers.
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