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Researchers are developing new drug treatments that help children fight cancer by unleashing their immune systems on weakened tumours.
The drugs, which have the potential to treat a range of different childhood cancers – including leukaemia, and diseases of the bones, brain and nerves, could be used to spare children the harsh side-effects of chemotherapy.
The drugs work by making cancer cells more vulnerable to attack by the immune system’s natural killer (NK) cells. At the same time, they cause NK cells to become better at targeting tumours.
Scientists at the University of Texas studied their effects on laboratory-grown tissue cultures and found that combining NK cells with the drugs produced a potent combination.
One drug, MS-275, increased the ability of NK cells to target stress signals emitted by osteosarcoma cells, the most common type of malignant bone cancer. Two other drugs, Bortezomib and NPI-0052, were found to have similar effects on leukaemia cells and neuroblastoma, a cancer that affects nerve tissue.
Further research is being conducted on acute lymphocytic leukaemia, the most common cancer in children, and medulloblastoma, the most common childhood brain cancer.
The research was presented to the annual meeting of the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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