Originally developed in the 20th Century, Chemotherapy is one of the most widely-used cancer treatments.
Interestingly enough, chemotherapy was discovered by accident when scientists during World War II found that soldiers who had been injured by nitrogen mustard were struggling to produce normal white blood cell counts.
By the mid-40s, researchers from Yale began investigating potential therapeutic methods of using the very same mustard agents to treat lymphoma. They began by testing mice with established lymphomas, proving that it was possible to control and curb the growth of the cancerous cells.
Over the course of the following decades further progress was made in the field with scientists from both sides of the Atlantic contributing to this innovative new world of treatment by poison. In the late 40s, researchers from Harvard developed folate analogues to battle folic acid, whilst Eli Lilly discovered that plant alkaloids extracted from Vinca rosea and other similar plants, could also prove beneficial to treating Hodgkin’s disease and leukaemia in children.
But what is the current state of chemotherapy – is it still as relevant as it once was? Do we need to reevaluate its importance in the modern health climate?
Breast Cancer Patients Might Not Need Chemo
For decades chemotherapy has been considered as one of the go-to treatments for cancer. Despite the damage that it has on the body, medical professionals have deemed it to be one of the best treatments available, especially for breast cancer.
But a recent study from Harvard Medical School has suggested otherwise. It’s been estimated that of the 23,000 UK women who are diagnosed with the most frequently diagnosed form of breast cancer each year, less than a third would actually need chemotherapy.
Using genetic testing, this research has identified certain groups of women who are able to receive alternate treatment thereby saving them from the considerable discomfort of many of the side effects of chemotherapy which include: vomiting, nausea, loss of hair and a failure with the immune system. Being able to safely determine which patients will benefit from chemo and which won’t should prove instrumental in reducing costs for the NHS, as well as increasing overall patient care.
International trial re-purposes accidental poisoning drug
In the world of medicine the solution to a problem can often be right under your nose the whole time, or at least that’s what Professor Micheal Sullivan from the University of Melbourne found after discovering that doses of sodium thiosulfate (STS) could significantly reduce hearing loss in children being treated with popular chemotherapy drug Cisplatin.
Although it’s known as one of the best treatment drugs for many types of childhood cancer it typically causes 66% of patients to suffer some form of hearing loss.
STS, which is usually used to treat accidental cyanide poisoning works can be administered quickly and serves to protect the hair cells in the inner ear which are vulnerable to damage during Cisplatin-based treatment. A reduction of hearing loss was found to occur just six hours after STS was administered to patients without hampering the cancer treatment. Thanks to the extensive pool of 116 subjects used for a clinical trial led by Professor Peppy Brock from Great Ormon Street Children’s Hospital, Professor Sullivan can now begin using STS for this purpose immediately.