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Kill the cancer, not the patient: New toxicity testing approach could make chemo drugs safer
Date:11/18/2009

For cancer patients on chemotherapy, the "cure" can be as deadly as the disease itself. Adverse drug reactions are one of the leading causes of death among patients receiving cancer treatment.

Jackson Laboratory Professor Gary Churchill wants to change that. With a new two-year, $1 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, Churchill is launching a radical new approach to testing three chemotherapeutic drugs for potential toxic effects.

Chemo drugs are supposed to be toxicto cancer cells. But they're notorious for their unpredictable effectiveness and for causing systemic toxic reactions in patients.

"Adverse drug reactions can be difficult to study in humans," Churchill says. "Every individual is genetically unique and lives in an uncontrolled environment. That's why we need animal model systems to fully understand the genetic basis of drug response."

Testing chemo drugs in animal models is not new, but Churchill's approach is. Instead of working with one hybrid strain of mouse, as is the pharmaceutical industry standard, The Jackson Laboratory is developing a new mouse variety that is designed to maximize genetic diversity. Each one of these "Diversity Outbred Mice" will be genetically unique and, as a whole, the population approximates the genetic diversity observed in human populations.

To develop the Diversity Outbred Mice, Churchill is teaming up with Neal Goodwin, Ph.D., who directs cancer studies at JAXWest, The Jackson Laboratory's facility in Sacramento, Calif.

Sophisticated genetic mapping and live-animal imaging techniques will enable Churchill and Goodwin to home in on the gene variations found in mice that exhibit a toxic reaction. "So in terms of the information we're getting, it's almost like testing chemo drugs on every person on Earth," Churchill says. "This sets the scene for future, highly reliable screens for cancer patients."

The three drugs in the studydoxorubicin, cy
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Contact: Joyce Peterson
joyce.peterson@jax.org
207-288-6058
Jackson Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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