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Study Suggests How Some Cancers Resist Treatment
Date:4/1/2010

Finding shows drug resistance can be lost, treatment can work again

THURSDAY, April 1 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have identified a mechanism by which certain tumor cells that become resistant to cancer drugs can later lose that resistance.

The discovery may lead to new ways to combat drug resistance in cancer patients, said the authors of the new study, published online April 1 in the journal Cell.

Although the existence of these drug-resistant cells has been common knowledge, scientists "now understand a little bit better how those cells work so they can attack them," said Robert Clarke, a professor of oncology and physiology and biophysics at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C.

Study senior author Jeffrey Settleman, scientific director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said: "One of the big problems with cancer drug therapy is acquired drug resistance. Most treatments, even ones that work, fail over time because tumors become drug-resistant. It's been largely assumed, and in some cases even demonstrated, that random gene changes confer a lot of that resistance."

But some tumors become susceptible to the cancer drugs after a "drug holiday," indicating that other mechanisms are at play.

"There's a population of cells that's resistant but the resistance is not necessarily maintained forever," Clarke noted.

"This suggests that the resistance is not genetic but could be reversible," added Settleman.

Using models of drug-resistant cells, the study authors found a subpopulation of tumor cells that managed to escape the effects of cancer drugs even when given at levels 100 times greater than those that would kill most cells.

The authors tested a number of different drugs, including gefitinib (Iressa), which is used to treat lung cancer, and lapatinib {T
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