News of the WeekCancer Research

A New Way to Combat Therapy Side Effects

Science  10 Sep 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5434, pp. 1651-1653
DOI: 10.1126/science.285.5434.1651a

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On page 1733, a team reports that it has identified a novel compound that may protect against the side effects that sometimes limit the doses of radiation or chemotherapeutic drugs that cancer patients can take. The researchers found that the compound, called pifithrin-a, allows both cells and mice to withstand doses of radiation and chemotherapeutic drugs that would otherwise kill them. It apparently does this by inhibiting the cell death or growth arrest that would normally be induced by p53, a protein turned on in response to the DNA damage caused by the cancer treatments. For that reason, pifithrin-a may protect all vulnerable tissues, but its use would likely be limited to the roughly 50% of cancer patients whose tumors no longer have a functional p53 gene.