British scientists at University of Cambridge say they may have found a more efficient treatment of pancreatic cancer after promising early trial results of an experimental drug combination.
Giving the chemotherapy agent gemcitabine with an experimental drug called MRK003 sets off a chain of events that ultimately kills cancer cells, studies in mice show.
Patients are now testing the treatment to see if it will work for them.
The Cancer Research UK-funded trials are being carried out in Cambridge.
Father-of-two Richard Griffiths, 41, from Coventry, has been on the trial since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May 2011.
“After six cycles of treatment, a scan showed the tumours had reduced and so I have continued with the treatment,” Richard Griffiths said.
“The trial gives you hope – I really feel I can do this with the science behind me.”
Cancer Research UK says it is prioritizing research into pancreatic cancer because the survival rate still remains dismally low.
Survival rates in pancreatic cancer are very low in relation to other cancers, and the length of time between diagnosis and death is typically short, usually less than six months.
The most recent data for UK show that about 16% of patients survive the disease beyond 12 months after diagnosis – prompting the need for new treatments.
Professor Duncan Jodrell, who is leading the trials at the University of Cambridge, said: “We’re delighted that the results of this important research are now being evaluated in a clinical trial, to test whether this might be a new treatment approach for patients with pancreatic cancer, although it will be some time before we’re able to say how successful this will be in patients.”
In total, about 60 patients with advanced pancreatic cancer will be recruited for the first Phase I/II clinical trial.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge suggest that abnormalities in the brain may make some people more likely to become drug addicts.
The researchers found the same differences in the brains of addicts and their non-addicted brothers and sisters.
The study, published in the journal Science, suggested addiction is in part a “disorder of the brain”.
Other experts said the non-addicted siblings offered hope of new ways of teaching addicts “self-control”.
It has long been established that the brains of drug addicts have some differences to other people, but explaining that finding has been more difficult.
Scientists were unsure whether drugs changed the wiring of the brain or if drug addicts’ brains were wired differently in the first place.
This study, funded by the Medical Research Council, attempted to answer that by comparing the brains of 50 cocaine or crack addicts with the brain of their brother or sister, who had always been clean.
Both the addicts and the non-addict siblings had the same abnormalities in the region of the brain which controls behavior, the fronto-striatal systems.
The suggestion is that these brains may be “hard-wired” for addiction in the first place.
Lead researcher Dr. Karen Ersche said: “It has long been known that not everyone who takes drugs becomes addicted.
“It shows that drug addiction is not a choice of lifestyle, it is a disorder of the brain and we need to recognize this.”
However, the non-addicted siblings had a very different life despite sharing the same susceptibility.
“These brothers and sisters who don’t have addiction problems, what they can tell us is how they overcome these problems, how they manage self-control in their daily life,” Dr. Karen Ersche said.
Dr. Paul Keedwell, a consultant psychiatrist at Cardiff University, said: “Addiction, like most psychiatric disorders, is the product of nature and nurture.
“We need to follow up people over time to quantify the relative risk of nature versus nurture.”
It is possible that the similarities in the sibling’s brains may not be down to genetics, but rather growing up in the same household. Research on the relationship between addiction and the structure of the brain is far from over.
However, many specialists believe these findings open up new avenues for treatment.
“If we could get a handle on what makes unaffected relatives of addicts so resilient we might be able to prevent a lot of addiction from taking hold,” said Dr. Paul Keedwell.
The chief pharmacist for Derbyshire Mental Health Trust, David Branford, said the study, “implies that addiction does not produce noticeable changes to brain structure and function which means that there may be provision for looking at new treatment techniques for addiction”.
Prof. Les Iversen, from the department of pharmacology at the University of Oxford, said: “These new findings reinforce the view that the propensity to addiction is dependent on inherited differences in brain circuitry, and offer the possibility of new ways of treating high-risk individuals to develop better <<self control>>.”