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Researchers Test Thalidomide Derivative to Extend Leukemia Remission

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Madison, Wisconsin - A new generation of the drug thalidomide is being tested at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for its anti-cancer properties.


Clinical trials are underway on lenalidomide to see if longer remissions for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients are possible. CLL is an incurable but treatable form of leukemia. The two clinical trials involve previously untreated patients and CLL patients who have been treated in the past.


Enrollment is limited to adults without kidney problems, other active cancers or other serious medical conditions.


“One major challenge we have in treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia is that although chemotherapy can help patients achieve remission, the remissions tend to be much shorter compared to other blood diseases,” said Dr. Julie Chang, principal investigator for the clinical trials.


Thalidomide has anti-cancer properties but also a number of side effects. Typically, the most frequent side effect is peripheral neuropathy or nerve damage that can cause pain and affect sensation and movement. Chang said lenalidomide was formulated to retain the cancer-fighting properties of thalidomide but to eliminate many of the side effects.


In the clinical trials, patients are given a combination of lenalidomide and rituximab for two years post-chemotherapy.


“We are not sure exactly how lenalidomide works. But it seems to inhibit tumors from establishing. We want to see if the combination of drugs will delay the time to loss of remission,” said Chang, an assistant professor of medicine (hematology and oncology) at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.


“Lenalidomide has already demonstrated activity in patients who have received prior treatment for CLL,” said Chang. “Other studies have shown lenalidomide to be effective as a single drug and in combination with rituximab. Our studies are novel because we’re looking at this combination as a maintenance therapy after chemotherapy.”


According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the second-most common type of leukemia in adults. In CLL, there are too many lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, that crowd out healthy blood cells.


For more information on the clinical trials, call (608) 263-6005.

Date Published: 03/07/2014

News tag(s):  researchcancer

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Researchers Test Thalidomide Derivative to Extend Leukemia Remission

Last updated: 03/10/2014
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