Tuesday, 24 November 2009

British scientists have 'created a new drug that 'kills' leukaemia

British scientists have 'created a new drug that 'kills' leukaemia - even in worst affected adults', reported the Daily Mail.

Although the Daily Mail s headline may suggest that this drug has been tested in humans, this was not the case. As explained much further down the article, this research is at a very early stage. In laboratory experiments, the chemical showed some potential as it killed cancer cells that were resistant to existing drug treatments.

However, much more research would be needed to identify how safe and effective this drug is in animals before it could be tested in humans. Many drugs that show promise in the lab are proven unsafe or ineffective in later animal testing.
This is early research and any potential treatment using this chemical is a long way off.

Where did the story come from?

The research was carried out by Dr Anthony M McElligott and colleagues at Trinity College Dublin and other centres in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Italy. It was published in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer Research. The research was funded by Enterprise Ireland, Cancer Research Ireland and the Higher Education Authority of Ireland.

The newspapers correctly reported that the development of this drug is at an early stage and that it may be years before it can be used. However, the Daily Mail s headline that the drug ' kills leukaemia even in worst affected adults' may lead people to believe that this drug has been tested in patients, which is not the case. Headlines in other news sources, such as BBC News and The Daily Telegraph, are more accurate and simply state that the drug has been shown to kill leukaemia cells.

What kind of research was this?

This laboratory study looked at the effects of a chemical called PBOX-15 (pyrrolo-1,5-benzoxazepine-15) on leukaemia cells extracted from people with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). The authors say that new treatments are needed for CLL, particularly for patients who do not respond well to existing therapies.

There are many stages in developing and testing potential new drugs. Laboratory studies such as this one are used to identify the effects of the drug on affected cells and tissues. This is important for directing further study but cannot reliably predict what other effects a drug such as PBOX-15 might have in a living body. This study will need to be followed up with research in animals to assess how safe and effective the drug might be in humans.

What did the research involve?

The researchers took blood samples from 55 patiens with CLL who had not yet begun treatment for their condition. From these samples, white blood cells affected by leukaemia were isolated in the laboratory and exposed to PBOX-15 to see whether they died.

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