Collaboration could lead to new treatment for rare blood cancer

Scientists at OMRF and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York are hoping to teach an old drug new tricks in the fight against a rare and deadly blood cancer.

OMRF researcher Lijun Xia, M.D., Ph.D., and Weill Cornell clinician Jia Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., collaborated on a study of the drug lenalidomide for use in mantle cell lymphoma (MCL). Their work appears in the journal Cancer Research. Lenalidomide is a derivative of an anti-nausea medication called thalidomide, which was linked to more than 10,000 birth defects in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

“Mantle cell lymphoma is an extremely aggressive form of cancer, and patients have little chance of survival,” Xia said.

About 15,000 Americans have MCL, which usually occurs in middle-aged or older adults. Small and medium-sized cancer cells appear in the lymph nodes, blood, bone marrow and gastrointestinal system. Life expectancy after diagnosis ranges from 3 to 6 years.

Xia said that in mouse models of MCL, the drug was very effective at inhibiting lymphatic vessel growth, which slows the growth and spread of tumors.

“What we found was it didn’t directly inhibit the lymphatic cells, but it interrupts the process early on, which puts the brakes on the cancer,” he said.

Lenalidomide is currently under clinical trials for human MCL and has shown significant anti-tumor effects. This study reveals a novel mechanism showing how the anti-tumor drug works. By bringing clarity to the drug’s role in slowing the cancer, he said they could find other uses for the medication.

“Could this work in other cancers? We want to know,” he said.

Others contributing to the research were OMRF scientists Kai Song, Ph.D., Brett Herzog, Ph.D., Jianxin Fu, M.D., Ph.D., and Hong Chen, Ph.D.

Funding for the research was provided by grants No. HL085607 and K08HL091517 from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and No. GM103441 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.