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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 00:12 GMT
Therapy shrinks advanced tumours
The compound is used to identify tumours on x-ray-type images
Scientists have successfully shrunk tumours by blitzing them with high doses of a compound previously only used to locate cancers.

A team from the University of Michigan gave high doses of the compound to 11 children who had previously failed to respond to treatment for a type of tumour known as a neuroblastoma.

They found all the children responded well, and that the treatment, which appears to be able to shrink the tumours, produced no significant side effects.

We hope MIBG will ultimately help treat and perhaps cure many patients

Dr Gregory Yanik, University of Michigan
A radioactive form of the compound, MIBG, has been used for the past two decades to find and classify certain types of cancer.

It has also been used as a treatment in lower doses, but with a lesser degree of success.

Lead researcher Dr Gregory Yanik said: "MIBG can act as a tumor bullet, specifically targeting the neuroblastoma itself, sparing other parts of the body from complications or side effects.

"Because of this, we hope that with further research MIBG will ultimately help treat and perhaps cure many patients with neuroblastoma."

The high dose MIBG was combined with more standard chemotherapy treatment.

Because the patients were given such high doses of MIBG they required bone marrow transplants following treatment an assurance against damage to marrow that may have occurred during their treatment.

The therapy produced partial remission in three children and complete remission in eight others.

All were aged 2 to 14 years and were suffering from advanced, or persistent, neuroblastoma.

The MIBG treatment caused many of the patients' tumors to shrink or disappear entirely for at least 100 days - and up to one year - with few side effects.

However, some of the patients have since relapsed and died. Others continue to be stable.

Common childhood cancer

Neuroblastoma accounts for 8% of all childhood cancers, and is usually diagnosed in the first few years of life.

This is a particularly difficult tumour to treat and it tends to affect very young children

Gwen Kaplan, Cancer Research Campaign
The disease may start in developing cells in the adrenal glands or lymph nodes in the abdomen or chest.

It spreads quickly, and more than half of all patients are not diagnosed until satellite tumors have developed in the bone marrow or bone.

More than 60% of all neuroblastoma patients have an advanced stage, high-risk form of the disease that is often resistant to treatment and usually leads to death within two years.

Despite advances in treatment, only 25% to 30% of children with advanced neuroblastoma can be cured.

MIBG was originally developed to treat high blood pressure.

However, researchers discovered that the compound could also bind to tumour cells that produced chemicals called catecholamines - for instance, neuroblastomas.

This enabled them to to locate and diagnose tumours by identifying on x-rays where MIBG had bound to malignant cells.

Nine out of 10 neuroblastomas will take up the MIBG. If, however, the MIBG cannot successfully attach to a patient's tumor, it cannot be used to find or treat it.

'Reasonable extension'

Professor Keith Britton, director of Imperial Cancer Research Fund's Nuclear Medicine Unit at St Bartholomew's hospital said MIBG had been used to treat neuroblastoma patients before - but not in such high doses.

He told BBC News Online: "This is a reasonable extension of a existing therapy.

"One consideration however, is that few departments in the UK are likely to be able to handle the extra high doses of MIBG both in dispensing and in handling a highly radioactive child."

Gwen Kaplan, a cancer information nurse for the Cancer Research Campaign, warned that the research was still in its early stages.

But she said: "This is a particularly difficult tumour to treat and it tends to affect very young children, so it is very encouraging to find something that looks like it might be an effective treatment."

Details of the research were presented at a meeting of the American Society of Hematology.

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