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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 00:06 GMT
Transplant drug 'protects against cancer'
Transplant patients could be protected against cancer
Transplant patients could be protected against cancer
Scientists have shown that a drug given to transplant patients to prevent them rejecting their new organ could reduce their risk of developing cancer.

The drug, rapamycin, is an immunosuppressant.

German researchers say tests in mice show rapamycin both controlled the growth of established tumours and prevented the growth of secondary tumours.

The findings could prove significant for transplant patients as cyclosporine, a common immunosuppressive drug given to transplant patients, has been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Rapamycin is just coming on to the market - it's a very promising drug

Mr Geoff Koffman, British Transplantation Society
Some studies have suggested patients receiving conventional immunosuppressive drugs have a 20 to 500 fold higher incidence of certain types of cancer.

Skin cancer, and lymphoma, cancer of the lymph glands, are much more likely in transplant patients than the general population

It is not yet understood why transplant patients have this increased risk.

Blocking growth

Scientists at the University of Regensburg, Germany tested rapamycin and cyclosporine.

They tested the drugs on mice which had secondary tumours in their livers which had metastasised from colon cancer.

Those mice which had been given rapamycin had less liver tumour tissue.

But those which had been given cyclosporine had an increased amount of liver cancer.

The scientists believe that rapamycin prevents the development of tumours by blocking angiogenesis - the formation of new blood cells.

Mr Geoff Koffman, a transplant surgeon at Guy's and St Thomas's Hospital in London and a spokesman for the British Transplantation Society told BBC News Online: "Rapamycin is just coming on to the market. It's a very promising drug.

"Whatever the cause of cancers in immunosuppressed patients, this may have a beneficial effect.

"But it beggars the question, how about using this as an anti-tumour agent in non-transplant patients."

He added: "The real crunch is where we can stop these tumours from forming, not just where we can stop them from spreading".

The research is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

See also:

23 Jan 02 | Health
Organ transplant breakthrough
18 Aug 01 | Health
Repaired organs for transplant
19 May 01 | Health
Transplant organ hope
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