Cancer treatment is often a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. You may well have some success with chemotherapy, but subsequent damage to otherwise healthy organs and tissue is a trade-off that clinicians and patients have had to juggle with for decades. But, thanks to a chance meeting at the Hudson Institute in Melbourne, lung cancer patients could be looking at more effective chemo with fewer side effects.
“Many of us have heard about the devastating side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients,” says researcher Dr Marini from the Hudson Institute. “Our discovery has the potential to not only increase the effectiveness of platinum chemotherapy, but also give patients a better quality of life by preventing kidney damage.”
Lung cancer is commonly treated with platinum chemotherapy based on a drug called cisplatin. However, less than a third of patients will see any benefit, and often develop serious side effects, including kidney damage. In their research, Professor Neil Watkins (Petre Chair in Cancer Biology, Garvan Institute) and his team, including Dr Kieren Marini (Hudson Institute), found the protein activin to be a primary culprit, both in chemotherapy resistance and chemotherapy-induced kidney damage.
“In chemotherapy-resistant tumors in mice, activin gets switched on in response to the damage caused by chemotherapy,” said Prof Watkins. “Cancer cells can then enlist activin to protect themselves. At the same time, when activin is switched on, it promotes kidney injury.”