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Discovery may help reduce cancer drug’s side effects

Drs. Crews, Diouf, and Evans

Cure rates for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are 94 percent at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, thanks in part to the chemotherapy drug vincristine. Every young ALL patient receives the drug many times during treatment. Vincristine is also used to treat children and adults with other cancers.

But the drug often causes nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy. The problem can cause pain and make day-to-day activities like walking and writing difficult. Symptoms can last for decades.

Researchers have discovered a possible way to identify patients most likely to develop peripheral neuropathy. Scientists also found evidence that might help them prevent the problem and still cure the cancer.

Researchers checked the DNA of 321 young ALL patients for common genetic differences. Scientists discovered that more than half of the patients who inherited two copies of a low functioning version of the CEP72 gene developed serious peripheral neuropathy. The risk was much lower for children with at least one normal copy of the gene.

“As we work to develop new treatments to cure even more patients, our goal is to also improve their quality of life during treatment and beyond by reducing side effects like peripheral neuropathy,” said William Evans, PharmD, of St. Jude Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

February 24, 2015

Read the news release