Breast cancer drugs are ‘kinder and less toxic’ for treating neuroblastoma, study finds

Breast cancer drugs could be used to treat children with tumours, a study has found, as scientists hail it as a “kinder and less toxic” therapy.

PARP inhibitors, a group of drugs which stop cancer cells repairing themselves, could be an effective treatment for neuroblastoma, scientists from the University of Sheffield have concluded.

Neuroblastoma is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer in children and has a survival rate of just 50 per cent among those with a high-risk form of the illness.

It is usually treated with intense chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

However, PARP inhibitors, which are currently used to treat breast and ovarian cancer, could be a less invasive alternative, the researchers claim.

Dr Helen Bryant, who led the study, said: “We hope to develop kinder and less toxic therapies for children. PARP inhibitors are being used successfully in women with breast and ovarian cancer so we are optimistic that this can be translated fairly quickly into children with neuroblastoma.”

Scientists from the University of Sheffield team up with the Institute of Cancer Research in London to investigate how effective PARP inhibitors are in depriving the MYCN gene – present in children with high-risk neuroblastoma – of the PARP protein on which it relies.

They found that the use of PARP inhibitors alone, and alongside chemotherapy, was effective in killing neuroblastoma cells, leaving behind healthy cells.

Alice Latham, a three year old from Derbyshire, was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma a week before her second birthday in January 2019.

Her mother Helena said: “Alice’s neuroblastoma treatment has been very aggressive and harsh on her body, she has experienced many side effects, including hair and weight loss.

“The treatment may also have an impact on her later in life – she may not grow to her full height and there is a chance she may not be able to carry children.

“If treatments could be developed that are less harmful to children’s growing bodies that would be incredible.”

The study was published in the journal Oncotarget and funded by the charity Children with Cancer UK.

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