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News Americas

Lower lip of a female patient who suffers from a mucosal ulceration. (Photo: Robert E. Sumpter, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA)
Sep 11, 2012 | News Americas

Anti-transplant-rejection drug may prevent mucositis after radiotherapy

by Surgical Tribune

BETHESDA, Md., USA: Researchers from the U.S. think that rapamycin (also known as sirolimus), a drug usually used in transplantation patients to prevent transplant rejection, could also prevent mucositis, a common side effect of radiotherapy in head and neck cancer patients. In a preclinical study, they observed that mice that had received rapamycin during radiation treatment did not develop the condition.

Although technical advances today allow a more targeted delivery of radiation to cancer cells, many patients still develop mucositis, a painful inflammation and ulceration of the mouth, which can leave them unable to eat or drink, as radiation depletes normal stem cells capable of repairing damaged surrounding tissue.

However, researchers at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research found that the rapamycin can prevent radiation-induced tissue damage by protecting these cells. Their most recent findings indicate that rapamycin-treated cells almost tripled their lifespan, allowing them to grow.

Rapamycin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is currently being tested for its effects in other cancer treatments and thus holds important implications for a large proportion of cancer patients, the researchers said.

"Mucositis prevention would have a remarkable impact on the quality of life and recovery of cancer patients and at the same time would reduce the cost of treatment," suggested study author J. Silvio Gutkind, an expert in oral and pharyngeal cancer.

Although an approved treatment is still a few years away, the researchers hope that their findings can be translated rapidly into the clinic.

According to the study, head and neck cancer squamous cell carcinoma is the sixth most prevalent cancer worldwide. Radiation therapy is one of the most widely used cancer treatments, accounting for treatment of almost 80 percent of patients with head and neck cancer.

The study was published in the September issue of the Cell Stem Cell journal.

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