FOX Files: New Treatment For Blood Cancers

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ST. LOUIS, MO. (KPLR) – Doctors may have another weapon in their battle against leukemia. It's a drug called Plerixafor.

Plerixafor was originally intended to be a treatment for HIV. It didn't work. But doctors found it was effective in stimulating healthy stem cells to move out of the bone marrow into the blood stream.  There, they could be collected more easily to use for stem cell transplants to treat Non-Hodgkins lymphoma and Multiple Myeloma.

Researchers at Washington University wanted to see if the drug would also work to encourage leukemic cells to move out of the protection of the bone marrow and into the blood stream, where they might be more susceptible to chemotherapy. Their study focused on AML, acute myeloid leukemia. Researchers combined Plerixafor with chemotherapy. The results were promising. The cancer cells not only moved into the blood stream but seemed to be more sensitive to the chemotherapy. The complete remission rate was 46 percent as opposed to the expected 25 to 35 percent for these patients.

Lead researcher, Dr. Geoffrey Uy says more and larger studies are needed to confirm their findings, but the results were encouraging enough that researchers are studying the use of Plerixafor to treat solid tumors such as breast and lung cancer.

We profiled a woman from Johnston City, Illinois who participated in the Plerixafor study. Kathie Ray had relapsed after one bout with AML. She achieved a second remission and went on to get a stem cell transplant using cells donated by her sister. Kathie has remained in remission from leukemia for the past three years.

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