Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have discovered a new inhibitor drug combination for a rare form of cancer, according to a school news release.

Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM), a rare form of lymphoma, does not have any known cure, the release said. Just one treatment has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has made the form of cancer a challenge to treat in patients.

The release said UNH researchers took a novel approach of targeting specific cell proteins that control DNA information using a drug combination that was effective in reducing the growth of cancer cells and, when combined with another drug, was even more successful in killing WM cancer cells.

The possible breakthrough could lead to more treatment options, the release said.

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“This is the first study to report the promising results of inhibitors in Waldenström macroglobulinemia which could open the door to new clinical possibilities,” Sherine Elsawa, associate professor of molecular, cellular and biomedical sciences at UNH said in the release. “We know that targeting these types of proteins with inhibitors can increase high therapeutic results in many other kinds of cancer but desired results in WM cells has been lacking.”

The now-published study detailed how Elsawa and her team utilized epigenetics to learn about the regulation of WM cancer cells. In this case, according to the release, researchers focused on two proteins, bromodomain and extraterminal (BET), which are epigenetic readers. BET proteins have been shown to be involved in pathological conditions, including cancer, per the release, which added drugs that inhibit these proteins can block gene expression that regulate cancer cells by slowing and stopping their growth.

According to the release, the WM cancer cells were treated with the BET inhibitors JQ-1 and I-BET-762 which successfully reduced the growth of the WM cells in the lab. While the dose dependent effect was significant for both drugs, JQ-1 showed the strongest inhibitory effect with 70% reduction in cell proliferation at the highest dose. However, neither inhibitor was effective in inducing cell death, the release said.

The research was supported by a grant from the International Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Foundation and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (IWMF-LLS), an award from the National Institutes of Health Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) (CIBBR, P20GM113131), and an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, per the release.

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