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Coming soon: 'Therapy for cancer weight loss'

Last updated: 28 August, 2010
London, Aug 28 (PTI) 12:05 IST

Scientists claim to be developing a treatment for cancer cachexia, the debilitating weight loss and muscle wasting condition affecting patients with cancer.

Cancer cachexia has a major impact on quality of life for cancer patients. It can also inhibit the effectiveness of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. There is currently no effective treatment.

Now, an international team, led by Deakin University, is working on a combination of two readily available therapies (an omega3 fatty acid and an anti-gout medication) it believes could delay the onset of cancer cachexia and also improve quality of life for cancer patients.

"Cancer cachexia is a serious, debilitating and often unrecognised health issue. Around half of all patients with cancer develop cachexia."Cachexia commonly affects older patients, whose quality of life is dramatically reduced. They don't feel like eating and can't exercise because they are constantly tired and lethargic.

"Our hope is that the treatment we are working on will delay the onset of cachexia or slow down its progression. This could buy time for other cancer therapies to have an effect," Paul Lewandowski, who led the team, said.

The cause and development of cancer cachexia is not fully understood, although an imbalance of chemicals known as free radicals is thought to play a major role. Restoring the balance of free radicals is the focus of the study which is expected to take three years to complete.

"Free radicals occur naturally in the body and are not harmful in low levels. Under normal circumstances free radicals are kept under control by antioxidants," said team member Vanessa Vaughan.

She added: "However in cachexia the balance is tipped, with free radicals causing serious damage to DNA and body proteins. Protein production is significantly decreased and breakdown is dramatically increased. Muscle wasting is the inevitable outcome.
"We will be testing two existing therapies in combination to evaluate their effectiveness in stabilising the free radicals and preventing muscle breakdown. The first is oxypurinol, which is closely related to a drug used for over 50 years to treat gout.|

"Oxypurinol suppresses a free radical producing enzyme believed to be overactive in patients with cachexia. The second is an omega 3 fatty acid called eicosapentenoic acid (EPA), which reduces free radical production."

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