Promising Research

Nontoxic cancer treatment could be on the horizon

Imagine a nontoxic cancer treatment that stops the growth of cancer cells, rather than killing them. And it does so without introducing poison that also kills healthy cells.

Such a treatment may not be that far away.

Yogen Saunthararajah, MD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Hematologic Oncology and Blood Disorders, says the early results of current lab tests and clinical trials are encouraging: “The scientific basis for this treatment has been clearly established. We are at that stage.” Dr. Saunthararajah’s work has won him the Chairman’s Innovation Award of the Lerner Research Institute.

Today, the traditional way to treat cancer is to kill dividing, mutating cells through chemotherapy and radiation. The problem, of course, is that healthy cells are killed along with them, resulting in sometimes devastating side effects for the patient.

Dr. Saunthararajah wants to change that model, with what he called “a true alternative, which relies on a completely different pathway to stop the cells from dividing.” He and his team are working with an existing cancer drug, decitabine, which can be repurposed – used at a different dosage and frequency – to achieve this. Decitabine doesn’t intrinsically damage the DNA of the cell, so this “very gentle use” can decrease the growth factor of the dividing cells. The approach causes fewer side effects than attacking the cancer with cell-killing poisons from chemo and radiation therapies. Through research there can be other, new cancer drugs developed, with similar impacts.

The implications are huge, says Dr. Saunthararajah. “Our vision is that in 10 years this new way will be the first choice in treating multiple cancers.”

But this tantalizing prospect needs funding for more lab research and for clinical trials of promising drugs. Because of recent cutbacks in federal support, more philanthropic donations are critical for the work to go on. “We need private support,” says Dr. Saunthararajah.

To make a gift supporting the Taussig Cancer Institute, the Lerner Research Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit our secure giving site  or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.

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