Multiple myeloma is the second most common blood cancer in the United States. UCLA researchers have discovered a new drug that may lead to an effective treatment for the disease. The findings were published online on May 11 in the journal Oncogene.
For the past year, researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have been investigating an experimental drug therapy to treat multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma cells accumulate in the bone marrow where they eventually crowd out healthy blood cells. The new therapy has the potential of preventing these malignant cells from growing; thus, halting the progression of the disease
The research team, led by Alan Lichtenstein, MD, investigated the effects of an experimental drug called known as compound 11 on multiple myeloma cells. They combined compound 11 with another drug, bortezomib (Velcade), which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008 for the treatment of lymphoma. The investigators found that the drugs worked in tandem to target a specific protein to stop malignant cells in the bone marrow from replicating, and eventually causing them to die. The combination therapy targeted a specific oncogene called Myc that is known to have the potential to cause cancer.
“Compound 11 will prevent the transmission of the Myc RNA into Myc protein, and prevent the Myc protein from being synthesized in the multiple myeloma cells when those cell lines are being stressed by the drug bortezomib,” explained Dr. Lichtenstein, a UCLA professor of hematology and oncology. He added,”Though this research is only in the preliminary phases, we hope that it will eventually lead to human clinical trials and the development of new treatments for this devastating disease.”
Multiple myeloma is a malignancy that affects certain white blood cells called plasma cells. It represents about 1% of all cancers in the United States; approximately 22,000 Americans are diagnosed with it each year. Plasma cells, and other white blood cells, are part of the immune system. Plasma cells produce antibodies, which are immune system proteins that assist the body in ridding itself of harmful substances. Each plasma cell responds to one specific substance by producing one kind of antibody. The body has many types of plasma cells; therefore, it can respond to many types of substances.
When cancer develops, the body overproduces plasma cells, which are abnormal: myeloma cells. Myeloma cells collect in the bone marrow and the outer layer of the bone. Because the cells begin in the blood plasma, myeloma is not a bone cancer, but is cancer that affects bones. The exact cause of multiple myeloma is unknown; however, theories and associations have been suggested as risk factors:
- Male gender
- Age (occurs rarely under the age of 35)
- Family history
- Exposure to petroleum and other chemicals
- Exposure to high amounts of radiation
- Race (twice as common among African-Americans as white Americans)
- Being overweight or obese
The following are the most common symptoms for multiple myeloma. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. (Some individuals with early multiple myeloma have no symptoms. Instead, it is found during routine blood or urine tests.) Myeloma cells and antibodies may cause the following:
- Bone pain
- Fractures in bones
- Weight loss
- Repeated infections
- Problems with urination
- Weakness or numbness in legs
- Back pain
- Rib pain
The symptoms of multiple myeloma may resemble other bone disorders or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.