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Myeloma-obesity researchers find possible treatment target

Posted on Thursday, May 15, 2014 · Volume: XLVII · Issue: 10


New myeloma-obesity research performed by Edward Medina, M.D., Ph.D., and his team reveals a way that drugs could work arm-in-arm with the body’s own defenses to defeat myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that accumulate inside the bones.
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New myeloma-obesity research performed by Edward Medina, M.D., Ph.D., and his team reveals a way that drugs could work arm-in-arm with the body’s own defenses to defeat myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that accumulate inside the bones.clear graphic

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Contact: Elizabeth Allen, 210-450-2020

SAN ANTONIO (May 1, 2014) — Obesity increases the risk of myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that accumulate inside the bones. And with current obesity trends in the United States, especially in South Texas, that’s an ominous correlation.

“I’m predicting an increase in multiple myeloma,” said Edward Medina, M.D., Ph.D. “And with the obesity problems we see in the Hispanic population, there could be a serious health disparity on the horizon.”

Dr. Medina, a hematopathologist and assistant professor in the Department of Pathology at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, is looking at exactly how obesity causes an increased risk for myeloma.

Protein adiponectin may provide key
What he and his colleagues have discovered is a potential way to not only boost the effectiveness of current chemotherapy treatments for myeloma, but at the same time a way to help the body help itself.

In a paper published in the May edition of the journal Leukemia, Dr. Medina and his team look at an important protein called adiponectin.

Myeloma cells overwhelm antibodies in the bone marrow
Myeloma is often called multiple myeloma because it occurs at many sites within the bone marrow. Healthy plasma cells produce antibodies that fight infection in the body, but myeloma cells produce high levels of abnormal antibodies that, when the cancer cells accumulate, crowd out production of red and white blood cells.

“They basically overtake the bone marrow,” Dr. Medina said.

The disease can lead to bone pain and fragility, confusion, excessive thirst and kidney failure. While survival rates for patients with myeloma have increased in recent years, many people do not live more than five years beyond diagnosis.

Fat cells behave abnormally in obesity
Adiponectin is a protective protein that plays several roles in keeping the body healthy, including killing cancer cells. While adiponectin is produced by fat cells, Medina said, obese people have less of it. The reason for this paradox is that in cases of obesity, fat cells function abnormally, including producing less adiponectin. What they produce more of, however, are fatty acids, and it is likely that myeloma cells can feed on these fatty acids.

“Synthesizing fatty acids is important for myeloma cells to build vital structures, including cell membranes, that enable them to keep on growing,” Medina said.

Drug based on PKA’s action could kill myeloma cells
Focusing on adiponectin led Dr. Medina’s lab to protein kinase A or “PKA.” When activated by adiponectin, PKA suppresses the fatty acids that myeloma cells need, leading to their demise.

The idea is to create a drug that uses the same pathways as adiponectin to kill myeloma cells.

“If we could pharmacologically suppress these fatty acid levels in obese myeloma patients, we could boost the effects of the chemotherapy that targets PKA or fatty acid synthesis, and potentially decrease the chemotherapeutic dose,” Medina said. “Also, it would give your own body’s protective measures more of a chance to work against the cancer.”

Dr. Medina’s research was funded by the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and a KL2 award from the Health Science Center's Institute for Integration of Medicine and Science and its Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

Research team
Key contributors to this work include Kelli Oberheu, Srikanth Polusani, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biochemistry, and Babatunde Oyajobi, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of cellular and structural biology.

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The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the elite academic cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Center, and is one of only four in Texas. A leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) conducts one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in development of cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit www.ctrc.net.

 
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