A gene to protect bone marrow from chemotherapy


In a new approach to cancer treatment, researchers are studying a form of gene therapy that may make bone marrow more resistant to chemotherapy, allowing for higher doses and better outcomes.

“We are turning the tables,” said Joseph R. Bertino, M.D., interim director and chief scientific officer of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, at Yale Cancer Center grand rounds in May. “This therapy will allow for safer use of drugs and an increase in dosage. If we do this we can protect patients from a wide variety of chemotherapy drugs.”

Bertino, who was director of the Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center from 1973 to 1975, said this approach calls for introducing a drug-resistant gene into hematopoietic progenitor cells. That could limit the drugs’ toxicity and preserve the marrow’s ability to produce infection-fighting white blood cells. Oncologists would then be able to prescribe higher doses of chemotherapy, potentially leading to improved outcomes.

Bertino said two clinical trials—one for lymphoma and another for pancreatic and breast cancer—are in the planning stages.