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New "Light" for Cancer Patients

New "Light" for Cancer PatientsAn innovative new combination of drugs and ultraviolet light – developed with the expertise of a Tufts doctor – is helping bone marrow transplants work more effectively.

Boston [12.12.02] Every year more than 4,500 patients receive bone marrow transplants in the United States alone - but less than half of the procedures are successful. A new treatment relying on ultraviolet light has nearly doubled the bone marrow transplant success rate in studies, says the Tufts doctor who helped develop it.

"The new approach, which uses an existing cancer drug and a light treatment called phosphophoresis, helps patients tolerate bone marrow transplants from donors," reported ABC News.

The study represents an important breakthrough for cancer patients who receive bone marrow transplants-which replace the faulty immune cells in the bone marrow with healthy ones. Normally, only 40 percent of these procedures are successful.

But Dr. Francine Foss -- an associate professor at Tufts School of Medicine and a researcher on the study - said that the new combination treatment helps transplants "take" better, significantly increasing the procedure's effectiveness, reported Forbes magazine.

The new study combines an existing therapy with a new one, increasing their collective effectiveness.

"We have combined two treatments," said Foss - who recently presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. "One [is] pentostatin, which is [an immune suppressing drug] that affects T-cells. We have combined it with a treatment called phosphophoresis, which involves exposing white blood cells to ultraviolet light," she told Reuters.

In tests, the new treatment looked promising.

Foss and her colleagues tested their treatment on 90 patients with advanced cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia. While normally 40 to 50 percent of patients would accept bone marrow transplants under current methods, an extraordinary 80 percent of Foss' patients had successful grafts.

Foss - who is also the director of the lymphoma program at Tufts New England Medical Center -called the success rate "remarkable," especially due to the advanced age of the patients, and the severity of their cancers, reported ABC News.

"Overall survival was about 65 percent," the Tufts doctor told Reuters. Under typical treatments, only 40 percent would be expected to survive.

The Tufts professor said that most leukemia cases in the U.S. occur in people over the age of 50 - many of whom have poor chances of beating the illness.

"This is primarily a disease of the elderly," said Foss. "The outcome is usually dismal for these patients."

Thanks to Foss and her associates -- who plan to continue researching the possibilities of this treatment-in the future this outcome may look a little brighter.


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