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Promising New Treatment For Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma



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Promising New Treatment For Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Clinicians at the UConn Health Center’s Division of Nuclear Medicine in Farmington are among the first in Connecticut to use an innovative and promising new treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a frequently occurring cancer of the lymph system.

The treatment, developed by scientists and doctors after more than a decade of work, successfully uses the chemical attraction of antibody to antigen to deliver radiation to specific cancer cells. An antigen is a protein on the surface of a cell that makes antibodies react when an immune system response is required. With that biological process in mind, the researchers engineered an antibody that binds to the CD-20 receptor cell typically present in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The antibody, which was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, is known as Zevalin.

“The data from the Zevalin clinical trials shows tumor shrinkage and improvements in the quality of life for 80 percent of the patients,” said Ronald Weiner, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Diagnostic Imaging and Therapeutics and one of the researchers doing the investigation.

Patients with low-grade, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma typically have responded positively to radiation therapy. But that therapy is imprecise and can cause damage or even kill normal cells in the areas of the cancer being treated. Using the cancer-cell-specific antibody, however, physicians can attach a minimal dose of radioactive isotope to it. It is a more precise treatment than radiation therapy and so less likely to harm nearby normal cells.

Zevalin can be tagged with two different radioactive isotopes, Indium or Yttrium. The doctors first image the patient using a small dose of In-Zevalin to see if there is a normal distribution throughout the body. This procedure makes sure that the antibody is not excreted too quickly, which could cause the treatments to be ineffective. A week or nine days later the patient is infused with a therapeutic dose of Y-Zevalin. The Y-Zevalin, binds to the antigen and lodges there; the radioactivity then kills the cancer cell directly.

Dr Weiner said the successful treatments were gratifying and positive. “We’re excited about this development,” he said. “Nuclear medicine investigators have worked for more than ten years to develop these antibody agents to treat cancer. It’s been a long, slow, difficult process that now gives hope to people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers.”

The UConn Health Center was the first institution in Connecticut to treat patients with Zevalin, and second in the United States to treat patients with Zevalin after the US Food and Drug Administration approved it.

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