ANN ARBOR, Mich., June 6 (UPI) -- After combining drugs not typically used together against aggressive cancer in children, researchers at the University of Michigan found cancer that had resisted other therapies responded to the novel treatment.
More than half the children with recurring neuroblastoma treated with chemotherapy and immunotherapy simultaneously in a recent study saw either partial or complete remission of their disease, according to researchers who presented the results at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
When standard therapies do not work, just 5 percent of children survive neuroblastoma, a solid tumor caused by uncontrolled or abnormal cell growth in nerve cells. Doctors think part of the cancer's ability to resist chemotherapy is tied to their ability to keep the immune system from also fighting the disease.
"What we are learning through this research could revolutionize treatment for children with relapsed or hard to treat neuroblastoma," Dr. Rajen Mody, a pediatric oncologist at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, said in a press release. "We hope this is the beginning of a path to learning how to cure cancer in more children facing this devastating disease."
For the study, the researchers recruited 35 neuroblastoma patients between the ages of 2 and 16, with a median age of 5.7, 24 of whom had measurable cancer.
Among patients, 9 out of 17 children -- 53 percent -- with relapsed neuroblastoma saw either complete or partial remission, an improvement over the 10 to 12 percent who generally respond to either type of treatment on its own. Additionally, none of the patients in the study had unexpected side effects.
Future studies, which researchers say will need to be much larger, will also focus on clinical and biological markers to identify the patients most likely to respond to the combination treatment.
"The outcomes for relapsed neuroblastoma are dismal, and treatment options are limited," Mody said. "We found that in more than half of patients receiving this new combination therapy, the tumor either shrank or completely disappeared, which we consider an extraordinary success. Our study was small, but the results are so striking, they warrant further research to study the biological basis of why this combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy works so well."