More MS news articles for March 2001

Immune test cancer hope,5481,1774810,00.html

By TANYA TAYLOR, medical reporter
06 Mar 2001

A WAY to reboot the immune system to help treat cancer and HIV patients was unveiled yesterday.

The treatment, which effectively regenerates the body's immunity centre, could also benefit people with asthma, arthritis, dermatitis and multiple sclerosis, as well as organ transplant recipients.

By stopping production of sex steroids, a team from Monash University has been able to rejuvenate the thymus, the gland where immunity cells (T-cells) are made.

"The end result is the full reconstitution of the T-cells, which is quite an astonishing effect," said lead researcher, Associate Professor Richard Boyd. "By increasing the number of T-cells in the bloodstream, it allows for a better defence system."

Prof Boyd said the therapy should aid the recovery of patients whose immune systems had been depleted by such treatments as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, as well as people with HIV.

A major side-effect is temporary of sexual function.

But the chemical castration was reversible, with animal studies suggesting full function returned within a month of ceasing treatment.

Prof Boyd, of Monash's department of pathology and immunology, said the team's work would be submitted for international publication this month.

The development was announced to the Australian Stock Exchange yesterday by the researchers' business partner, the Melbourne drug delivery company Norwood Abbey.

The company's stocks reached a peak of 85c after the news, before closing 10c higher at 80c.

The therapy is based on an existing class of drugs called GnRH analogues, which are used to block the production of sex hormones in people with prostate or breast cancer, as well as endometriosis.

During more than a decade of study, Dr Boyd's team found that sex hormones caused the thymus to shrink after puberty and stopped it producing new T-cells to fight infection.

Dr Boyd said that by stopping the production of sex hormones, the thymus returned to its pre-puberty size and began producing fresh T-cells in the correct balance.

Pre-clinical studies have centred on immuno-suppressed animals but a recent study of giving GnRH to 10 prostate cancer patients at the Alfred Hospital confirmed the effect in humans.

© 2001 Herald and Weekly Times