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Someone is diagnosed with blood cancer about every three minutes in the United States. Blood cancers refer to cancers that affect the blood, bone marrow, and lymphatic system. Well-known blood cancers include leukemia, which affects the white blood cells, and lymphoma, which affects the lymphatic system. Common treatments for blood cancers include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and, occasionally, a stem cell or bone marrow transplant. Researchers from the University of Sheffield in England have identified an arthritis drug as a possible treatment for people with blood cancers, like myeloproliferative neoplasms.

 Leukemia found in the bone marrow.

Image Source: Ed Reschke

Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) are diseases that impact normal blood cell production in the bone marrow by causing the overproduction of one or more types of blood cells. There are six types of MPN, and they differ in the way they cause the blood cells to accumulate. The buildup of these high numbers of blood cells eventually leads to complications, and it is even possible for MPN to turn into leukemia.

People in their fifties and sixties are at greater risks of being diagnosed with MPN. There is no known cure, but current treatment options consist of aspirin, excess blood removal, and mild chemotherapy. The drug Ruxolitinib was recently developed as another treatment for MPN but unfortunately, the cost of the drug, at over £40,000 per patient per year, or $45,228 in USD, is extremely high.

However, Methotrexate (MTX), a common arthritis drug, has been discovered to function like Ruxolitinib at a far lower cost (A year’s supply of MTX costs about £30, which is about $34 in USD). The researchers first tested the drug in fruit fly cells and found that the signaling pathway which is responsible for the development of MPN is suppressed when treated with MTX. This suppression was also later seen in human cells. MTX is typically used to treat diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, and it displays few side effects. The drug is also classified as an “essential medicine” by the World Health Organization, which means it could be used all around the world. For these reasons, MTX would be much more accessible to patients who need treatment.

“We have the potential to revolutionize the treatment of this group of chronic diseases–a breakthrough that may ultimately represent a new treatment option able to bring relief to both patients and health funders.”

Dr. Martin Ziedler

The next step for the researchers is to begin clinical trials to determine the practical effectiveness of MTX as a treatment for MPN in humans.

Feature Image Source: Red Cross blood drive by Charleston’s TheDigitel

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