The Future Of Leukemia Treatment

A treatment for a rare form of leukemia could help patients survive without ever needing chemotherapy.

The treatment is known as lipoATRA. It's been used on patients with APL, acute promyelocytic leukemia.

To David Wildrick, the diagnosis of leukemia sounded like a death sentence. "I wasn't happy about what they told me they were going to do to me," he says. "They told me they were going to give me chemotherapy. I'd have to be there six weeks. They were going to take my immune system down to zero and then bring it back up."

Then he got a second opinion at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

M.D. Anderson oncologist Elihu Estey, M.D., says, "I would guess that without treatment, everybody would be dead within a few months."

With the new treatment, researchers take ATRA -- which is a form of vitamin A -- wrap it in fat, and inject it. It could eliminate the need for chemo.

Wildrick welcomed the new option. He says: "They administer it through an IV line in your arm. It took a couple of hours, and then, really, the only side effect from it was a headache." He later had an allergic reaction to the drug.

Doctors say it won't work for everyone, but lipoATRA did keep 10 of the 34 patients in remission for several years without the toxic effects of chemotherapy.

"It's, I think, probably the first demonstration in the field of leukemia that you can cure patients without giving them chemotherapy," Dr. Estey says.

He says there are still side effects with lipoATRA, and it may not offer many advantages over chemo at this time. However, he says lipoATRA represents what the future of leukemia treatment could look like. "The fact that we did the Liposomal ATRA study was that the thing said, 'Gee, it's plausible to do this, to defer chemotherapy and still wind up okay.'" And he says that's a step in the right direction.

LipoATRA is not yet approved by the FDA. In the meantime, Dr. Estey is currently working on a follow-up study to treat APL without chemotherapy using ATRA and arsenic tri-oxide.

If you would like more information, please contact:

Elihu Estey, M.D.
The University of Texas
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
1515 Holcombe Blvd.
Unit 428
Houston, TX 77030-4009