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ECCC and MU study ways to improve leukemia treatment options

Oscar Ballester, MD, (left), a medical oncologist at the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center is now a year into a cancer clinical trial along with Elaine Hardman, PH.D, a Marshall University associate professor of biochemistry and microbiology with high hopes that it will improve treatment options for patients

July 6, 2009

A partnership between a physician at the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer at Cabell Huntington Hospital and a research scientist at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University could result in a more effective treatment for patients with leukemia.

Oscar Ballester, MD, a medical oncologist at ECCC, and Elaine Hardman, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, are nearing the end of their first year of a study of a supplement for treating leukemia. This ongoing clinical trial can only be found at the ECCC and may offer new options to patients with certain types of leukemia.

Leukemia is a type of hematological cancer involving the blood or bone marrow. It is often treated using chemotherapy. Dr. Ballester and Dr. Hardman have been working on a supplement to make the leukemia cells more receptive to this treatment. Their study looks at the use of a dietary supplement Omega-3, a fatty acid found in fish.

"This supplementation changes some of the programs the (cancer) cells have to survive and multiply," Dr. Ballester said. "We are trying to see if, in patients with certain types of leukemia, it will result in a benefit either (when used) by itself or if we were to add it to other treatments."

Dr. Ballester said the trial looked at cells in patients and cells grown in test tubes in the controlled environment of a lab.

"That's an example of the cooperation between the scientists and the laboratories," he said. "At this point, patients have taken this supplementation and we are looking at the leukemic cells to see if we can demonstrate a favorable change. We are also testing these cells in the test tube to see if these cells become more sensitive to the standard chemotherapy medicines that are normally used for this type of leukemia."

As the first year of the trial draws to a close, Dr. Ballester said he and Dr. Hardman will begin to look at the data they've collected to determine the impact the supplement had on the patients and on cells in the lab.

"Over the next month or two, we're going to start looking at how things are working," he said. "We monitor the disease itself and see if we can detect any changes in the disease parameters, but also in the cells themselves we see if the mechanisms we think will be affected by this are indeed affected. That is how we will say it is a successful trial."

From: The July 6 Healthsource page in the Herald-Dispatch. Information provided by Cabell Huntington Hospital Marketing and Public Relations Department.

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