Common MRI Drug May Help Fight Cancer

The 'contrast agent' mangafodipir boosts chemo effectiveness, study suggests

TUESDAY, Feb. 14, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A contrast agent used in magnetic resonance imaging tests might have a second role to play as a cancer-fighter, new research suggests.

The chemical, mangafodipir, appears to boost the cancer-killing power of some chemotherapy drugs while helping to protect healthy cells, according to a French study published in the Feb. 15 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers studied the effects of three chemotherapy drugs -- paclitaxel, oxaliplatin and 5-fluorouracil -- on tumor cells and white blood cells from 10 cancer patients and white blood cells from six healthy people.

The cells were exposed to the chemotherapy drugs in the presence or absence of the MRI contrast agent.

The French team found that mangafodipir protected white blood cells taken from both cancer patients and healthy people.

The researchers also studied the effects of mangafodipir on colon cancer cells in mice treated with paclitaxel. They report that the MRI contrast agent protected mice from infection that would have caused a lowered white blood cell count. The contrast agent also helped boost the ability of paclitaxel to kill the rodents' cancer cells.

"Our results support investigation of the use of mangafodipir in cancer patients," wrote the researchers at the Groupe hospitalier Cochin-Saint Vincent de Paul in Paris. "Mangafodipir may enhance the therapeutic index of anticancer agents by both protecting normal cells and increasing antitumoral activity of these agents," they explained, adding that the chemical's safety "has already been demonstrated."

Many chemotherapy drugs work by increasing levels of hydrogen peroxide in tumor cells, which are sensitive to hydrogen peroxide and die when there's too much of it, according to the experts. However, certain enzymes in the body may help protect the tumor cells from this kind of damage, which reduces the effectiveness of these chemotherapy drugs.

Mangafodipir helps promote the production of hydrogen peroxide in the tumor cells, the French team explained. At the same time, and through a different mechanism, it helps protect healthy cells from chemotherapy-related damage.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about chemotherapy.

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, news release, Feb. 14, 2006
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