An existing drug used to treat leukemia shows promise in helping fight a specific type of ovarian cancer, a new study has found.

In a mice study, researchers discovered that the growth of ovarian cancer cells stopped when they gave the subjects a drug treatment using dasatinib. The researchers noted that the drug seems to target a defective gene found in specific ovarian cancer tumors.

The findings can help lead to new personalized treatments, especially since dasatinib is already an approved drug. Dasatinib has been proven safe to use and this could help fast-track potential new treatments into clinics.

According to Chris Lord, head of London's Institute of Cancer Research's Gene Function Team, all types of ovarian cancers are difficult to treat. Ovarian clear cell carcinoma (OCCC) is one of them and in most cases, it is chemotherapy-resistant.

The researchers tested 68 different types of drugs on cancer cells - those that carry the gene mutation and those without — before discovering dasatinib's effect.

The cancer cells that contain this gene mutation continue to develop in such a way that cells without the mutated gene could not. The drug dasatinib has been found to be helpful in stopping the cancer cells from developing all the more.

"In our study, we found a drug that could be effective in a group of patients who carry mutations to a particular gene in their tumors," said Lord, the study's lead researcher, adding that the next step is to test the drug's effectiveness among ovarian cancer patients.

"Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is often diagnosed when it has grown too far to be completely removed by surgery, which is why we need new ways to tackle it," said Cancer Research UK's chief clinician Professor Peter Johnson.

Johnson added that the preliminary results appear to be "promising." However, the research is still in its early stages and dasatinib needs to undergo further tests among patients with less common ovarian cancer types before the drug can be proven effective.

In the United Kingdom, ovarian cancer diagnoses are handed to more than 7,200 women annually. About 300 of these diagnoses involved OCCC.

In the United States, ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer type. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), about 20,000 women in the country are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. It is also the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the country.

The study was published in the Molecular Cancer Therapeutics journal on June 30.

Photo: Ed Uthman | Flickr

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