Doctors have long known that treating patients with multiple cancer drugs often produces better results than treatment with just a single drug. Now, a study from MIT shows that the order and timing of drug administration can have a dramatic effect.
In the new paper, published in Cell on 110 May, the researchers showed that staggering the doses of two specific drugs dramatically boosts their ability to kill a particularly malignant type of breast cancer cells.
The researchers, led by Michael Yaffe, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering at MIT, are now working with researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to plan clinical trials of the staggered drug therapy. Both drugs - erlotinib and doxorubicin - are already approved for cancer treatment.
Yaffe and postdoc Michael Lee, lead author of the Cell paper, focused their study on a type of breast cancer cells known as triple negative, meaning that they don't have overactive estrogen, progesterone or HER2 receptors. Triple-negative tumours, which account for about 16 per cent of breast cancer cases, are much more aggressive than other types and tend to strike younger women.
''For triple-negative breast cancer cells, there is no good treatment. The standard of care is combination chemotherapy, and although it has a good initial response rate, a significant number of patients develop recurrent cancer,'' says Yaffe, who is a member of the David H Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.
For the past eight years, Yaffe has been studying the complex cell-signalling pathways that control cells' behaviour: how much they grow, when they divide, when they die.