A naturally-occurring hormone could be key to overcoming chemotherapy resistance.
A naturally-occurring hormone could be key to overcoming chemotherapy resistance.

Naturally-occurring hormone key to chemo boost

RESEARCHERS have discovered a way to turbocharge the effects of an old-fashioned chemotherapy for the most common type of lung cancer, while also preventing collateral damage in the kidneys.

Scientists are hopeful the findings will also reinvigorate the lifespan of other mainstay anti-cancer drugs, allowing more patients to be treated, safer and for longer.

A naturally occurring hormone, which is already being trialled in cystic fibrosis patients, has been found as the key to overcoming chemotherapy resistance experienced by about 70 per cent of patients with lung adenocarcinoma - the most common lung cancer in nonsmokers.

Using this hormone, called follistatin, scientists from Melbourne's Hudson Institute of Medical Research and the Garvan Institute in Sydney have been able to flip the odds of treatment success and make tumours disappear in 70 per cent of mice, while also ­protecting them from toxic kidney damage.

Professor Neil Watkins, who started the project seven years ago at the Hudson and has continued the ­research in Sydney, said while they set out to uncover the basic issue of why most lung cancer patients didn't respond to the common chemotherapy drug, cisplatin, they had fortuitously found a ­potential treatment.

"It's a very exciting finding because it raises the broader idea that we can rethink and give life to old cancer drugs to treat more people and do it safer than we are now," Prof Watkins said.

Led by Dr Kieren Marini, the researchers knocked out all genes one-by-one in lung cancer cells that were inherently resistant to cisplatin, finding that the protein, ­activin, was crucial to this resistance and chemo-induced kidney damage.

Knowing that his Hudson colleague in the office next door - former governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser - was working on blocking activin with the hormone, follistatin, Prof Watkins said this collaboration had led to them successfully testing the hormone in animal models.

The findings were published today in the journal, Science Translational Medicine.

The research team is now preparing to start human clinical trials with Prof de Kretser's start-up drug development company, Panata.

The team also plans to test the treatment on other cancers.