Nav: Home

Scientists prove low cost arthritis drug can effectively treat blood cancer sufferers

September 16, 2019

  • Study shows a simple arthritis drug can reduce symptoms in sufferers of polycythemia vera (PV) and essential thrombocythemia (ET) - types of blood cancer
  • Both ET and PV affect 3,000 people a year in the UK and standard treatments provide little relief from symptoms
  • Methotrexate (MTX) - commonly used to treat arthritis - significantly improved the symptoms for both ET and PV patients and may also reduce raised blood counts
  • Findings suggest MTX could provide low cost, safe and effective relief for blood cancer sufferers
A simple arthritis drug could be an effective, low cost solution to treat patients with blood cancers such as polycythemia vera (PV) and essential thrombocythemia (ET), a breakthrough study by the University of Sheffield has shown.

Led by Dr Martin Zeidler, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Biomedical Science and Dr Sebastian Francis from the Department of Haematology at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, as well as the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the study results show that methotrexate (MTX) - a drug on the World Health Organisation list of essential medicines that is commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis - significantly reduces the symptoms associated with the disease.

Every year around 6,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with either PV or ET, related blood cancers that cause an overproduction of red blood cells (PV) or blood-clotting platelets (ET). Patients often suffer with itching, headaches, weight loss, fatigue and night sweats.

Although current treatments are usually able to control the increased blood counts, they provide little relief from sometimes debilitating symptoms that can often have a significant impact on quality of life.

Building on previous Medical Research Council-funded work in the Zeidler lab that identified methotrexate as an inhibitor of the JAK/STAT signalling pathway, this study examined hospital records to identify existing ET and PV patients already taking methotrexate for other diseases.

Despite the small numbers involved and the presence of background rheumatoid arthritis, these patients reported significantly lower symptom scores than patients not taking methotrexate.

The misregulation of the JAK/STAT signalling pathway in humans is central to the development of Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), the collective term for progressive blood cancers like ET and PV and is also central to many inflammatory processes such as those associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Lab-based results showed that low doses of methotrexate acted as a powerful suppressor of JAK/STAT pathway activation - even in cells carrying the mutated gene responsible for MPNs in patients.

Dr Zeidler said: "While we still need to undertake a clinical trial to validate these findings, our results are very encouraging and suggest that a simple drug that has been used for nearly 40 years to treat arthritis can provide significant relief to blood cancer sufferers.

"Patients we tested showed a pronounced improvement in symptoms, something conventional treatments have been unable to provide.

"Given the very low cost of MTX, this research could offer an effective therapy on a budget accessible to healthcare systems throughout the world - marking a potentially substantial clinical and health economic benefit."

An 81 year old PV patient based in California commented: "Methotrexate seemed to do a very nice job of controlling itching and night sweats. My subjective experience of MTX was of a PV holiday."

MTX has been used for 40 years to treat inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease and psoriasis. Even though the mechanisms by which MTX acts in these diseases had not previously been understood, the safety and effectiveness of MTX is well documented and many millions of patients regularly take the drug.

Diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis all feature inflammatory processes driven by JAK/STAT activity and the effectiveness of MTX in these inflammatory diseases may well be a consequence of its ability to dampen the JAK/STAT pathway.
-end-
The results of the study have today (17 September 2019) been published in the British Journal of Haematology.

University of Sheffield

Related Rheumatoid Arthritis Articles:

New pieces added to the molecular puzzle of rheumatoid arthritis
researchers have revealed new details about how joint inflammation evolves in rheumatoid arthritis, and the cells that prolong the inflammatory attack.
Thermal cameras effective in detecting rheumatoid arthritis
A new study, published today in Scientific Reports, highlights that thermal imaging has the potential to become an important method to assess Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis -- can its onset be delayed or prevented?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder that leads to significant health issues as well as high treatment costs.
Disease burden in osteoarthritis is similar to rheumatoid arthritis
Osteoarthritis (OA) has traditionally been viewed as a highly prevalent but milder condition when compared with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and some may believe that it is part of a normal aging process requiring acceptance, not treatment.
Prospect of a new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
An international research group led by Charité -- Universitätsmedizin Berlin has completed testing a new drug to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Can rare lymphocytes combat rheumatoid arthritis?
Immunologists at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg have demonstrated that ILC2, a group of rare lymphoid cells, play a key role in the development of inflammatory arthritis.
How environmental pollutants and genetics work together in rheumatoid arthritis
New research documents how chemicals and a certain gene activate an enzyme to increase the risk and severity of RA and bone destruction.
Rheumatoid arthritis meets precision medicine
Scientists are bringing precision medicine to rheumatoid arthritis for the first time by using genetic profiling of joint tissue to see which drugs will work for which patients, reports a new multi-site study.
Causes of death in rheumatoid arthritis patients
Mortality rates were increased for patients with rheumatoid arthritis relative to the general population across all causes of death in a recent Arthritis Care & Research analysis.
Menopause found to worsen symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
A recent study published in Rheumatology suggests that women with rheumatoid arthritis suffer a greater decline in physical function following menopause.
More Rheumatoid Arthritis News and Rheumatoid Arthritis Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.