Cancer: Gleevec can cause heart failure

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Cancer: Gleevec can cause heart failure
Cancer: Gleevec can cause heart failure
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Gleevec can cause heart failure

The leukemia drug Gleevec has caused serious heart problems in several patients. Using heart cells from mice, researchers led by Thomas Force from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia were able to show that the active ingredient can cause heart cells to die. Apparently, the protein that Gleevec inhibits is essential for heart muscle cell he alth.

In almost all cases of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), the gene for the so-called Abelson tyrosine kinase (ABL) is linked to the BCR gene (breakpoint cluster region) merged. The resulting faulty enzyme is constantly active and in turn stimulates the white blood cells to over-divide abnormally. Gleevec inhibits the ABL and is regarded as a real miracle cure in the fight against this type of leukemia.

Force and his colleagues were taken aback when 10 patients developed severe heart problems within 14 months of starting Gleevec therapy without showing any prior signs. In experiments with mouse cells and cell lines, the scientists realized that the drug triggers a stress response in the cell that normally has a protective function but kills the cell if the irritation persists. In the heart cells of mice, the researchers also observed that the mitochondria stopped working.

Now it must be carefully examined to what extent other tyrosine kinase inhibitors can also lead to heart problems, the scientists warn. However, the results should in no way belittle the use of Gleevec, but encourage the treating physicians to carefully monitor their patients' heart function.

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