New Cancer Treatment May Ease Nerves

Graphic contains detailed, grayscale illustrations of two nerve endings set against a white background.

For patients who have just received a cancer diagnosis, the immediate need is clear: battling the life-threatening dangers of the cancer itself. Yet often overshadowed in this fight are the serious side effects of many treatments, which can take a devastating toll on patients’ quality of life. It’s a catch-22 that leaves many sufferers facing tough decisions.

One such side effect is neuropathy: a nerve problem affecting some 30 to 60 percent of patients, resulting in pain, numbness, tingling, swelling, or muscle weakness.

Fortunately, a drug developed at IU shows potential to fight cancer without damaging the nervous system.

A treatment that fights cancer and prevents nerve damage “has the potential to be a win-win,” says Mark Kelley, the Betty and Earl Herr Professor of Pediatric Oncology Research at IU School of Medicine. Photo courtesy of IU School of Medicine.

Developed over nearly 30 years by IU Simon Cancer Center researcher Mark Kelley, PhD, and in collaboration with an IU spin-off company he founded (Apexian Pharmaceuticals), the drug suppresses a protein in the body that supports cancer growth. But unlike chemotherapy, which can often cause nerve damage, the new treatment doesn’t disrupt the protein’s beneficial nerve-protecting function.

The promising drug, now in clinical trials, may eventually increase cancer survival rates and offer patients new hope—not just for successful treatment, but for a vibrant life to follow.

This article was originally published in the fall 2018 issue of Imagine magazine.

Written By
A. Price
A resident of the Hoosier state since grade school, Alex forged a friendship with “tried and true” IU upon becoming a writer at the IU Foundation.