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Northwestern Memorial Hospital studying arthritis drug’s potential in fighting cancer


A research study under way at Northwestern Memorial Hospital is trying to find out if the popular anti-inflammatory drug Celebrex might do more than ease arthritis pain. Researchers at Northwestern Memorial are enrolling patients with early stage head and neck cancers or non-small cell lung cancers in a research study to see if Celebrex reduces the return of old tumors or the chance of getting a new cancer when taken after surgery or radiation treatments.

The double-blind, randomized study will enroll about 120 patients at Northwestern Memorial, the primary teaching hospital of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Celebrex belongs to a class of drugs called COX-2 inhibitors that block the production of an enzyme called cyclooxygenese–2 or simply COX-2. COX-2 triggers pain and inflammation in arthritis sufferers and may also fuel the growth of cancer.

"COX-2 inhibitors have emerged in recent years as a promising anticancer therapy. Many cancers have high levels of COX-2," explains Athanassios Argiris, M.D., an oncologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Dr. Argiris, who coordinates the clinical research in lung as well as head and neck cancer at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, is the principal investigator of the research study, which is also expected to open in other major institutions in the U.S. in the coming months. COX-2 may promote the growth of new blood vessels that nourish the cancer tumors. "Taking Celebrex may starve the tumor of nutrients in a process called anti-angiogenesis," he says. "It also appears to promote self-destruction of cancer cells."

Based on successful clinical trials, Celebrex has been FDA-approved to treat those with a genetic syndrome, called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a disorder that greatly increases the risk of colon cancer. Researchers expect that Celebrex may have similar positive effects for cancer treatment and prevention of other cancers.

Several clinical trials are under way to look at COX-2 inhibitors and their ability to prevent and treat a variety of cancers. "As far as I know, this is the only current study of its kind for head and neck cancer," says Dr. Argiris. "I’m expecting that COX-2 inhibitors, such as Celebrex, may slow tumor growth or shrink existing tumors in people with head and neck and lung cancers. Moreover, COX-2 inhibitors may act early in the cancer process and prevent formation of new tumors," says Dr. Argiris. "Celebrex is considered to be safer on the stomach than aspirin, so the reduced gastrointestinal side effects make this an especially exciting therapy," says Dr. Argiris.

For more information on this study, call Northwestern Memorial’s physician referral line at 877-926-4664.

About Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH) is one of the country’s premier academic medical centers and is the primary teaching hospital of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Northwestern Memorial and its Prentice Women’s Hospital have 720 beds and more than 1,200 affiliated physicians and 5,000 employees. Providing care in a state-of-the-art facility, the hospital is recognized for its outstanding clinical and surgical advancements in such areas as cardiothoracic and vascular care, gastroenterology, neurology and neurosurgery, oncology, organ and bone marrow transplantation, and women’s health.

Northwestern Memorial was ranked as the nation’s 5th best hospital by the 2002 Consumer Checkbook survey of the nation’s physicians and is listed in the majority of specialties in this year’s US News & World Report’s issue of "America’s Best Hospitals." NMH is also cited as one of the "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" by Working Mother magazine and has been chosen by Chicagoans year after year as their "most preferred hospital" in National Research Corporation’s annual survey.

Amanda Widtfeldt | EurekAlert!
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