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Release: July 2, 1999

UI Cancer Center researchers to study new treatment for lymphoma

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa Cancer Center researchers will begin a series of studies to determine the effectiveness of a new treatment for lymphoma. The investigation follows a modified theme on a well-founded cancer-fighting tactic: using the body to heal the body.

"We know that our body uses antibodies to fight infection, so researchers have worked hard over the past two to three decades trying to manipulate the immune system to use monoclonal antibodies to fight cancer," said Brian Link, M.D., UI assistant professor of internal medicine. Monoclonal antibodies are protein components of the immune system designed to attack and destroy tumors expressing specific molecules.

In 1997 the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Rituxan, the first monoclonal antibody seen as effective in treating certain types of cancer, specifically lymphoma. Experiments with Rituxan were done at the UI and other centers. Since that time, two monoclonal antibodies have been approved for different types of cancer, and researchers continue to look for ways to expand on these early successes.

The experimental program currently underway involves using a monoclonal antibody called Hu1D10. This specific monoclonal antibody is of interest because previous research has noted its ability to attack a specific molecule on lymphoma cells.

The use of monoclonal antibodies to treat lymphoma is not new to the UI Cancer Center team. In 1990 Roger Gingrich, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine, created a new antibody called 1D10. Developed from laboratory mice, 1D10 targeted a previously unknown molecule on lymphoma cells. The significance of this discovery led to further investigation of 1D10 by Link and George Weiner, M.D., UI associate professor of internal medicine and director of the UI Cancer Center. Following protein engineering improvements, the researchers developed Hu1D10, a "humanized" version of Gingrich's antibody.

"Rituxan targets a molecule called CD20," Link said, "We hypothesized that there are other molecules on the lymphoma cell that, if targeted, might either add to the efficacy seen when CD20 is targeted or might be more effective than targeting CD20."

Based on laboratory findings and animal safety studies, Link and his colleagues are prepared to take the next step. The researchers will conduct a series of studies at the UI General Clinical Research Center, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, that will test the effectiveness of the Hu1D10 antibody in lymphoma patients. The program is a collaborative effort between the UI Cancer Center, Cornell University in New York, and Walter E. Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. The studies began July 1 and will continue for six to nine months.

Investigators have a two-part focus in mind: effectiveness and safety. The goal for researchers is to find a suitable dose that allows them to "activate the immune system," without unnecessary side effects, Link said.

The outlook for the study is positive, Link said, but he noted that if the treatment is not effective, the gain will be measured in terms of the lessons learned during the research that bring investigators closer to a more effective drug for lymphoma.

"This project highlights the fact that the UI Cancer Center is a multi-dimensional institution that has the ability to take high quality research from the laboratory bench all the way to the bedside," Link said.

For more information about participating in the study, contact Brian Link, M.D.,
(319) 353-8504.