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Malaria Drug May Be Useful In Fight Against Cancer

file photo (credit: American Cancer Society)

file photo (credit: American Cancer Society)

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By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Malaria has long been conquered in the U.S., but researchers at Penn have found an old malaria drug may have a new use in treating patients with advanced cancer.

Cancer cells are devilishly clever–hiding themselves from the body’s immune system–and, Dr. Ravi Amaravadi says, ducking the effects of chemotherapy through a process called autophagy.

“They block off parts of their cells that are damaged and basically burn them up and recycle them to fuel additional growth of the cancer cell,” Amaravadi explains.

Amaravadi and his colleagues found hydroxychloroquine–once used to treat malaria–blocks that process, making the cells more likely to die, and now they’ve developed a new, more potent version of the drug that they believe could do an even better job. It’s still in the animal-testing phase and there’s lots more work to be done, but Amaravadi is hopeful.

“It could one day eventually become a better drug than what we have now.”

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