Posted on August 01, 2018

A prominent Qatari oncologist has welcomed a recent discovery in cancer treatment by Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q), calling it “an ingenious way” to increase the effectiveness of some cancer-fighting drugs. “This is just another example of how Qatar is becoming a global leader in the fight against cancer,” said Dr Ussama al-Homsi, senior consultant in Hematology-Oncology at the National Center for Cancer Care and Research (NCCCR), Hamad Medical Corporation.

Dr al-Homsi describes WCM-Q’s use of synthesised quinine as “an ingenious way” of increasing the effectiveness of a certain class of cancer-fighting drugs. Researchers at WCM-Q, a partner university of Qatar Foundation (QF), have discovered that an existing malaria drug could improve the effectiveness of a new class of cancer therapies, called glutaminase inhibitors, if used in combination.

The research, led by WCM-Q’s Dr Anna Halama and Dr Karsten Suhre, analysed the metabolic processes of cancer cells to show that the quinine-based malaria drug Chloroquine could boost the effectiveness of glutaminase inhibiting drugs, which are currently being developed by global pharmaceutical companies. According to the WCM-Q researchers, glutaminase inhibitors target a chemical process called glutaminolysis, in which the amino acid glutamine is broken down, releasing energy that cancer cells use to grow. Glutaminase inhibitors seek to disrupt this process, thereby depriving cancer cells of their energy source and slowing or stopping their growth.

However, certain cancer cells can activate alternative ways to generate energy and thereby escape the drug’s action.This is where a new research approach called “rational metabolic engineering” comes in. “The number of cancer cases has increased eight-fold in the last few years, from approximately 200 a year to over 1,600 in the past year. Cancer is now the second biggest killer in the country,” Dr al-Homsi said. “We simply now have more people living in Qatar and the sheer demographic reality of this would account for much of the increase in the number of cancer cases we treat each year,” he continued. “Fortunately, we have generous public health insurance in Qatar that allows us to go out and find the most effective medication to treat cancer, no matter what the cost. It is not unheard of to have single doses of medicine cost as much as QR30,000.”

“It is extremely important that the NCCCR, and QF, work to develop a strategic vision aimed at both treatment and research,” he notes. “Sidra Medicine and Qatar National Research Fund are members of QF and they have supported specialists from both Qatar and abroad to develop a co-operative research environment that rivals anything similar in the world.” “Cancer patients used to travel overseas for treatment but now they get the best care here. We now have one of the highest recovery rates in the world – for example, we have reached 90% recovery rate for children with leukaemia,” he added.

There have always been societal links to cancer, and studies have shown how a high-fat, low levels of physical activity, and the replacement of freshly-prepared food with processed and fast food, has clear links to an increased risk of cancer. Experts believe that the traditional Qatari diet, similar to the Mediterranean diet, has been replaced to a great extent by fast food, and a reliance on cars for transport has led to increased obesity rates among the population, in turn resulting in rising cancer rates. However, they emphasise that in many cases, cancer is a disease that can be mostly prevented through a healthy diet and exercise. 

source: Gulf Times