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November 3, 2008

Breast cancer prevention pill in development at ULM

Though October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month has concluded, a University of Louisiana at Monroe pharmacologist continues work to develop a daily pill to prevent breast cancer in at-risk women.

Lab experiments using mice genetically engineered to develop breast cancer will conclude by year's end, and the compound should progress to human clinical trials soon afterward, according to ULM Professor Dr. Paul Sylvester. The experiments have demonstrated that medium-strength doses of certain tocotrienols - a substance naturally found in vitamin E - appear to protect healthy cells against the effects of carcinogens and suppress tumor growth.

Dr. Sylvester has spent decades studying how the tocotrienols can attack cancer cells in early stages without harming healthy cells. Tocotrienols derived from palm oil could be available as a supplement within three years, he said.

Dr. Sylvester’s research into the link between breast cancer and vitamin E attracted the attention of Beta Pharmaceuticals of Australia, which provided funding for the Breast Cancer and Health Project last year. The project is a collaborative effort between four laboratories, whose work is considered essential before moving toward clinical trials in humans.

“Initially what we want to do is develop an oral, low-dose breast cancer prevention pill, targeting women in high-risk groups,” said Sylvester. “It looks very promising.”

Another goal, he said, would be to develop an intravenous, high-dose version to aggressively treat breast cancer in women who already have it.

Scientists on the project team are also working on a synthetic product to treat early-stage breast cancer, which in combination with chemotherapy, could reverse progression of the disease. Clinical trials and regulatory approval have to occur before such a treatment-strength dose is available, said Sylvester.

The American Cancer Society estimates that almost 180,000 women in the United States will be found to have invasive breast cancer in 2007, the most common cancer in women in the U.S. There are slightly over 2 million women living in the U.S. who have been treated for breast cancer.

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