Researchers at Houston Methodist may have hit a breakthrough recently as they discovered a combination treatment that significantly improves the chances that a patient’s drug-resistant triple-negative breast cancer will respond positively to the treatment.

The research team, led by Dr. Jenny Chang, director of the Cancer Center and Emily Herrmann Presidential Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research, studied a drug that is typically used to treat heart failure. They combined this drug, called L-NMMA, with chemotherapy treatments and were able to successfully cause tumor regressions in patients with triple-negative breast cancer.

While patients with drug-resistant cancers typically have only about a 25 to 30 percent chance of responding to drugs targeting their immune systems, those patients treated with L-NMMA had a response rate of 50 percent.

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L-NMMA, which was already on the market for the treatment of cardiac issues, has been through the FDA review process and should therefore have an easier time getting through again and getting out to the public faster.

“This is an effective way of cutting short drug development and getting it into patients as quickly as possible,” Chang says. “This process has taken us less than five years and saved billions of dollars, giving us the opportunity to provide this new therapy faster for our patients.”

Dr. Chang and her team will now begin planning a multinational phase-three trial to evaluate L-NMMA’s if efficacy in more patients. If successful, they will move on to filing for US food and drug administration approval.

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Dr. Chang is using generous gifts from the community to get important treatment and help out to underserved healthcare “deserts” in the area and gladly shares her research breakthroughs with the rest of the research community so they can be used to help as many people as possible. This isn’t Dr. Chang’s first breakthrough, either. Her work has advanced health science in many areas.

“I grew up with ‘Agatha Christie,’” Chang explains. “I love detective movies. This is like a mystery to solve.”

Dr. Chang knew from age 12 that she wanted to go to medical school. After several members of her family were affected by cancer, she knew helping people with cancer would be important to her. At the time, there were not nearly as many treatment options available as there are now.

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“It was chemo, chemo, chemo,” Chang recalls. “Now it’s much better.”

Thank goodness for innovators like Dr. Chang who work hard to make sure every cancer patient has the care they need, even if that means inventing a new treatment. The L-NMMA and chemo combo stands a chance to change the lives of so many triple-negative breast cancer patients.

“We’re just learning so much more than we ever thought possible 10 years ago. That’s what I wake up for,” she says. “There’s such a huge need out there, and that keeps me up at night. That also motivates me to work a little harder and a little more. I want to be able to help more people.”

The research was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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