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WFUBMC Is First Site in North Carolina To Offer STI-571 for Some Gastrointestinal Tumors

The Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is the first site in North Carolina offering STI-571 as an investigational treatment for gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs). STI-571 made national headlines recently with its promising results as a treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia.

STI-571 is the first of a new class of cancer treatments designed to inhibit the action of certain proteins that are involved in cell replication. Called tyrosine kinases, these proteins cause uncontrolled growth of certain types of cancer cells. GISTs are a rare type of sarcoma (cancer of the connective tissue) that can arise anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract but are seen most often in the stomach. Currently there are no treatment options for GIST other than surgery, and even with surgery, median survival rate is only about one year. GISTs account for approximately 5% of all sarcomas seen in the United States, and all sarcomas account for only about 1% of all cancers seen in the United States.

Results of the STI-571 leukemia trials have been called "dramatic" by researchers, and hopes are high for its use in other cancers, such as GIST. However, Paul Savage, M.D., associate professor of hematology/oncology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and principal investigator of the STI-571 GIST trial is cautious. "While initial clinical trials of STI-571in the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia have been very encouraging, it is not a universal cure-all for cancer, nor is a single cure for cancer right around the corner. It does, however, legitimize the large investment now being made in molecular biology research and the Human Genome Project, without which we would

not have understood the tyrosine kinases or developed STI-571."

The Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is the first site in North Carolina to have access to the trial because of its expertise in treating sarcomas. More patients with sarcomas are seen there than anywhere else in North Carolina. The Cancer Center also participated in the STI-571 leukemia trials.

STI-571 is an oral medication and has virtually no side effects. Patients participating in the clinical study will randomly be assigned to take STI-571 one or two times a day, and need to be seen at WFUBMC regularly for evaluations. It is important that patients understand that most stomach cancers are not GISTs, and that STI-571 is not a reasonable treatment for stomach cancer. Originally known as Glivec, but recently renamed Gleevec, the drug is a product of Novartis Pharmaceuticals. For information on the STI-571 GIST trial, call 716-1193.

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