OU professor using drug to help treat blood conditions, cancers

Saturday, December 17th 2005, 4:29 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An international drug study that could provide a new weapon to battle an abnormal blood condition and a variety of cancers is being conducted by an Oklahoma City physician.

Dr. James N. George, a blood and cancer specialist and a University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center professor, is using the investigational medication called ``AMG 531'' to treat 10 Oklahomans, 140 other patients in the United States and 150 patients in Europe.

They all have ``idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura,'' or ITP.

An estimated 2,000 Oklahomans have the immune system malfunction that recognizes the body's own platelets as foreign _ and destroys them.

Three times as many women as men _ especially young women and women who have been pregnant and given birth _ contract the disease. The causes are unknown.

Many cases go undetected or need little, if any, treatment after a diagnosis, George said.

In worst-case scenarios, though, a low platelet count could cause either major external bleeding or fatal hemorrhaging in the brain, he said.

So far, the drug AMG 531 has been shown to increase platelet production to outpace platelet destruction.

Tammie, a Lawton woman whose last name can't be used because of confidentiality restrictions of the drug study, was first diagnosed with ITP in 1987 when she was 27 years old. She was included in George's drug study in 2004.

Tammie was treated with steroids that caused her face to swell and grow hair. She also underwent chemotherapy treatments that left her bald, and her spleen was removed.

She was eventually referred to the OU Health Sciences Center in 2003 and joined George's drug study a year later.

Tammie used to drive from Lawton to OU's Cancer Center in Oklahoma City once a week for a shot of AMG 531, but now she can administer them herself.

``It's been a lifesaver,'' she said.

Dr. Howard Ozer, director of the OU Cancer Center in Oklahoma City, said the drug has the potential to help ``thousands of Oklahomans'' suffering from leukemia, and lung, breast and pancreatic cancers.

The drug would be used to replenish precious platelets lost during chemotherapy to treat cancer, Ozer said.