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    ALS Drug Slows Melanoma Growth

    Study Shows Riluzole Shrinks Tumors Without Toxic Side Effects

    Riluzole Lowers Glutamate Levels continued...

    In animal studies, riluzole again suppressed tumor cell growth and progression, she says. The researchers were then able to secure an NCI grant to perform a new type of first-in-human study; it's designed to validate if a drug will perform as expected in humans -- "to see if you are hitting your targets," Goydos says.

    "This is the very first time we have treated melanoma patients with drugs that target [glutamate] and a significant number of patients responded," he says. The only significant side effect was dizziness, according to Chen.

    Tumors Shrink, Even Disappear

    Goydos says that he was amazed at some of the results. One of the first patients "had a large growth in the groin area," he says. "When the pathologists examined the tissue after the treatment, all they could see was scar tissue -- there was no tumor. We thought there was a mistake."

    Another patient had a "large painful lymph node on his neck and could barely move his head. One week in, the node shrank, and he was very comfortable, even without pain medication," Goydos says.

    Other researchers are enthusiastic about the approach. "What is exciting about these very preliminary results is that it is an outgrowth of a novel observation that showed that melanoma appears to be dependent on glutamate," says Stuart Lessin, MD, head of dermatology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

    "As far as metastatic disease goes, metastatic melanoma is very recalcitrant to treatment. This really provides a potential new avenue, a new target for treatment. [It] could work by itself or more likely in combination with other treatments," he tells WebMD.

    The next step will be a study of even sicker patients -- those whose disease has spread to other organs, like the liver. The dosage will gradually be increased to determine the most effective dose and identify possible toxic side effects.

    (Do you want the latest news about cancer sent directly to your inbox? Sign up for WebMD's cancer newsletter.)

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