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Lenalidomide Could Extend Lifespan, Improve Quality of Life


Lenalidomide, a drug known to cause birth defects, can also boost the body’s ability to fight off infections and tumors, abilities that decline with age. When given to elderly adults, lenalidomide could extend lifespan and improve quality of life, according to a University of California study.

Lenalidomide could provide a healthier old age

Lenalidomide is an analog of thalidomide, the drug withdrawn from the market in 1961 after it was associated with life-threatening birth defects. Today, lenalidomide has the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of anemia caused by myelodysplastic syndrome and for treatment of a type of cancer called multiple myeloma. It is also being studied in the treatment of other cancers.

However, lenalidomide cannot be used by women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant. In addition, all patients, including men and women who cannot become pregnant, can get lenalidomide only if they are registered with RevAssist, a program set up to ensure pregnant women do not take the drug, and that they get their prescription from a doctor and a pharmacy also registered with RevAssist.

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In this new study of lenalidomide, Dr. Edward Goetzl, of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, and his colleagues measured the levels of cytokines (proteins that attack disease-causing organisms or cause inflammation) in healthy young (21-40 years old) and old (65 years or older) adults. Specifically, he looked at the impact of lenalidomide on two cytokines: interleukin-2 (IL-2) and interferon-gamma (IFN-y).

Goetzl found that while 0.03 uM to 1 uM of lenalidomide enhanced generation of IL-2 and IFN-y by 17-fold and threefold, respectively, in the young adults, it raised them by 120-fold and sixfold in the older adults. The drug also improved proliferation and suppressed the death of stimulated T cells (white blood cells critical for healthy immune system functioning) in the older adults.

These findings suggest that lenalidomide could greatly improve immunity in the elderly, according to Goetzl. In a UK Telegraph article, it notes Goetzl says that while lenalidomide would not necessarily extend life, it could offer the elderly a healthier, better quality of life. He would like to see lenalidomide given to people 65 years and older along with their flu vaccine.

Huang MC et al. Clinical Immunology 2010 Dec 1 (epub)
National Institutes of Health
UK Telegraph December 16, 2010