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Growth factors for blood cells

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

Growth factors are also known as colony stimulating factors. They are substances produced by the body and there are many different types. Some types stimulate the bone marrow to make certain blood cells. We can now make some growth factors in the laboratory.

In cancer care, you may have treatment called granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) after chemotherapy, to help your blood counts recover. There are different types of these drugs, including

  • Lenogastrim (Granocyte)
  • Filgrastim (Neupogen, Zarzio, Nivestim, Ratiograstim)
  • A long acting type (pegylated) of filgrastim called pegfilgrastim or Neulasta

Researchers are looking into using some types of blood cell growth factors as biological therapy. GM-CSF (granulocyte and macrophage colony stimulating factor) is a growth factor that increases the number of some types of white blood cells (neutrophils and monocytes). It also stimulates dendritic cells to divide. These are a type of white blood cell that help the immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells. So researchers are using GM-CSF alongside other biological therapies to try to boost numbers of dendritic cells and help them to work. Researchers are also using GM-CSF in cancer vaccines for certain types of cancer.

This is still experimental research. In trials so far, patients who had these vaccines made more dendritic cells. But we don’t know yet whether this will affect their cancer. Trials have only been carried out with very small numbers of patients, mostly with advanced melanoma.

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Updated: 15 April 2013