UCI Pharmacy Research Team Identifies Potential Risk Factors for Chemotherapy Treatment in Hispanic Population

From left to right, Jean Doh, Benjamin Lee, and Alexandre Chan.

In a collaborative study published in Leukemia & Lymphoma, researchers from UCI Health and the UCI School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences have identified potential risk factors for adult leukemia and lymphoma patients of Hispanic heritage who have received pegaspargase.

Pegaspargase is a vital and potent chemotherapy agent used in the treatment of several blood cancers, such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Though this agent is highly effective in eradicating malignant cells, patients often experience debilitating side effects.

“Pegaspargase and asparaginase-based products were historically used in the treatment of pediatric ALL,” explains Benjamin Lee, an oncology pharmacy specialist at UCI Health. “However, treating adult patients with pegaspargase often poses additional challenges in clinical practice due to its complex toxicity profile.”

In this study, the researchers found that adult patients of Hispanic heritage who received pegaspargase had 9.8 times higher risk of developing pancreatitis compared to non-Hispanic patients. The researchers hypothesize that toxicity to the pancreas may be associated with a significantly higher incidence of pegaspargase-associated hypertriglyceridemia (elevated triglycerides that increase the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease) in Hispanic patients (54.2% vs. 8.3%; p=0.001).   

“As oncology pharmacists, we play a unique role within the multidisciplinary care team to optimize chemotherapy utilization and provide essential supportive care,” says Jean Doh, a senior oncology pharmacist at UCI Health. “It’s important to ensure that we research the best strategy to minimize toxicities to patients who are receiving these types of cytotoxic therapies.”

The research team plans to continue studying the toxicities associated with pegaspargase in order to mitigate its negative side effects in patients with high risk factors, including genetics.

“As part of an Hispanic-serving institution, UCI Health Pharmacy Services is in a unique position to serve our community’s large Hispanic adult population,” comments Alexandre Chan, professor of clinical pharmacy and chair of the department of clinical pharmacy practice at the UCI School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences. “Most patients with ALL will receive chemotherapy treatment for up to two years, so we must ensure that our patients are able to complete their treatment and have the best treatment outcomes.”

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