A new study by the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Neurofibromatosis Center reveals some interesting details about an anticancer drug. Researchers discovered that the drug has restored hearing for some patients suffering from Neurofibromatosis Type II. This is positive news for those dealing with both hearing loss and cancer.

Neurofibromatosis Type II

Neurofibromatosis Type II (NF2) is a rare disorder that affects an estimated one in 25,000 people. This illness causes vestibular schwannomas (slow-growing tumors) to form on the eighth cranial nerves. These cranial nerves contain the acoustic and vestibular branches. The acoustic is responsible for hearing, while the vestibular regulates the body’s equilibrium, or balance.

As the tumors grow, they press against the brain stem and interrupt the function of these branches. Most patients suffering from neurofibromatosis begin to develop hearing loss, and the disease eventually leads to deafness.

Bevacizumab: The Anticancer Drug

The vestibular schwannomas that are responsible for hearing loss produce high levels of proteins called VEGF. These proteins cause blood vessel to grow, which feeds tumors.

For the study, researchers treated 14 patients with both NF2 and progressive hearing loss, using an anticancer drug called Bevacizumab. The drug reduces the VEGF levels in certain cancers. The patients received Bevacizumab intravenously every three weeks for 48 weeks. After the treatment was finished, the patient underwent an additional 24 weeks of observation.

The results were positive. Twelve patients went from non-serviceable to serviceable hearing in the affected ear, according to the Gardner-Robertson scale. Five of those patients maintained improvement in hearing for six months after they stopped taking the drug.

While the drug has managed to show improvements in hearing, there are some side effects. The drug can cause slower wound healing, high blood pressure and bleeding. Three of the patients who participated in the study experienced some of these side effects. The anticancer drug also costs up to $5,000 per dose.

Dr. Jaishri Blackeley, director of the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Neurofibromatosis Center, remains optimistic.  “Our study shows that the hearing loss suffered by at least a subset of these patients isn’t permanent and that there is hope of reversing it,” says Dr. Blakeley. “The trial results, although limited by the small number of patients, suggest that patients may not need to get doses of drug as frequently as may be required for cancer and also may be able to take breaks in treatment. This may help reduce the frequency of negative side effects and control long-term health care costs.”