New Research Finds That Repurposing Drugs For Other Illnesses May Stop The Spread Of Cancer


A study has found that cancer treatment may be on the brink of something new, all due to scientists discovering that certain drugs that are already in existence and used to treat heart disease and depression, could very well reverse the key changes in cancer cells that are linked with their ability to spread.

The word metastasis is described as the ability of cancer cells to spread to other parts of the body. When a patient’s cancer has metastasized, it often becomes incredibly difficult to treat, and it has also become the leading cause of death as well. This is why getting an early diagnosis of cancer and treatment as soon as possible, tend to be key to surviving cancer.

Cancer begins inside the nucleus of a cell, which is the cell’s command center that contains its DNA, when the genes inside the nucleus have certain changes.

Targeting Increased Metastasis

For over 150 years, scientists have used changes in the size of the cell’s nucleus to diagnose cancer and its severity by examining cancer cells beneath a microscope which look abnormal.

In a variety of cancer types, these changes in size are often linked to increased metastasis, which is the cancer cell’s ability to spread. This is also what reduces one’s chances of survival. However, there are only a few treatments that focus specifically on metastasis.

In order to look into this further, researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Eastern Finland, and Montrealscreened drugs in the lab that managed to reverse the nucleus size changes in cells from three specific cancers, which were colon, lung, and prostate.

Looking At Existing Drugs

Through their screening, the researchers identified a number of already existing cancer drugs, but also found some drugs that were not used to treat cancer before. These included medications meant to treat depression, heart disease, and killing parasitic worms.

Although all of these “new” found drugs will need to be tested further to truly check their effectiveness in lessening metastasis in cancer patients, the drug screening managed to discover more than a dozen drugs that could possibly prove effective for all three of these cancers.

Since drugs normally target specific types of cancer cells while being generally non-toxic, these could possibly be added to treatments that are already in place to lessen metastasis without adding more adverse effects to the already existing toxic side effects that usually occur with chemotherapy treatment.

Reversing the Size Changes of the Nucleus

The research team also found that in each type of cancer, there was a different set of drugs that could change the nucleus size in the opposite direction as the changes associated with metastasis increase.

But the scientists admit that understanding why was rather confusing since size changes did go in both directions, with a decrease in metastasis size in lung cancer but an increase in metastasis size in breast and prostate cancer.

Currently, there is ongoing research into the causes of metastasis, but they did find that it occurs when the cancer cells break away from the original tumor and travel through the bloodstream into other parts of the body.

Tissue Invasions

With a smaller nucleus, it might be easier for cells to squeeze through the walls of blood vessels to enter other tissues, while a bigger nucleus could be more changeable to allow that type of squeezing.

In almost all of the drugs that were tested, by changing the size of the nucleus, which is in the opposite direction that usually happens with metastasis, managed to reduce the cell’s ability to invade and move tissues.

The cell’s speed and ability to move will most likely be affected by the size changes since the nucleus is connected closely to a network of filaments, which are called the cytoskeleton, which is what controls its movements.

The scientists believe that similar screens for other kinds of cancer will mostly likely discover other drugs that could possibly target specific types of cancer, as well as reduce metastasis, while limiting the number of adverse side effects as well.

You can see the study results published in the journal, ACS Chemical Biology.

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