Scientists found that combining anticoagulant drugs and antidepressants can cause cancer cells to eat themselves and hinder the progression of the killer disease.
The study, published in the journal Cancer Cell, tested blood thinners with tricyclic antidepressants on mice and discovered that their brain tumors stopped spreading and their lifespan even doubled.
The drug combination was tested on mice with gliomas, which are aggressive brain tumors arising from the support glial cells. Gliomas make up around one-third of all brain tumors and hold the highest incidence and mortality rate among primary brain cancer patients.
Conducted by Swiss scientists from Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne (EPFL) and designed and led by postdoctoral fellow Ksenya Shchors, the study fed animals the combination therapy in different doses and lasting for five consecutive days. The antidepressant was given orally while the anticoagulant was injected 10 to 15 minutes afterwards.
"The results showed that the drugs work together against the cancer cells. Specifically, the drugs disrupt a biochemical pathway in the glioma tumor cells that controls a mechanism known as 'autophagy'—which literally means 'to eat oneself,'" explained the EPFL scientists.
Each drug can stimulate autophagy on its own but neither individually had any "significant impact" on the mortality of glioma-stricken mice. When combined, the drugs doubled the lifespan of the subjects.
There is little insight into the treatment of gliomas at present. Certain antidepressants, for instance, could lower glioma risk but have little evidence supporting use in patients.
Scientists are hoping to launch trial on human subjects to see if the therapy will yield the same beneficial results found in mice.
"It is exciting to envision that combining two relatively inexpensive and non-toxic classes of generic drugs holds promise to make a difference in the treatment of patients with lethal brain cancer," Professor Douglas Hanahan of EPFL said.
However, he warned that it is yet to be seen if patients would benefit from the treatment, as the strategy is still "at an early stage and requires further more work to assess its full potential." The team is now gearing up for early clinical trials.
The study was created out of grants from Fondation S.A.N.T.É. and the School of Life Sciences at EPFL.
Photo: Allan Ajifo | Flickr