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Anti-Nausea Drug Kills Brain Tumor Cells

Aprepitant reduces tumor growth in lab setting (Mar. 18)

New research from the University of Adelaide in Australia has shown that the growth of brain tumors can be halted by a drug currently used to help patients recover from the side effects of chemotherapy.

The discovery was made during a study that looked at the relationship between brain tumors and a peptide — substance P — associated with inflammation in the brain.

Substance P is commonly released throughout the body by the nervous system and contributes to tissue swelling following injury. In the brain, levels of substance P increase after traumatic brain injury and stroke.

“Researchers have known for some time that levels of substance P are also greatly increased in different tumor types around the body,” said Dr. Elizabeth Harford-Wright. “We wanted to know if these elevated levels of the peptide were also present in brain tumor cells, and if so, whether or not they were affecting tumor growth. Importantly, we wanted to see if we could stop tumor growth by blocking substance P.”

Harford-Wright found that levels of substance P were substantially increased in brain tumor tissue.

Knowing that substance P binds to a receptor called NK1, she used an antagonist drug, aprepitant (Emend, Merck), to stop substance P from binding to the receptor. Aprepitant is already used in cancer clinics to help patients with chemotherapy-induced nausea.

“We were successful in blocking substance P from binding to the NK1 receptor, which resulted in a reduction in brain tumor growth — and it also caused cell death in the tumor cells,” Harford-Wright said. “So preventing the actions of substance P from carrying out its role in brain tumors actually halted the growth of brain cancer.”

“This is a very exciting result, and it offers further opportunities to study possible brain tumor treatments over the coming years,” she added.

Source: University of Adelaide; March 18, 2013.

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