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Anti-wrinkle drug may treat stomach cancers: study

2014-08-21 08:58 Xinhua Web Editor: Mo Hong'e

Botox, the popular wrinkle eraser, could also be effective in treating stomach cancers, a new study said Wednesday.

The study, published in the US journal Science Translational Medicine, showed that the drug slows cancer growth by eliminating the signals sent by nerves that are linked to cancer stem cells.

Researchers have thus far tested the procedure on mice, and will soon start testing on humans.

"This study shows that nerves control cancer stem cells," said the study led by Duan Chen, professor of Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and Timothy Wang, professor of the Columbia University.

"We found that by removing the effect of the nerve, the stem cells in the cancer tumor are suppressed, leading to cancer treatment and prevention," Chen said.

The study found that nerves promote tumor growth through the release of a neurotransmitter.

The researchers tried four methods to cut the connection between the nerves and the tumor: surgically by cutting the gastric vagus nerve (vagotomy), by local injection of Botox to block the release of neurotransmitter from the vagus nerve, by giving a drug to block the receptor of the neurotransmitter, and by knocking out of the receptor gene. All procedures suppressed the tumor growth.

"But we found that the anti-cancer effects were remarkable, especially with local vagotomy or by injecting Botox. It actually surprised us. The finding that Botox was highly effective was particularly exciting," Chen said.

Botox is made from a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum and is well known to the public as a beauty treatment, but it is also used for different medical indications.

"We believe this treatment is a good treatment because it can be used locally and it targets the cancer stem cells. The Botox can be injected through gastroscopy and it only requires the patient to stay in the hospital for a few hours," said Chen.

He added that the procedure is also less toxic than most standard cancer treatments, less expensive and has hardly any side effects.

The promising results from this study have led to an initiation of a phase II clinical trial for patients with stomach cancer in Norway.

The researchers said the Botox treatment could be an additional treatment for patients who have inoperable stomach cancer, or patients who have received chemotherapy but no longer respond to such therapy.

It could also be considered in patients who, due to toxicity of chemotherapy, cannot be offered chemotherapy treatment or who, after detailed information about chemotherapy, still do not want such treatment.

The nerve-tumor growth connection could also occur in other solid tumors, such as in prostate cancer, but more research was needed to identify the precise nerves involved, which were expected to vary from organ to organ and tumor to tumor.

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