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Drug That Treats Cocaine Addiction May Curb Colon Cancer
  • Posted February 16, 2024

Drug That Treats Cocaine Addiction May Curb Colon Cancer

FRIDAY, Feb. 16, 2024 (HealthDay news) -- A drug first developed to treat cocaine addiction might also help slow the spread of advanced colon cancer, a new study suggests.

The drug vanoxerine appears to suppress cancer stem cell activity by essentially rewiring gene networks critical to tumor growth, the researchers explained.

“Tumors treated with vanoxerine become more susceptible to attack by the immune system due to the reactivation of ancient viral DNA fragments accumulated in our genome throughout evolution,” explained lead researcher Yannick Benoit, an associate professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the University of Ottowa in Canada.

“This finding is quite significant, considering that colorectal tumors tend to show poor response to standard immunotherapy,” Benoit added in a university news release.

Colon cancer is the world's second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths, and it is considered a silent killer because it typically doesn't show symptoms until the cancer is advanced.

Vanexorine interferes with a protein that transports dopamine, the brain chemical involved in sensations of pleasure and reward. Because of this, it was first developed to help people with an addiction to cocaine.

But the drug also suppresses a key enzyme in colon cancer cells, the researchers discovered.

Vanexorine suppressed stem cell activity in the tumors of colon cancer patients, as well as in tumors implanted into lab animals.

The drug also produced minimal toxic side effects in both humans and lab mice, Benoit said.

This indicates vanexorine could prove “a safe way to eliminate cancer stem cells in colorectal tumors without harming the ‘good stem cells' in the body's organs,” Benoit added.

The findings were published Feb. 15 in the journal Nature Cancer.

Further research will be needed to fully test the ability of vanexorine to slow or stop colon cancer, the researchers added.

“For those unfortunate people diagnosed with advanced and aggressive forms of colorectal cancer, we profoundly hope our work can lead to the development of powerful options for treatment in the future and substantially increase their survival chances,” Benoit said.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about colon cancer treatment.

SOURCE: University of Ottowa, news release, Feb. 13, 2024

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