A Cancer Research study published in Nature Communications has suggested that a drug that combats malaria might help radiotherapy get rid of tumors. The study, which was done by the Cancer Research UK Radiation Research Centre in Oxford, studied how atovaquone affected tumors in mice to see if it can be used to treat cancer.
The purpose of radiotherapy is to ruin the DNA that are in cells. The more oxygen there is, the less cancer can fix broken DNA. Therefore, when a tumor does not have much oxygen, it is harder to treat it with radiotherapy. The tumors have a higher chance of spreading t other parts of the body.
This research indicated for the first time that a drug used for malaria restricts the rate that cancer cells use oxygen by going to the mitochondria, which used oxygen to make energy. By reducing the rate of use of oxygen, the drug reverses the oxygen levels in all tumors. The fully-oxygenated tumors are much easier to destroy using radiotherapy.
“This is an exciting result,” said Professor Gillies McKenna, at the Cancer Research UK/Medical Research Council Institute for Radiation Oncology in Oxford. “We have now started a clinical trial in Oxford to see if we can show the same results in cancer patients. We hope that this existing low-cost drug will mean that resistant tumors can be re-sensitised to radiotherapy. And we’re using a drug that we already know is safe.”
Dr. Emma Smith, Cancer Research UK’s science information manager, added that “The types of cancer that tend to have oxygen-deprived regions are often more difficult to treat – such as lung, bowel, brain and head and neck cancer. Looking at the cancer-fighting properties of existing medicines is a very important area of research where medical charities can make a big impact and is a priority for Cancer Research UK. Clinical trials will tell us whether this drug could help improve treatment options for patients with these types of tumor.”