Gut instinct: tapeworm drug fights prostate cancer

Thursday, 23 November, 2017

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Researchers have found a substance in Giardia and tapeworm medicines that fights against prostate and colon cancer.

“We discovered that this specific substance is blocking the signalling pathway in the cancer cells, and makes them stop growing. It is not often that researchers discover a substance that targets specific molecules as precisely as this one, ” said Professor Karl-Henning Kalland at the Department of Clinical Science, the University of Bergen (UiB).

Hyperactive cells

The researchers in Kalland’s team saw that the cells in prostate and colon cancer contain high amounts of activated beta-catenin. Activation of this protein makes the cells run amok and start dividing quickly. In addition, beta-catenin makes the cancer cells more resistant and better able to survive.

In the study, the researchers discovered that it was the substance NTZ (nitazoxanide), a well known and approved antiparasite drug, that decomposed the activated beta-catenin.

“We are the first researchers who have mapped the complex molecular mechanisms involved in this process,” Kalland said.

Recycling old medicines

Experiments with well-known drugs show that a medicine may have different and unknown targets in the cells.

“The advantage of testing already approved drugs is that we know they work in the human body and have no serious side effects, which means that a future treatment may happen quicker,” Kalland explained.

Strengthen the immune system

NTZ attacks cancer cells by hindering the activated beta-catenin. It appears that this also stimulates the central parts of the immune system which attacks cancer cells.

“At the moment, we are working on how to strengthen our ongoing immune therapy against prostate cancer by using the mechanisms we discovered of the NTZ,” Kalland said.

Kalland and his research team are in the first phase of a clinical trial using immune therapy against prostate cancer.

The study has been published in Nature Chemical Biology.

Image credit: ©

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