A new study performed on mice has shown that an antibiotic may be able to destroy melanoma.
Melanoma is a type of deadly skin cancer that develops from melanocytes (cells that contain pigment).
In the United States alone, doctors diagnose more than 90,000 new melanomas each year. The rate of melanoma cases have been climbing steadily over the past years
Cells differ in melanoma tumors. Some are very vulnerable to existing cancer treatments, such as BRAF and MEK inhibitors, while others quickly become resistant to these drugs, supporting the growth and spread of the tumor. In earlier research, the most difficult cells to treat produced high levels of an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 1 (ALDH1).
Experts search for ways to block ALDH1 production, and the new study targeted to destroy all cells that secrete high levels of ALDH1.
The research team — at the Medical Research Council Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom — concentrated on nifuroxazide, an antibiotic, which was originally patented in the 1960s and is used to treat diarrhea and colitis.
Their findings were published this week in the journal Cell Chemical Biology.
What the research team did
The researchers implanted human melanoma samples into mice and then treated them with nifuroxazide. The antibiotic selectively destroyed tumor cells that produced higher levels of ALDH1 but failed to destroy other cell types.
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Also, they treated the tumor with standard cancer drugs — BRAF and MEK inhibitors and the number of cells producing higher levels of ALDH1 improved and became sensitive to nifuroxazide.
The lead researcher Dr. Liz Patton said;
“There won’t be one magic bullet for targeting melanoma — the variations that exist within the cancers mean there will need to be combination therapies.”
“When people are given BRAF or MEK drugs to treat melanoma it can result in the tumors having more cells with high levels of ALDH, so we think that’s a really important target.”
“We’ve shown this antibiotic that’s used mostly to target intestinal bacteria can also target and kill cancer cells high in the enzyme ALDH1,” Dr. Patton stated.
She still added:
“It’s great that this antibiotic is approved for use in humans, but it wasn’t designed as a cancer drug, so we still need to find out if it’s safe and effective for cancer in humans — for example, can it get to the cancer in the body and are the doses needed safe? We may need to take the concept for how this antibiotic works and re-design it to make it better at killing cancer.”
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Head of molecular and cellular medicine at the Medical Research Council, Dr. Nathan Richardson, is excited at the prospect. He says;
“This imaginative study exploits the sensitivity of some cancer cells to an existing antibiotic and could reveal an exciting new tactic to both combination treatment and ‘personalized’ medicine by directly targeting drug resistance.”