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Antiparasitic drug repurposed for treatment of brain tumours

Published on 13/04/17 at 09:35am

Researchers from The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research's Karches Center for Oncology Research has had a research breakthrough by taking a closer look at an antiparasitic drug for use against brain tumours. The drug, mebendazole, is commonly used to treat parasitic pinworms but recent research had suggested that it may have potential therapeutic use in those suffering from low-grade glioma, the most common type of brain tumour.

The researchers decided to follow this lead and the results proved to be greater than expected. The standard treatment for brain tumours is to use vincristine in combination with other drugs. The problem that vincristine has is that it is not well-able to cross the blood-brain barrier and is particularly toxic to the body.

However, when measuring mebendazole and vincristine against each other, they found that mebendazole kills tumours in the exact same way as vincristine but also that it slowed down the growth of glioma tumours – a function that vincristine does not have.

"We were rather surprised to see that vincristine, which is currently used to treat a range of different brain tumours, was totally ineffective in our in vivo glioma model," said Dr. Marc Symons, lead researcher on the study. "In contrast, in the same model, mebendazole performed quite well, most likely because mebendazole crosses the blood-brain barrier and reaches the tumour much better than vincristine. The reason that vincristine may be erroneously believed to be effective for the treatment of brain tumours is that it always has been used in combination with other treatments."

The research points towards the potential for mebendazole to replace vincristine in treatment of low-grade glioma. The drug has two major benefit of being less toxic to the body and more effective in slowing the growth of the tumours. The next stage of research will be to investigate the findings in further clinical trials to see if the results can be maintained in patients.

Ben Hargreaves

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