January 23, 2021

The Niche

Trusted stem cell blog & resources

Psyching out cancer stem cells: using old antipsychotic drug as a new weapon against cancer

cancer stem cellsMany folks believe that if you can kill or otherwise inactivate cancer stem cells, you’ve gone a long way to curing many types of cancer. However the cells have remained elusive.

Now, Mick Bhatia’s lab has found that the antipsychotic drug, Thioridazine, has activity against cancer stem cells.

The work, published in Cell (read paper here), indicates that Thioridazine works not by killing cancer stem cells, but rather by encouraging the stem cells to differentiate.

Bhatia’s group used a novel screening approach (see graphical abstract from the paper above) to find molecules that specifically differentiate cancer stem cells. Interestingly they found Thioridazine, which intriguingly targets the dopamine receptor expressed on certain cancer stem cells. Bhatia can be seen in the interview below talking about the finding.

You might think then that Thioridazine would be safe because it only targets cells expressing dopamine receptor, however the drug reportedly has significant safety concerns due to causing fatal heart arrhythmias and regulators have largely phased it out in both Canada and the U.S..

Even so, it may be safe for cancer treatments since it could be used for a much shorter period of time, speculated Bhatia. However it is still early days in this story so there is much to learn about this new route to attacking cancer. Still, a very exciting and important development.




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