Existing Leukemia Drug Shows Potential in Colon Cancer Treatment

Enzyme blocker reduces growth of intestinal tumors.

Enzyme blocker reduces growth of intestinal tumors.

A drug currently used for the treatment of leukemia may also be able to prevent and control the growth of colon cancer tumors, a recent study found.

The study, published recently in the journal Science Translational Medicine, evaluated the use of imatinib, which acts by blocking a signaling pathway associated with a cell receptor grouping called EphB. A clinical study found that the drug was able to halve the growth intestinal tumors in mice with colorectal cancer.

The results of the study were noteworthy due to the lack of current available treatments that prevent tumor recurrence in the intestine following the removal of cancerous tumors via surgery.

"Our work has important clinical implications, since imatinib is a potentially novel drug for the treatment of tumor formation and cancer progression in patients predisposed to develop colorectal cancer," co-lead investigator Sven Pettersson said in a press release.

The researchers found that imatinib blocks tumor initiation by half at the stem cell level, while also significantly decreasing the growth and proliferation of tumors.

"In mice which mimicked human colon cancer, imatinib was shown to prolong their life span," study first author Parag Kundu, MD, said in a press release. "The drug was also effective in increasing the survival of mice which had late-stage tumors and rectal bleeding."

A similar result was noted during the evaluation of imatinib on colorectal tumor tissues from human patients.

Colorectal cancer initially develops as benign tumors that can become aggressive if left untreated. These tumors can also spread to other parts of the body.

Primary treatment during the early stages of colon cancer is surgical removal of the affected section of the intestine. Additionally, the findings indicate short term intermittent chemotherapies offer a potential treatment model that may substantially decrease side effects that typically occur during long term administration of imantinib.

"Our findings provide experimental evidence that Imatinib treatment did not interfere with the tumor suppressor function of EphB receptors," study co-supervisor Jonas Frisén, said in a press release.