Researchers in Canada have found that the human-ready antipsychotic drug, Thioridazine, targets only cancer stem cells, which propagate tumor growth, without damaging surrounding healthy cells. The study titled ‘Identification of Drugs Including a Dopamine Receptor Antagonist that Selectively Target Cancer Stem Cells’ has been authored by Sachlos, E. et al. & Bhatia, M. and has been published in the Journal Cell.
The antipsychotic drug, thioridazine, transforms cancer stem cells in a manner that they stop dividing. The manner in which the human-ready drug actually kills the cancer stem cells is the unusual aspect of the finding claim Dr. Mick Bhatia, scientific director of McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute in the report by Cancer Research, UK.
The research team at the McMaster University in Ontario conducted the laboratory experiments. They used pioneering robotic methods to identify the drug and test it for safety at a variety of doses.
What are cancer stem cells?
Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are cancer cells, which are found inside tumors. These cells are similar to somatic stem cells that have the ability to differentiate and divide. CSCs generate new tumors and hence are responsible for relapse and metastasis of cancer. Cancer stem cells targeted cancer therapies hold promise in patients with metastatic disease.
Cancer therapy targeting specific cancer stem cells opens up new avenues for cancer treatments; however, there are limitations with regard to biological screens that can differentiate between human CSCs and normal stem cell. The study uses a discovery platform that differentiates between normal human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC) and neoplastic pluripotent stem cells. Here, using an existing library of known compounds, small molecules which give rise to differentiation and self-renewal are identified. Thioridazine, an antipsychotic drug, selectively targets neoplastic cells and terminates cancer stem cells without affecting normal stem cells.
The drug targets the dopamine receptors on the cancer stem cells as well as breast cancer cells. Thus, dopamine receptors can act as biomarkers for diverse malignancies. Cancer stem cell targeting drugs can be used for supporting differentiation as a therapeutic strategy.
It is too early to begin treating cancer patients with thioridazine, however, post further investigations; this could be a possibility that holds much promise.
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