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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Colon cancer can be prevented with a commonly used psychiatric drug – Says new study

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A study reveals that a lithium-based psychiatric drug can boost the fitness of healthy gut stem cells, making them more resistant to sabotage by cancer-causing mutant stem cells.

Most bowel cancer cases are believed to be caused by mutations in a gene called APC. Gut stem cells with mutations in this gene have a competitive advantage over their healthy counterparts and often outperform them, leading to unlimited growth and cancer.

Researchers in the Netherlands have found that mutant stem cells actively emit signals that sabotage the function of healthy stem cells in the gut.

“We have discovered the first steps in the development of intestinal cancer. We have discovered that after the appearance of a mutation in a key gene that regulates the stem cells of the intestine, these cells become cheats that actively suppress normal cells in the environment” explained Professor Louis Vermeulen, group leader of the Center for Experimental Molecular Medicine at UMC Amsterdam, and lead author of the paper.

Scientists determined this concept as super competition.

“This is a totally new concept, since it was always thought that mutant cells that can turn into cancer simply proliferate faster or are resistant to cell death,” he added.

The researchers also discovered a way to prevent mutant stem cells from interfering with healthy ones. Lithium, a drug commonly used to treat various psychiatric disorders, prevented mutant stem cells from taking over and forming tumors in mice by rendering healthy stem cells insensitive to harmful signals.

The findings have led to the start of a clinical trial to be carried out in the Netherlands to test the effect of lithium on the development of bowel cancer in people. It is reported that people with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a relatively rare genetic syndrome, will participate in the trial. Patients with FAP have mutations in the APC gene and without treatment, almost all will develop bowel cancer between the ages of 35 and 45.

The trial will enroll 10 young adult patients with FAP and the patients will be observed before, during, and after lithium treatment for a total of 18 months. The researchers will collect evidence on the preventive effect of lithium on mutant stem cells and polyps formation, as well as verify the safety profile of lithium. The results of the clinical trial are likely to serve as the basis for larger trials with more patients.

“This assay can establish a proof of concept that competition between mutant cells and normal cells can be manipulated in such a way that healthy cells outperform mutants,” explained Sanne van Neerven, one of the study authors.

The author stressed that this is a novel strategy for cancer prevention and that it could be applied to many inherited cancer syndromes involving different mutations and organs.

Image Credit: iStock

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