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Antidepressants have potential to treat small-cell lung cancer

Last Update 06/04/2021

A class of antidepressants could be a potential new treatment for small-cell lung cancer (SCLC), suggests new research


There is currently no approved targeted therapy for SCLC and no new drugs have been identified in the last few decades. The research, published in the journal Cancer Discovery, used a bioinformatics approach to repurposing drugs to discover the potential benefits of the antidepressants for people with SCLC.

Bioinformatics is a combination of mathematics and computer science used to sort, classify, and analyse large databases of biological and biochemical information. Using data in this way enables large amounts of data to be analysed much quicker than in the past, helping speed up the discovery of potential new treatments. Julien Sage, associate professor of paediatrics and genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine said, “this is a good example of how we can combine ‘big data’ to find new uses for old drugs.”

Using the bioinformatics data two drugs, imipramine and promethazine, used in the USA to treat symptoms of depression were tested on human SCLC cells and SCLC cells in animals. Both drugs were found to prompt cell death mechanisms within the cancer cells. They were also effective in tests in SCLCs that had become resistant to the chemotherapy drug cisplatin.

The researchers are now in the process of identifying the optimal treatment regime for patients with SCLC and modifying these drugs to prevent them from entering the brain, in order to minimize side effects.

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