botox for gastric cancer
August 23, 2014

Researchers Have Found That Botox Could One Day Be Used In Treating Gastric Cancers

Eric Hopton for - Your Universe Online

Botox is in the news again, and this time it looks like potentially good news for some cancer treatments. Although it still receives mixed reviews as a result of its association with cosmetic procedures and some high-profile failures, the medical world is discovering new ways in which Botox can help treat a wide range of conditions.

In a new process which has been described as “cheap, safe and efficient,” researchers have found that Botox can be used in treating gastric cancers which are the second highest cause of global cancer deaths. The five year survival rate is less than 25 percent making it one of the most devastating of all cancers.

Professors Timothy Wang of Columbia University’s Medical Center and Duan Chen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have co-authored the study published in the August edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

According to their study, the new approach targets the nervous system, specifically the gastric vagal nerve which the study’s authors found “contributes to the growth of gastric tumors.” Scientists had already observed that cancers in both humans and mice have high concentrations of nerves in and around the tumors. “Nerves control cancer stem cells,” says Professor Chen. The researchers believe that interrupting the nerve signals (denervation) might suppress or eliminate the cancer’s growth.

Initial studies were carried out on mice. Three different methods of blocking the nerve signals were tried. The first of these involved using surgery to physically sever the vagal nerve, a procedure known as vagotomy. The results were encouraging with evidence of “significantly slowed tumor growth” as well as improved survival rates.

The team then tried a partial vagotomy in which only the nerves on one side of the stomach were cut. Tumors on the side with intact uncut nerves continued to grow. This confirmed the previous findings that the nerve connections are crucial to cancer growth.

Finally, the researchers tried blocking the nerve signal transmission pharmacologically using Botox injections into the nerve. The effect on cancer growth was equivalent to that found when the nerve was surgically severed, but of course the procedure is likely to be much more cost-effective and far less invasive.

Key to the new treatment is the role of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is known to stimulate cell division. Blocking its activity should reduce tumor development and this proved to be the case. The use of Botox in cosmetic procedures works by blocking acetylcholine, resulting in temporary muscle paralysis which in turn reduces facial wrinkling.

Further evidence of the role of the nervous system in cancer growth comes from the results of studies of 37 patients who had a recurrence of stomach cancer years after their initial surgery. In 12 of the 13 patients who had a vagotomy during their operations no new tumors were found in the areas where the nerves had been severed. All of the remaining 24 patients had tumors “in the same region of the stomach.”

These tests have so far only concentrated on early stage gastric cancer. Dr. Wang hopes to extend the research and to “develop drugs that block neurotransmitter receptors.” This would be “more effective than surgery or Botox on more invasive forms of cancer.” The drugs should also be able to target “cells that have broken away from the main tumor.”

Image 2 (below): Stomach cells (red) with nerve cells (green) growing in a lab culture dish. Credit: Lab of Timothy C. Wang, MD


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