Researchers found drugs used for schizophrenia can limit the growth of pancreatic cancer and decrease the mobility of pancreatic cancer cells, one of which is pictured above with the nucleus stained blue and the fibers of the cytoskeleton labelled with a red fluorescent dye. Photo by Dr. Nathalie Giese/University Hospital Heidelberg
WASHINGTON, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Pancreatic cancer often does not cause symptoms, so it is diagnosed late, metastasizes earlier than other cancer and rapidly becomes resistant to chemotherapy, making it one of the most difficult types of the disease to treat.
Researchers have found schizophrenia drugs were effective at slowing the growth of pancreatic tumors and impeding their ability to prolifierate, according to a study published in the journal Gastroenterology.
Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3 percent of cancer cases in the United States, but 7 percent of cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. The organization says that this year, about 53,070 people are expected to be diagnosed with the disease, and roughly 41,780 will die of it.
Pancreatic cancer is often discovered at much later stages than other forms of the disease, and so is more difficult to treat.
To find new ways of treatment, researchers at several institutions took on a large analysis of genetic activity among pancreatic cancer patients, finding the dopamine receptor DRD2 was much more active in the cancer cells of patients.
"We leveraged quantitative and computational biology approaches that we have established in order to identify genes that may play a central role in several pancreatic cancer-relevant signaling pathways among almost 3,000 genes that exhibited abnormally high or low activities" Yasser Riazalhosseini, a researcher at McGill University and co-leader of the study, said in a press release.
For the study, the researchers first tested the effects of the antipsychotic drug pimozide against pancreatic cancer cell lines, finding it substantially slowed the growth and mobility of the cancer cells.
The researchers then implanted the cells in mice, allowing them to grow into tumors before treating them with haloperidol, a dopamine antagonist used with schizophrenia patients. Although the mice still developed cancer from the implants, they developed smaller tumors and had fewer metastases than mice not treated with the drug.
"We do not know yet whether haloperidol or related medications have the same effect in pancreatic cancer patients as they have in tumor cells and mice," said Jörg Hoheisel, a researcher at the German Cancer Research Center, adding the the next step would be to test the drugs in human pancreatic cancer patients.