Breast cancer drug shows promise against serious infections

July 20, 2009,

An FDA-approved drug used for preventing recurrence of breast cancer shows promise in fighting life-threatening fungal infections common in immune-compromised patients, such as infants born prematurely and patients with cancer. Some scientists suspected that tamoxifen has antifungal properties; now new research from the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that it actually kills fungus cells and stops them from causing disease.

"It's still early, but if tamoxifen, or molecules like it, turns out to be an effective treatment against serious fungal infections, it'll be a welcome addition to our arsenal," said Damian Krysan, M.D., Ph.D., author of the research recently published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy and assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center .

While serious fungal infections are generally isolated to patients with cancer, patients in intensive care units, patients with HIV or patients taking immune-suppression medications for chronic conditions, they are among the deadliest infections. Fungus is the third most common cause of blood stream infection in premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit. The survival rate for children with is about 95 percent, but if they acquire a Candida albicans , that drops to 80 percent. has a 5 percent risk of death, but the risk of death for C. albicans blood stream infection is 20 percent.

Tamoxifen is given to prevent breast cancer from returning. It is given orally, and often for months at a time. Scientists had known that tamoxifen has anti-fungal properties in test tubes, but it was Krysan and his team, including Melanie Wellington, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics, that found that it kills yeast in mice with Candida infections. This is a crucial step toward developing tamoxifen or structurally related molecules for use in patients. At high levels - about the same as those used, experimentally, to treat brain tumors - tamoxifen reduced yeast levels by 150 fold. In fact, the drug caused the fungus cells to break apart and die (lysis), and it didn't allow the surviving cells to morph into their disease-causing state.

In the past 20 years, only one new class of antifungal drugs has been introduced and they must be administered intravenously, not orally, which presents challenges in outpatient settings. The most widely used antifungal drug that can be given orally slows the growth of fungus cells but it doesn't kill them, which means that patients whose immune systems are compromised may have trouble completely fighting off the infections.

"We don't have vaccines against fungal infections and the few drugs we do have aren't always effective," Krysan said. "We've got a lot more work to do to figure out whether could be used in high doses or whether it could be used in combination with other treatments, but we're excited about the possibility of giving doctors another way to help these critically ill ."

Source: University of Rochester Medical Center (news : web)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

'Hijacker' drives cancer in some patients with high-risk neuroblastoma

January 23, 2018
Researchers have identified mechanisms that drive about 10 percent of high-risk neuroblastoma cases and have used a new approach to show how the cancer genome "hijacks" DNA that regulates other genes. The resulting insights ...

Enzyme inhibitor combined with chemotherapy delays glioblastoma growth

January 23, 2018
In animal experiments, a human-derived glioblastoma significantly regressed when treated with the combination of an experimental enzyme inhibitor and the standard glioblastoma chemotherapy drug, temozolomide.

Scientists block the siren call of two aggressive cancers

January 23, 2018
Aggressive cancers like glioblastoma and metastatic breast cancer have in common a siren call that beckons the bone marrow to send along whatever the tumors need to survive and thrive.

Researchers identify a protein that keeps metastatic breast cancer cells dormant

January 23, 2018
A study headed by ICREA researcher Roger Gomis at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) has identified the genes involved in the latent asymptomatic state of breast cancer metastases. The work sheds light ...

Workouts may boost life span after breast cancer

January 22, 2018
(HealthDay)—Longer survival after breast cancer may be as simple as staying fit, new research shows.

Boosting cancer therapy with cross-dressed immune cells

January 22, 2018
Researchers at EPFL have created artificial molecules that can help the immune system to recognize and attack cancer tumors. The study is published in Nature Methods.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

E_L_Earnhardt
not rated yet Jul 21, 2009
Good thinking!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.