Certain heart meds may give chemo a boost

July 18, 2012 By Steven Reinberg, HealthDay Reporter
Certain heart meds may give chemo a boost
Digitalis, digoxin appear to trigger immune response that helps kill tumor cells, study shows.

(HealthDay) -- When common heart drugs such as digitalis and digoxin are combined with some chemotherapy drugs, the effect appears to be an increase in the death of cancer cells, according to French researchers.

These medications, called glycosides, have been around for decades and are used to treat and .

When combined with , however, they appear to act similar to a vaccine -- priming the immune system to kill .

"This is very exciting; it describes a new way to make chemotherapy more effective," said Marc Symons, an investigator at the Center for Oncology and Cell Biology at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y. Symons was not involved in the study, which was published July 18 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The effect was first noticed when the French team, led by Laurie Menger from INSERM in Villejuif, combed through patients' medical records. They discovered that cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy who were also taking these drugs for heart trouble tended to do better than cancer patients who did not take them.

The authors said this appears to be because the drugs convert dead cancer cells into a kind of trigger that alerts the immune system to attack .

This approach to still needs to be tested, however, and the researchers said they plan to do so in patients with neck and .

William Chambers, director of and Immunology at the , noted that the researchers also have developed a way of screening drugs to see if they will have this effect on cancer cells. That could help spot drugs that trigger an immune response, he said.

"It also reinforces the notion that the immune system and chemotherapy working in concert is really going to be important for effective treatments for cancer," he said. "Immunotherapy for cancer has been a 'sweet spot' in the last couple of years. A lot has been happening there."

"We have learned a lot about the immune response to cancer," he added. "There is a lot of potential here and I expect we are going to see a good bit more looking at this phenomenon."

One of the unanswered questions is what the effect will be of using these heart drugs on cancer patients with healthy hearts.

"Digoxin and similar drugs have effects on the heart that could be side effects in patients with normal hearts," said Dr. Kirk Garratt, director of interventional cardiovascular research at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

These effects could pose a problem for these patients, he said, "but right now I don't see this as a problem in pursuing this research."

Garratt cautioned chemotherapy patients that not enough is known to add these drugs to their treatment at this point in time.

"It's too early to take that action," he said. "We don't know what side-effect issues might surface. We don't know what the downside will be, and there is always a downside."

For heart patients, however, these drugs are very safe, Garratt said. And there's another up side, he added: Since these drugs have been around for years, they are generic and inexpensive.

Although the study revealed an association between the use of these and an increase in the death of cancer cells, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Explore further: Patients treated with sunitinib and sorafenib respond to flu vaccine

More information: To learn more about cancer immunotherapies, visit the American Cancer Society.

Related Stories

Patients treated with sunitinib and sorafenib respond to flu vaccine

June 28, 2011
Patients treated with sunitinib and sorafenib responded to the flu vaccine, which suggests the agents do not damage the immune system as much as previously feared, according to a study in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal ...

Evolving ovarian cancer cells 'dodge' treatment with chemotherapy

December 20, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Cancer Research UK scientists have discovered that the commonest type of ovarian cancer evolves at a startling rate, which may allow cancer cells to ‘dodge’ the current standard treatment, reveals ...

Nutritional supplement works against some pancreatic cancer cells in mice

April 3, 2012
The dietary supplement gamma-linoleic acid can inhibit the growth of a subset of pancreatic cancer cells and selectively promote cancer cell death in mice, a Mayo Clinic study has found. The supplement, a fatty acid also ...

Recommended for you

Researchers develop swallowable test to detect pre-cancerous Barrett's esophagus

January 17, 2018
Investigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center have developed a simple, swallowable test for early detection of Barrett's esophagus that offers promise ...

Scientists zoom in to watch DNA code being read

January 17, 2018
Scientists have unveiled incredible images of how the DNA code is read and interpreted—revealing new detail about one of the fundamental processes of life.

Dulling cancer therapy's double-edged sword

January 17, 2018
Researchers have discovered that killing cancer cells can actually have the unintended effect of fueling the proliferation of residual, living cancer cells, ultimately leading to aggressive tumor progression.

Presurgical targeted therapy delays relapse of high-risk stage 3 melanoma

January 17, 2018
A pair of targeted therapies given before and after surgery for melanoma produced at least a six-fold increase in time to progression compared to standard-of-care surgery for patients with stage 3 disease, researchers at ...

T-cells engineered to outsmart tumors induce clinical responses in relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma

January 16, 2018
WASHINGTON-(Jan. 16, 2018)-Tumors have come up with ingenious strategies that enable them to evade detection and destruction by the immune system. So, a research team that includes Children's National Health System clinician-researchers ...

Researchers identify new treatment target for melanoma

January 16, 2018
Researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have identified a new therapeutic target for the treatment of melanoma. For decades, research has associated female sex and a history of previous ...

0 comments

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.