Common antifungal drug decreases tumor growth and shows promise as cancer therapy

August 21, 2012, University of Texas at Austin
This image shows a frog tadpole with normal blood vessel development (fluorescing, top) and a frog tadpole with blood vessel development that was disrupted by the common antifungal medication, thiabendazole (bottom). New research published by Cha et. al. reveals that thiabendazole slows tumor growth and shows promise as a chemotherapy for cancer. Credit: Hye Ji Cha, The University of Texas at Austin

An inexpensive antifungal drug, thiabendazole, slows tumor growth and shows promise as a chemotherapy for cancer. Scientists in the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin made this discovery by exploiting the evolutionary relatedness of yeast, frogs, mice and humans.

Thiabendazole is an FDA-approved, taken orally that has been in clinical use for 40 years as an antifungal. It is not currently used for .

Hye Ji Cha, Edward Marcotte, John Wallingford and colleagues found that the drug destroys newly established blood vessels, making it a "vascular disrupting agent." Their research was published in the journal .

Inhibiting blood vessel, or vascular, growth can be an important chemotherapeutic tool because it starves tumors. Tumors induce new to feed their out-of-control growth.

In trials using mice, the researchers found that thiabendazole decreased in fibrosarcoma tumors by more than a half. Fibrosarcomas are cancers of the , and they are generally heavily vascularized with blood vessels.

The drug also slowed .

"This is very exciting to us, because in a way we stumbled into discovering the first human-approved vascular disrupting agent," said Marcotte, professor of chemistry. "Our research suggests that thiabendazole could probably be used clinically in combination with other chemotherapies."

Blood vessel development in tadpoles with and without the common antifungal drug thiabendazole shows how the drug is a "vascular disrupting agent." Credit: Hye Ji Cha, The University of Texas at Austin

The scientists' discovery is a culmination of research that crosses disciplines and organisms.

In a previous study, Marcotte and his colleagues found genes in single-celled that are shared with by virtue of their shared . In yeasts, which have no blood vessels, the genes are responsible for responding to various stresses to the cells. In vertebrates, the genes have been repurposed to regulate vein and artery growth, or angiogenesis.

"We reasoned that by analyzing this particular set of genes, we might be able to identify drugs that target the yeast pathway that also act as angiogenesis inhibitors suitable for chemotherapy," said Marcotte.

Turns out they were right.

Cha, a graduate student in cell and molecular biology at the university, searched for a molecule that would inhibit the action of those yeast genes. She found that thiabendazole did the trick.

She then tested the drug in developing frog embryos. These are fast growing vertebrates in which scientists can watch blood vessel growth in living animals.

Cha found that frog embryos grown in water with the drug either didn't grow blood vessels or grew blood vessels that were then dissolved away by the drug. Interestingly, when the drug was removed, the embryos' blood vessels grew back.

Cha then tested the drug on human blood vessel cells growing in Petri dishes, finding that the drug also inhibited their growth. Finally, she tested the drug on fibrosarcoma tumors in mice and found that it reduced blood vessel growth in the tumors as well as slowed the tumors' growth.

"We didn't set out to find a vascular disrupting agent, but that's where we ended up," said Wallingford, associate professor of developmental biology and Cha's graduate advisor with Marcotte. "This is an exciting example of the power of curiosity-driven research and the insights that can come from blending disciplines in biology."

The scientists' goal is now to move the drug into clinical trials with humans. They are talking with clinical oncologists about next steps.

"We hope the clinical trials will be easier because it is already approved by the FDA for human use," said Marcotte.

Explore further: Common transplant drug inhibits breast cancer growth, study shows

Related Stories

Common transplant drug inhibits breast cancer growth, study shows

May 26, 2011
Tacrolimus, a drug that is commonly used to prevent organ transplantation rejection, inhibits breast cancer growth in pre-clinical studies. The finding from UNC scientists was reported in the May 26th PLoS ONE.

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.

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 ...

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.

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 ...

More evidence of link between severe gum disease and cancer risk

January 16, 2018
Data collected during a long-term health study provides additional evidence for a link between increased risk of cancer in individuals with advanced gum disease, according to a new collaborative study led by epidemiologists ...

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.