High BP Meds Block Cancer

Postdoctoral Researcher Guillaume Jacquemet and Academy Professor Johanna Ivaska have screened already approved drugs and discovered that calcium channel blockers can efficiently stop cancer cell invasion in vitro.  These blockers are currently being used to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) but their potential use in blocking cancer cell metastases has not been previously reported.

Cancer’s ability to kill is because of its spreading throughout the body and forming metastases.  Developing drugs that can block the ability of these cancer cells to disseminate is a major anti-cancer therapeutic avenue.  It is a very lengthy and expensive process to develop new drugs and many of the promising drugs fail the clinical trials because of unanticipated toxicity and side effects.  Finding some new targets for the drugs already in use to treat other diseases is an emerging area in developing anti-cancer therapies.

Identifying anti-hypertension drugs as potential therapeutics against breast and pancreatic cancer metastasis was a big surprise.  These drugs were not known to be present in cancer cells and no one had considered the possibility that they might be effective against aggressive cancer types.

The research team from the Turku Centre for Biotechnology that is lead by Professor Johanna Ivaska has focused their efforts on understanding how these cancer cells move and invade the surrounding tissue.  The aggressively spreading cancer cells express a protein called Myosin-10, which drives cancer cell motility. These expressing cancers have a large number of structures called filopodia that are sticky finger-like structures.  The cancer cells extend to sense their environment and to navigate.

It was found by the team that calcium channel blockers target specifically these sticky fingers and render them inactive which efficiently blocks the cancer cell movement.  Therefore, it is thought that they might be effective drugs against cancer metastasis. There is much more work required at this stage to assess if these drugs would be efficient against the cancer progression.

The team is currently assessing the efficiency of calcium channel blockers to stop the spreading of breast and pancreatic cancer using pre-clinical models and analyzing patient data.  More information can be found in the Nature Communications journal.

Dr Fredda Branyon