One of the deadliest cancers affecting humans today is lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in particular is known for being difficult to treat with chemotherapy resistance being a significant problem. However, the use of an unlikely drug has been found to help combat this resistance to life-saving treatment.
Chemotherapy resistance occurs when cancers that were initially responding to therapy suddenly aren’t. Instead, they are resisting the chemotherapy agents, continuing to grow and spread. It is thought that cancer cell mutation is causing this change, forcing the healthcare community to look for alternative means for treatment.
An old drug with new tricks
A drug commonly used in alcoholic patients to help them become adverse to the temptation of drinking alcohol is currently being studied to help overcome lung cancer chemotherapy resistance.
Called Disulfiram (Antabuse), it has been used for well over sixty years in the fight against alcohol addiction. It works by restricting the activity of ALDH (aldehyde dehydrogenase), a part of the biochemical pathway that occurs when a person consumes alcohol, preventing its metabolism. When a person is using disulfiram, they feel sick when they drink alcohol.
It is this effect against ALDH that scientists find potentially useful. Recent studies from Trinity Translational Medicine Institute at St James’s Hospital Dublin, in collaboration with the Cancer Stem Cell Group, have found that lung cancer cells have high levels of ALDH activity and acted as a marker for when cancer stem cells have become resistant to chemotherapy.
It is thought that this increase in ALDH induces the growth and expansion of drug-resistance lung cancer cells.
Effective for killing cancer cells when used in combo
Testing Disulfiram on cancer cells was found to be effective in inhibiting the activity of ALDH, resulting in decreased tumor cell growth and increasing death of lung cancer stem cells. Using Disulfiram in combination with chemotherapy was found to be more effective than using chemotherapy alone, according to the researchers.
“Disulfiram is an already approved drug with well-tolerated side effects which can be taken orally. Its potential use may give chemotherapeutic drugs such as cisplatin a new lease of life in the treatment of resistant lung tumours. We believe that our research findings show that this is a really important option that warrants further investigation and clinical testing,” said Dr. Martin Barr, adjunct assistant professor and a lead investigator in the Thoracic Oncology Research Group at St James’s Hospital.
What is great is that Disulfiram is already approved by the FDA, which means that simply repurposing the drugs for another use will be a relatively speedy and straightforward process.