Used as an angina treatment for more than 130 years, nitroglycerin appears to have had a hidden talent as a cancer-fighting weapon.
In laboratory tests, the inexpensive drug helped reduce cancer cells' ability to fight off immune system attack. If this concept works in widespread clinical trials, it could be significant. Nitroglycerin would gain a second use, perhaps as a tool to help the body resist cancer naturally, by boosting its natural immune system response. At a minimal cost per dose, it could theoretically help boost various oncology drugs or someday offer a cheaper alternative to cancer vaccines under development.
That point may be a long way off, but scientists at Queen's University in Canada made initial early progress while looking at how hypoxia can help cancer cells hide from the body's immune system and escape detection.
They first discovered what is connected to cancer cell hypoxia--overproduction of the ADAM10 enzyme, which resists immune cell attacks. The scientists subsequently found that nitroglycerin or other nitric oxide compounds helped beat back the cancer cell hypoxia. As a result, the cancer cells fell to immune system attack. Ontario-based Queen's University takes its finding seriously and says it has already obtained 10 patents relating to using nitroglycerin and related compounds to treat cancer. Queen's spinoff, Nometics, has licensed some of the intellectual property.
Professor Charles Graham of the school's Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, and Robert Siemens of the Department of Urology at nearby Kingston General Hospital, led the study. Details are published online in the journal Cancer Research, and build off research by the same team using the drug to treat prostate cancer.
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