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Spread of Colon Cancer Stopped by Tapeworm Drug


Niclosamide, a drug used to treat tapeworm infections, also appears to stop the spread of colon cancer. Scientists made their discovery after evaluating more than 1,200 compounds that possess a specific quality related to colon cancer.

Animal studies show tapeworm drug is effective

Colon cancer is one of the most common diseases in developed countries. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common diagnosed cancer in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that 101,700 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed in 2011.

Treatment of colon cancer depends on the location, size, and degree of cancer, as well as the health and age of the patient. Currently, surgery is the most common treatment for colon and colorectal cancer.

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Now a new study indicates that a compound called niclosamide, which has been used for about six decades to fight tapeworm infections, has stopped the spread of colon cancer in animal studies. The drug works by blocking the expression of gene called S100A4/metastasin, which can prompt colon cancer metastasis.

This trait of niclosamide is critical because scientists have known for some time that S100A4/metastasin can trigger the spread of colon cancer. Specifically, they know that a mutant beta-catenin gene can activate the S100A4/metastasin gene, which in turn triggers the spread of colon cancer.

A research team led by Professor Ulrike Stein of the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (a joint cooperation between the Charite Medical Faculty and the Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine), in collaboration with Professor Robert H. Shoemaker of the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, screened 1,280 compounds and discovered that niclosamide inhibits the activity of the beta-catenin expression of the S100A4/metastasin gene in both cell cultures and in mice.

The next step is to run clinical trials to determine if niclosamide can inhibit the spread of colon cancer in humans. If so, it will be a unique application of this tapeworm drug and a promising treatment for patients with metastatic colon cancer, for which the five-year survival rate is only about 10 percent.

Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine, 2011 June 17 release