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New Brain Tumour Drug Mebendazole Found Effective

Researchers from the Feinstein Institute found a common medication administered to treat pinworms, could replace the current treatment used for certain brain cancers.

Prof. Marc Symons’s findings, to be published in the Feinstein Institute Press’s peer-reviewed, open-access journal Molecular Medicine, could help to extend the lives of patients suffering from one of the most common types of brain tumors — low-grade glioma.

Low-grade glioma is a tumor from cells that support and protect the brain’s nervous system and the treatments include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Brain tumor chemotherapy is challenging as most drugs cannot penetrate the blood-brain barrier, a natural defense mechanism that prevents substances in the bloodstream from getting into the brain.

For example, vincristine is a drug that is routinely used as part of different drug cocktails for the treatment of brain tumors, even though it is rather toxic and very poorly crosses the blood-brain barrier.

Dr. Symons and colleagues examined mebendazole, a medication that is used to treat parasitic pinworms and that in effective in the treatment of glioma tumors. By studying how mebendazole kills isolated tumor cells in the laboratory, they showed that it works in exactly the same way as vincristine. They also found however, that while mebendazole effectively slowed down the growth of glioma tumors, vincristine did not work at all.

“We were rather surprised to see that vincristine, which is currently used to treat a range of different brain tumors, was totally ineffective in our in vivo glioma model,” said Dr. Symons. “In contrast, in the same model, mebendazole performed quite well, most likely because mebendazole crosses the blood-brain barrier and reaches the tumor much better than vincristine.”

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