Can botox stop cancer growth?

Professor Timothy Wang (left) from Columbia University and Professor Duan Chen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology discovered the link between neurotransmitters and tumor growth.

Botox suppresses the growth of stomach cancer by blocking nerve signals, a new study has found.

Scientists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Columbia University and MIT, along with researchers from Japan and Germany, have already tested the procedure on mice and will soon start a human trial.

They discovered that the vagus nerve, which serves the stomach, contributes to the growth of gastric tumours, so that stopping the nerve signal to the tumour will stop its growth.

"This study shows that nerves control cancer stem cells," say NTNU Professor Duan Chen and Columbia Professor Timothy Wang, the co-authors of the study published today in Science Translational Medicine.

"We found that by removing the effect of the nerve, the stem cells in the cancer tumor are suppressed, leading to cancer treatment and prevention," Chen said.

Their study found that the release of a neurotransmitter promotes tumour growth and so tried several methods of breaking the connection between the nerves and the tumour: surgically by cutting the gastric vagus nerve (vagotomy), by local injection of Botox to block the release of neurotransmitter from the vagus nerve, by giving a drug to block the receptor of the neurotransmitter, and by knocking out of the receptor gene.

All the procedures suppressed the tumour growth but botox, better known as a beauty treatment, has the most potential, being cheap, easy to administer and few side-effects.

"We believe this treatment is a good treatment because it can be used locally and it targets the cancer stem cells. The Botox can be injected through gastroscopy and it only requires the patient to stay in the hospital for a few hours," says Chen.

The promising results from this study have led to an initiation of a phase II clinical trial for patients with stomach cancer in Norway.

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