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Botox for fighting cancer?

Botox for fighting cancer?

Botox may be the newest cancer-fighting agent. Cutting off nerve cells that feed tumors appears to stop cancers from progressing, new research suggests. Previous studies found that surgically cutting the nerves to the stomach, called the vagal nerves, could block cancer growth in several mouse models of stomach cancer. In a new study, published in the current issue of Science Translational Medicine, researchers showed that temporarily blocking the nerves with Botox can have the same benefit. Botox is commonly used to deaden the nerves of the face, paralyzing tiny muscles to smooth wrinkled skin. But it has other medical uses, including fighting migraines, muscle spasms, and excessive sweating. The toxin fades after about four months, enough time to make the cancer cells more sensitive to blasts of chemotherapy, said Timothy Wang, a coauthor of the paper and chief of the Division of Digestion and Liver Diseases at Columbia University.

Cutting the nerves in people can cause some side effects — including nausea and vomiting. But “overall, it’s an operation that’s generally well tolerated,” Wang said. He isn’t too concerned about side effects from Botox, which wears off after 4-6 months.

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A trial of the Botox treatment in stomach cancer has started in Norway; at Columbia, researchers are beginning an effort to test Botox in pancreatic cancer patients. Because stomach and pancreatic cancers have usually spread by the time they are caught, Wang thinks patients may need drugs that limit acetylcholine throughout the body, not just in one spot.

“That’s why we’re also thinking about drug therapy,” like chemotherapy, Wang said. “At low doses they might be tolerable.”

K.W.

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