Botox may have cancer fighting role
- 21 August 2014
- From the section Health
Botox injections - beloved by those seeking a wrinkle-free face - may help fight cancer, animal tests suggest.
The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, showed nerves help stomach cancers grow.
Research on mice found that using the toxin to kill nerves could halt the growth of stomach tumours and make them more vulnerable to chemotherapy.
Cancer Research UK said it was early days and it was unclear whether the injections could help save lives.
Botox is usually used in the fight against the signs of ageing, not cancer.
The toxin disrupts nerve function to relax muscles and even out wrinkles, but a growing body of work suggests nerves can also help fuel cancer growth.
Scientists Columbia University Medical Centre, in New York, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim investigated the role of the vagus nerve - which runs from the brain to the digestive system - in stomach cancer.
Either cutting the nerve or using the toxin Botox slowed the growth of tumours or made them more responsive to chemotherapy.
One of the scientists, Dr Timothy Wang, told the BBC: "If you just cut nerves is it going to cure cancer? Probably not.
"At least in early phase, if you [disrupt the nerve] the tumour becomes much more responsive to chemotherapy, so we don't see this as a single cure, but making current and future treatments more effective."
Some trials have started in people who are having surgery to remove a stomach cancer. There has also been research suggesting nerves may have a role in prostate cancer too.
However, Dr Wang acknowledged that there was a long way to go before this could be considered a treatment.
"With everything new in cancer, even if it looks great, when you start to roll it out to patients it always seems cancer is smarter than we are.
"Tumours have the ability to out-evolve any single agent, knocking one leg of a stool is probably not going to topple it.
"But I think this has a lot of potential and in a decade or two I can see these pathways being targeted."
Eleanor Barrie, senior science communications manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "Over the last few years, some evidence has emerged that certain stomach cancers might depend on signals from the nervous system to grow.
"This interesting study adds to that evidence, and shows how probing the inner workings of cancer can spark ideas for innovative new treatments. But the research is at an early stage and it's not yet clear if this particular approach could help to save patients' lives."