A new study in Cell published by researchers at McMaster University suggests that a drug commonly used to treat ailments like schizophrenia might also be beneficial for cancer patients, reports PsychCentral's Rick Nauert. The drug, a dopamine receptor antagonist, seems to influence cancer stem cells to differentiate into more benign cell types, Nauert says. The team analyzed hundreds of compounds, screening them on human cancer stem cells and normal human stem cells. "By testing hundreds of compounds, they identified nearly 20 potential cancer stem cell specific drugs," Nauert says. "The one that appeared most promising is an antipsychotic drug, thioridazine, which combats the symptoms of schizophrenia by targeting dopamine receptors in the brain. ... Researchers say thioridazine doesn't appear to kill cancer stem cells, but rather encourages them to differentiate, thus exhausting the pool of self-renewing cells."
Senior author Mickie Bhatia says this could be because some cancer cells express a dopamine receptor on their surfaces. It also suggests, he adds, that dopamine receptors could serve as biomarkers of rare tumor-initiating cells. "In light of the findings, Bhatia's team is already planning for a clinical trial of the FDA-approved thioridazine in combination with standard anti-cancer drugs for adult acute myeloid leukemia," Nauert adds.