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Posted: March 25, 2008

Parkinson's Drug Might Work in Cancer Patients

A popular drug currently used to treat Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses also might work in cancer patients, according to newly published research.
The findings grew out of a study on mice and laboratory models that showed dopamine effectively preventing new blood vessels from growing and, as a result, slowing the progression of cancer.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates movement and affects behavior. In its synthetic form, dopamine is used to treat heart attack victims, Parkinson’s disease and pituitary tumors. However, it wasn’t known until now that dopamine worked by blocking the growth of new blood vessels -- a process called angiogenesis.
“Researchers now can test this concept in solid tumors where angiogenesis plays a critical role in the growth and progression of these cancers,” says Dr. Sujit Basu, a Mayo Clinic scientist who conducted this study with other Mayo researchers and scientists from Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute in Calcutta, India. The results of their work were published in the online edition of The Journal of Clinical Investigation.
“Sometimes new drugs may not be the answer. We looked instead at a novel use for an established product and have found very promising results,” Dr. Basu says.
The study has not been replicated in humans, but the results are encouraging, he says.
Dr. Basu has been studying the role of dopamine in cancer for years, and was credited with the initial discovery that dopamine can block new blood vessel growth. His current study is based on mouse and laboratory models of sarcoma -- a malignant tumor affecting soft tissues.
The research is the first report that dopamine has a role in cancer’s use of endothelial progenitor cells to provide a supply line of nourishing blood, Dr. Basu says. These cells, a form of stem cells, are released by bone marrow into the blood system in response to the vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A), which is a protein that is secreted by oxygen-deprived cancer cells. The endothelial progenitor cells then help form new blood vessels to feed the cancer.
Researchers discovered that dopamine stops the transfer of endothelial progenitor cells from the bone marrow into the circulatory system by binding to a specific receptor on the surface of the progenitor cells. This binding suppresses the activity of matrix metallopeptidase 9 (MMP-9), an enzyme that enables these cells to move out of bone marrow.
In their experiments, they found that treatment with dopamine significantly decreased mobility of the progenitor cells from the bone marrow, and it also decreased MMP-9 expression.
“This is the first time it has been shown that an important neurotransmitter like dopamine is regulating the mobilization of these progenitor cells from the bone marrow. This is very important and represents why these findings are so unique,” Dr. Basu says.
This research was supported by grants from the Department of Biotechnology of the Government of India; the National Institutes of Health; and the U.S. Department of Defense.

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