Anti-Seizure Drugs Slow Deadly Eye Cancer

Uveal melanoma slowed by histone deacetylase inhibitors

(RxWiki News) There's a huge push to find new and different uses for existing drugs. New research shows that a class of drugs used to treat seizures may be therapeutic in a deadly type of melanoma that affects the eyes.

A drug that's typically prescribed for treating seizures seems to halt the spread of eye tumors to other parts of the body. These drugs are called histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors.

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These are the findings of recent research conducted at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Principal investigator J. William Harbour, M.D. explains that uveal melanoma, as the second most common type of melanoma, is aggressive and can spread from the eye to other organs - especially the liver.

Once it has spread, melanoma is "notoriously difficult to treat once it has metastasized and grown in a distant organ," Dr. Harbour said in a news release announcing the study findings. He says the eye cancer has usually already spread to other areas by the time it's detected, because microscopic amounts can lie dormant in the liver and other organs before it starts to grow and become deadly.

When this happens, the outlook is poor, according to Dr. Harbour, the Paul A. Cibis Distinguished Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and professor of cell biology and of molecular oncology.

For this study, Dr. Harbor and colleagues worked with HDAC inhibitors in an animal model and found the drugs make the tumors less aggressive by altering the way key genes are expressed.

Researchers found that after being treated with HDAC inhibitors, aggressive melanoma cells look like normal cells under the microscope.

Dr. Harbor, who also directs the Center for Ocular Oncology at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, says it could be possible to begin testing them in uveal melanoma. He expects clinical trials to begin within 12 months. 

Findings from this study are available online in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Review Date: 
December 5, 2011