Zoledronic acid, a drug currently approved for osteoporosis treatment could serve as an important supplemental therapy in patients with head and neck cancer.
In this Ohio State University study conducted in mice, the drug treatment association with tumors was an unexpected result.
The drug, zoledronic acid, is known by the brand name Zometa. It is designed to inhibit bone resorption, the breaking down of bone caused by the release of a specific kind of cell.
"The goal is to stop the vicious cycle. Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are all used to treat head and neck cancers. Zoledronic acid is a very safe drug and all it does is block bone resorption, so patients could receive all of the standard treatments, and this drug could be added as an additional benefit. That's the overall concept," said Thomas Rosol, professor of veterinary biosciences at Ohio State and senior author of the study.
Further animal and human studies would be required to determine the proper dose and assure the drug's safety and effectiveness, he said.
The researchers injected mice with oral squamous cell carcinoma cells from cats to create a disease model for the study.
They assigned mice to one of four groups: animals with and without tumors that received a placebo treatment, and mice with and without tumors that received a zoledronic acid treatment.
Animals treated with the drug retained twice as much total bone as did mice with cancer that were untreated.
"When there is bone loss, there is formation of new bone to try to compensate for the loss. The new bone is not perfect, but importantly, drug treatment prevented loss of both pre-existing normal bone and the new bone that formed," said Rasol.
He added that, "With less bone resorption, there might be less stimulation of the tumor. So if you slow down bone loss, it's not as suitable an environment for the cancer to progress. We were not trying to cure the cancer, but what we're showing is that even with no other therapy than zoledronic acid, the disease is better."
Rosol and colleagues plan to continue the research by testing the effects of zoledronic acid when it is combined with anticancer drugs in animals with head and neck cancer.
The research is published in a recent issue of the journal Cancer Research.