New research indicates a drug used to prevent breast cancer recurrence has shown promise in fighting life-threatening fungal infections common in immune-compromised patients.
Even though some scientists believed tamoxifen to be having antifungal properties, a team of University of Rochester Medical Center researchers have now confirmed that it actually kills fungus cells and stops them from causing disease.
"It's still early, but if tamoxifen, or molecules like it, turns out to be an effective treatment against serious fungal infections, it'll be a welcome addition to our arsenal," said Dr. Damian Krysan, assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Writing about the study in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, the researchers highlight the fact that tamoxifen is given to prevent breast cancer from returning.
They further reveal that the drug is given orally, and often for months at a time.
Krysan and his colleagues claim that they are the first research team to find that this drug kills yeast in mice with Candida infections.
According to them, this is a crucial step toward developing tamoxifen or structurally related molecules for use in patients.
The researchers revealed that at high levels, about the same as those used to treat brain tumours, tamoxifen was found to reduce yeast levels by 150 fold.
They say that the drug caused the fungus cells to break apart and die (lysis), and it didn't allow the surviving cells to morph into their disease-causing state.
The researchers say that their findings attain significance because only one new class of antifungal drugs has been introduced in the last two decades, and they must be administered intravenously.
Another reason behind why they are so excited about their findings is that the most widely used antifungal drug that can be given orally slows the growth of fungus cells but it doesn't kill them, which means that patients whose immune systems are compromised may have trouble completely fighting off the infections.
"We don't have vaccines against fungal infections and the few drugs we do have aren't always effective. We've got a lot more work to do to figure out whether tamoxifen could be used in high doses or whether it could be used in combination with other treatments, but we're excited about the possibility of giving doctors another way to help these critically ill patients," Krysan said. (