Angiogenesis is the process by which the cancer cells ensure that new blood vessels feed it with nutrition to keep them growing; it is now discovered that this can be blocked by a drug commonly used to treat toenail fungus called itraconazole.
New Research at Johns Hopkins have discovered that in mice itraconazole reduced blood vessel growth by 67 percent compared to placebo. "We were surprised, to say the least, that itraconazole popped up as a potential blocker of angiogenesis," says Jun O. Liu, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology. "We couldn't have predicted that an antifungal drug would have such a role."
There has been a great surge towards discovering these types of drugs to help in treating cancers. The tissue like human umbilical cords is a rich source of blood vessels and cells from it have been used in research. There have been almost 2,400 existing drugs that have been tested on these cells.
Itraconazole is a well known antifungal drug and it works by blocking a key enzyme for making fungal cholesterol and thus making them brittle and split apart.
"The best outcome was to find an already approved drug that worked, and the fact that we did was very satisfying," says Liu, whose study has appeared online in ACS Chemical Biology.
Itraconazole apparently maybe blocking the same enzyme in blood vessels, but the researchers aren't sure if that's the reason blood vessels stop growing.
"Our screening test did show that cholesterol-lowering statins also appear to stop blood vessel growth," Liu says, "so there is likely some important connection between cholesterol and angiogenesis."
"Itraconazole can be taken orally for fungal infection, and therefore oral delivery may work for angiogenesis as well," Liu notes.