UT Health San Antonio’s Mays Cancer Center—the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in South Texas—is bringing a decades-old antidepressant drug to patients who do not respond to existing therapies. New uses for breast cancer.
Research by Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long of UT Health San Antonio’s College of Medicine provides compelling evidence for the drug’s anticancer activity. This discovery led to a clinical trial benefiting 15 breast cancer patients at Mays Cancer Center.
The antidepressant imipramine was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1959 for the treatment of major depressive disorder. Dr. Ratna Vadlamudi, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mays Cancer Center and co-director of the Cancer Development and Progression Program, said researchers have long prescribed cancer patients to fight depression, and it anecdotally appears to have anticancer properties as well. active.
The Vadlamudi laboratory is a training ground for future scientists: postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and young academics. Vadlamudi, who has made many discoveries in cancer, advises his disciples that the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, prioritizes the repurposing of FDA-approved drugs for cancer treatment. He showed Arhan Rao, the youngest team member, the library of approved drugs. Rao researched the list and offered his opinion. He asked the lab if it could look to imipramine. Vadlamudi and his team agreed.
The results are exciting. Imipramine inhibits triple-negative and estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers in mouse and human tumors. These two cancers are notoriously difficult to treat in patients. The team’s findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer Letters:
- By reducing estrogen signaling, imipramine inhibits the growth of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.
- The drug also interferes with DNA repair, limiting survival in triple-negative breast cancer. (DNA is the molecule that contains the genetic instructions our bodies need to function. Since DNA is constantly attacked by factors such as solar radiation, DNA repair is extremely important to all cells. Without DNA repair to help them survive, cancer cells are vulnerable.)
This solid knowledge base underpins the clinical trial directed by Virginia Kaklamani, MD, Director of the Breast Cancer Program at Mays Cancer Center and Professor of Medicine in the Long School of Medicine. The clinical team administered imipramine to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer and awaiting surgery.
“We typically have a window of about two to three weeks between diagnosis and surgery, and that’s an opportunity for us to give a drug to a patient and test it to see what it does on cancerous tissue,” Kaklamani said.
The care team takes a biopsy as part of an initial diagnosis and another tissue sample during surgery. “This provided two time points so we could see how the cancer changed with imipramine treatment,” Kaklamani said. “We performed this study on 15 patients, and overall we were able to show that imipramine reduces tumor growth.”
The small pilot study, funded by Mays Cancer Center, is an initial experiment designed to demonstrate that imipramine is an active drug against breast cancer, Kaklamani said.
“FDA-approved drugs will be safe because they are used to treat other diseases,” Vadlamudi said. “If the same drugs can kill cancer cells, they could be used in the clinic immediately.”
This perfectly mirrors the National Cancer Institute’s goal of repurposing existing cancer drug therapies and giving women in South Texas—and patients around the world—diagnosed with these hardest-to-treat forms of breast cancer brought new hope.
UT Health San Antonio is conducting more than 1,700 studies involving humans, including 450 clinical trials. These clinical trials range from endodontics and respiratory care to diabetes treatment and cancer treatment.
Read more about this study and other discoveries aimed at curing disease at GroundbreakingResearch.org.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio), a key driver of San Antonio’s $44.1 billion healthcare and biosciences sector, is the largest research institution in South Texas with an annual research portfolio of $360 million.
With its six professional schools, 7,900 diverse workforce, $1.08 billion annual operating budget and clinical practice serving 2.6 million patient visits annually, UT Health San Antonio plans to add more than 1,500 high-paying jobs, driving a huge economy Impact serves San Antonio, Bexar County and South Texas over the next five years.
To learn about the many ways We Make Life Better, visit UTHealthSA.org.