Combining Schizophrenia Drug and Radiation Treatment Helps Kill Brain Tumor

Researchers from UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have seen promising results in mice, and will start human clinical trials this summer.
Fabienne Lang

There have been a number of scientific advancements in how to better fight deadly brain tumors: some researchers have found that using scorpion venom helps, while other doctors are using 'brainbow' imagery to do so.

Now, a team of researchers from the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center has discovered that adding a drug more commonly used for schizophrenia alongside a radiation treatment helps to better treat glioblastoma, one of the deadliest and more aggressive brain tumors to treat.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Friday.


What the UCLA team found out was that combining radiation with the drug trifluoperazine, used for schizophrenia, targets glioblastoma cells and helps to overcome resistance to treatment that usually happens with this type of aggressive brain cancer. Typically, patients with this type of cancer only live between 12 to 18 months after diagnosis. 

Radiation is usually one of the most effective treatments against cancers, however, in glioblastoma, tumor cells often become resistant to radiation treatment. 

Combining Schizophrenia Drug and Radiation Treatment Helps Kill Brain Tumor
Dr. Leia Nghiemphu and Dr. Frank Pajonk, Source: UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

"While radiotherapy is one of the few treatments that prolong survival in glioblastoma patients, radiation alone does very little in treating the disease in our models because we are dealing with highly aggressive tumors," said the study's senior author, Dr. Frank Pajonk, professor of radiation oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a member of the Jonsson Cancer Center.

Pajonk continued, "The drug trifluoperazine by itself does not do much either, but we found when you combine them, they become highly efficient. Importantly, the drug does not sensitize cells to radiation but rather prevents the occurrence of resistant glioma stem cells."

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The team has tested their method on mice and found that when using this combination of radiation and trifluoperazine, the growth of the tumors significantly slowed down, and prolonged the overall survival of the animals. The treatment increased the mice's survival rate by 100% to over 200 days, compared with 67.7 days when using radiation treatment alone. 

The team has plans to start clinical human trials this summer. As co-author of the study, Leia Nghiemphu, explained "The next step is to see if we can stop this resistance to radiation in humans."