According to experts, a psychiatric medicine might help prevent bowel cancer.

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A clinical experiment has begun in the Netherlands to determine if a regularly used psychiatric medicine might improve the fitness of healthy cells in the gut, therefore preventing the development of bowel cancer.

According to Worldwide Cancer Research, the experiment will enrol people who have a genetic abnormality that makes them 100 percent certain to develop bowel cancer in their lifetime unless their whole colon is removed.

The experiment will include lithium, a regularly used medicine for the treatment of a variety of mental diseases.

Researchers found, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, that intestinal stem cells with mutations to the APC gene have been shown to have a competitive advantage over their healthy counterparts and frequently outcompete them, leading to unrestricted growth and cancer.

The mutant stem cells actively emit signals that sabotage the function of healthy stem cells in the gut.

“We have uncovered the very first steps in the development of bowel cancer. We found that following the occurrence of a mutation in a key gene that regulates stem cells in the intestine, these cells turn into cheaters that actively suppress the normal cells in the environment,” senior study author Louis Vermeulen said in a press release.

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“Our findings indicate that cells on their way to a full malignancy can actively suppress the stem cells in the vicinity to gain a competitive edge. This is a concept we refer to as supercompetition,” said Vermeulen, group leader at the Center for Experimental Molecular Medicine at Amsterdam UMC.

Researchers discovered that lithium prevented mutant stem cells from taking over and forming tumors in mice by rendering healthy stem cells insensitive to the damaging signals.

A clinical trial funded by the Dutch Cancer Society will test the effect of lithium on bowel cancer development in individuals with familial adenomatous polyposis, an uncommon genetic syndrome that results in mutations in APC genes.

Without treatment, nearly all those with FAP will develop bowel cancer between the ages of 35 and 45, according to researchers.

The experiment will enrol 10 young adult patients with FAP and will follow them for 18 months before, during, and after lithium medication.

“Our clinical trial may reveal that lithium can be used to prevent cancer development in FAP individuals,” stated Sanne van Neerven, the study’s doctorate student.

“But what is also important is that this trial can establish a proof of concept that manipulating competition between mutant cells and normal cells can be manipulated in such a way that the healthy cell outcompete the mutant cells,” van Neerven added.

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Worldwide Cancer Research Chief Executive Dr. Helen Rippon called the new findings a huge breakthrough in understanding how bowel cancer develops.

“Around 1% of bowel cancers are caused by [FAP]. This may seem like a small number, but in [Britain] alone this means that over 400 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer caused by FAP every year,” she said.

“The only treatment option available for people with FAP is major surgery to remove the entire colon, which can be life altering and unfortunately cannot guarantee that cancer won’t develop,” Rippon explained.

She went on to say that the trial’s introduction might give people “real hope” for a simple approach to avoid bowel cancer in the future.

Bowel cancer affects 43,000 individuals in the United Kingdom, while colorectal cancer is the third most prevalent disease diagnosed in the United States. Just over half of persons diagnosed with colon cancer live for ten years or longer.

 

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