A drug currently used to treat yeast infections may be useful in treating a variety of diseases caused by cell proliferation, including cancer, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis, researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS) reported this month.
The drug, Clotimazole, "Opens up the possibility of controlling these 'uncontrolled' cell proliferations," said Dr. Jose A. Halperin, associate professor of medicine at HMS, who heads the lab where the study was done.
Many diseases result form such cell proliferations, halperin said, Making the finding especially uselful.
"The spectrum of possibilities for a relatively low-toxicity and highpotency inhibitor of cell proliferation is tremendous," he said.
In the ten-week study, mice that had been injected with human melanoma cells were treated with clotrimazole. Those that received the drug had significantly reduced cancerous growth.
The drug appears to inhibit cell growth by depleting the cell's storage of calcium, which carries signals that regulate cell division.
Human clinical trials are underway, but Halperin said it will be "at least a couple of years" before the effectiveness of the drug on human cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and arteriosclerosis patients can be assessed.
In rheumatoid arthritis, cell growth destroys underlying bone, arteriosclerosis is a proliferation of the arteries' vascular wall, creating a kind of plaque.
The study, which was published early this month in Nature medicine, was funded by Sheffield Medical Technologies, Inc., which has obtained a patent to use Clotrimazole in the treatment of arteriosclerosis.
Four other patents involving Clotrimazole are pending.
Laura Benzaquen, a resident in medicine at Beth Israel Hospital, was the lead author of the study, Dr. Carlo Brugnara, a pathologist from Children's Hospital, Co-authored the paper.