Common HIV drugs could help treat brain tumors

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In a new study from Brain Tumor Research, researchers found drugs developed to treat AIDS and HIV could offer hope to patients diagnosed with the most common form of primary brain tumor.

The breakthrough is significant because, if further research is conclusive, the anti-retroviral drugs could be prescribed for patients diagnosed with meningioma and acoustic neuroma brain tumors (also known as schwannoma).

More effective approaches are urgently needed as there are very few treatment options for these tumor types which frequently return following surgery and radiotherapy.

Meningioma is the most common form of primary brain tumor. Mostly low-grade, it can become cancerous over time and develops from cells located in the meninges which protect the brain and spinal cord.

Acoustic neuroma is a different type of low-grade, or non-cancerous brain tumor, which develops in nerve-protecting cells called Schwann cells.

The team had shown previously that a tumor suppressor, named Merlin, contributes to the development of meningioma, acoustic neuroma and ependymoma tumors.

It can also contribute to neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2). Tumor suppressor genes play important roles in normal cells by controlling division or repairing errors in DNA.

However, when tumor suppressors do not work properly or are absent, cells can grow out of control, leading to cancer.

In this latest study, the team showed that high levels of HERV-K proteins were present in meningioma and schwannoma cells obtained from patients.

They were also able to identify molecular events that may enable HERV-K proteins to stimulate the growth of these tumors.

Furthermore, several drugs have been identified that target these proteins, reducing the growth of schwannoma and grade I meningioma cells in the laboratory.

The team says these drugs—the retroviral protease inhibitors ritonavir, atazanavir, and lopinavir—have already been approved by for use in the treatment of HIV/AIDS in the U.S.

These findings are extremely important as drug repurposing is a valuable way to accelerate the testing of new approaches into clinical trials which, if successful, could reach patients sooner.

This is particularly critical for patients with brain tumors as many of them do not have the luxury of time.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about scientists find how to repair damaged brain after stroke, and findings that this high blood pressure drug could repair blood vessels in the brain.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about diet that may help prevent brain aging, and results showing that COVID patients have higher risk for this brain disease.

The study is published in Cancer Research. One author of the study is Dr. Sylwia Ammoun.

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