Botox injections, usually used in the fight against aging, may help battle cancer, according to data from medical trials performed on mice—published in Science Translational Medicine.
Scientists from Columbia University Medical Centre, New York, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim found that using the Botulinum toxin—the neurotoxin that disrupts nerve function to relax muscles and even out wrinkles when applied to tissue under the skin—could halt the growth of stomach tumors when applied to the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the digestive system.
A growing body of work suggests nerves help fuel cancer growth, according to the BBC. Therefore when Botox is used to kill the nerves—or if the nerves are severed—tumor growth rates slow and they become more vulnerable to chemotherapy.
“If you just cut nerves is it going to cure cancer? Probably not,” said one of the researchers Timothy Wang, MD. “At least in the early phase, if you [disrupt the nerve] the tumor becomes much more responsive to chemotherapy—so we don’t see this as a single cure, but making current and future treatments more effective.”
Some trials have begun in people who are having surgery to remove a stomach cancer and research has also suggested nerves may have a role in prostate cancer too but Wang acknowledged that there is a long way to go before this could be considered a treatment.
Cancer Research UK said it was early days and it is unclear whether the injections could help save lives.
“With everything new in cancer, even if it looks great, when you start to roll it out to patients it always seems cancer is smarter than we are,” Wang added. “Tumors have the ability to out-evolve any single agent, knocking one leg of a stool is probably not going to topple it.”