SEP 19, 2017 02:59 PM PDT

Melatonin Could Ease Chemo Pains

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Image credit: Pixabay.com

A common over-the-counter drug that pilots often take to alleviate jetlag may also help cancer patients ease the pain from chemotherapy.

According to a new study from the University of Edinburg, the drug melatonin blocks the pain signals from chemo-damaged nerve cells in rats.

The findings were based on research on a common condition known as chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain (CINP). Patients suffering from this condition often report tingling and sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures. It’s thought that the chemotherapy agents damage nerve cells, causing such painful sensations.

In animal studies, researchers found that melatonin had the best effect if given before chemotherapy. That is, if given prior to the start of chemotherapy, nerve damage is reduced. If given after CINP has already developed, melatonin seemed to be ineffective. This suggest that melatonin is more of a preventative therapy for CINP, rather than a curative one.  

"These results are promising, especially as melatonin treatment is known to be safe in other conditions. However, more work will need to be done before we know if melatonin will help prevent pain in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy,” said Dr. Helen Galley, a professor at the Institute of Medical Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, and the study’s co-lead author. It’s not entirely clear how melatonin reduces nerve damage from chemotherapy.

Under normal conditions, the body produces melatonin at night to prepare us for rest and sleep. Synthetic version of melatonin also exist and function in a similar fashion. In the US, the drug is available over the counter, but in some other countries, a prescription is required.

"We are actively exploring an early-phase clinical study to see if these exciting laboratory findings might translate to direct benefit for patients undergoing chemotherapy. This is an area of real unmet need, where new therapies are urgently required,” said Dr. Lesley Colvin, a pain specialist at the University of Edinburgh, and a study co-author.

It’s estimated that CINP affects nearly 70 percent of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The condition can worsen the quality of life for patients undergoing treatment. Furthermore, CINP can persist in some patients even after chemotherapy. As such, finding a drug that can reduce the occurrence of this condition would benefit patients and caregivers.

"CINP can have a devastating impact on patients, and may limit chemotherapy doses, with potentially serious consequences. These findings are very exciting and suggest that melatonin could prevent CINP by protecting nerve cell mitochondria. Our next steps will be to further test this theory by looking at the effect of melatonin in other pain conditions that also involve mitochondrial damage,” said Dr. Carole Torsney, the study’s co-leader.

Additional sources: University of Edinburg via Science Daily

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
MAY 29, 2018
Cancer
MAY 29, 2018
Potential New Treatment to Block the Mechanism for Cancer Metastasis
A new treatment developed by collaborators, called metarrestin, blocks metastatic cancer cells' ability to make proteins and spread through a mechanism in the perinucleolar compartment....
JUN 01, 2018
Health & Medicine
JUN 01, 2018
Research Shows The Cause of Childhood Leukemia
Babies and young children need to be kept safe by the adults in their lives, however keeping them in a germ-free environment might not be the best idea. Ch...
JUN 05, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
JUN 05, 2018
Mechanism of Aspirin's Anti-Colon Cancer Effects Revealed
For some people, aspirin can help prevent colon cancer; now researchers have learned more about how that happens....
JUN 19, 2018
Earth & The Environment
JUN 19, 2018
Does Roundup cause cancer?
Monsanto has long been the scary monster lurking in the closet, with its seed-patenting and fertilizer-pushing. Now the first case actually bringing the co...
JUL 17, 2018
Cancer
JUL 17, 2018
Immunotherapy Diversification: From CAR-T cells to CAR-NK cells
New advances have made it possible for immunotherapy researchers to use natural killer cells, which are our body's normal defense for cancerous cells, to target tumors....
JUL 23, 2018
Cancer
JUL 23, 2018
Increased Vitamin D Is Not Cancer Preventative
A new study in July's JAMA Oncology outlines the results of a 4-year study in New Zealand focused on vitamin D and if it is positively associated with cancer prevention....
Loading Comments...