JAN 09, 2018 6:17 AM PST

Something Else for Beta Blockers to Do: Treat Melanoma

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

A drug used to lower blood pressure and prevent heart attacks could also be used to treat melanoma. From Penn State, researchers are studying how a specific type of beta blocker - widely available and approved by the FDA - can improve the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy for melanoma patients whose cancer has spread to different tissues in the body.

Credit: Penn State / © iStock Photo / digicomphoto

Beta blockers reduce blood pressure by opening up blood vessels to improve blood flow and prevent heart attacks by inhibiting the effects of epinephrine, a hormone also called adrenaline. Pan beta blockers are commonly known to be safe, which means that they could be more quickly applied to melanoma patients than a newly developed drug. In theory, beta blockers are able to lower stress to empower the immune system to fight cancer on its own.

"Most patients are either prescribed beta-1 selective blockers or are not taking beta blockers at all,” explained Dr. Todd Schell. “This means there's a large population of patients who may be eligible to take pan beta blockers while being treated with immunotherapy.”

Metastatic melanoma patients receiving immunotherapy may have the best chance at living longer, although even with the treatment the response rates are low - less than 35 percent. “How can we make these treatments better?” asked Penn State’s Dr. Joseph Drabick.

"Beta blockers slow your heart rhythm, but they can also affect immune cells and improve immune function," Schell said. "We wanted to see if there would be a correlation between the beta blockers patients were taking for another condition and their response to immunotherapy.”

The new Penn State study involved giving beta blockers to melanoma patients receiving cancer immunotherapy as opposed to just immunotherapy. Of 195 metastatic melanoma patients being treated with immunotherapy, 62 were also taking beta blockers. Schell, Drabick, and the other researchers compared survival between patients taking two different kinds of beta blockers, beta 1-selective and pan beta blockers, and patients taking no beta blockers at all.

The results showed that patients taking pan beta blockers were significantly more likely to survive (70 percent alive after five years of immunotherapy) than patients taking beta 1-selective beta blockers or no beta blockers at all (25 percent). Researchers completed virtually the same study again, this time in mice with melanoma. Like the human trial, the mice were receiving immunotherapy with or without additional treatment of pan beta blockers. Immunotherapy plus pan beta blockers delayed tumor growth and increased survival.

“We saw that for patients taking pan beta blockers, there was a dramatic improvement in survival, and we were able to duplicate these findings in mice and see the exact same phenomenon,” Drabick explained.

Going forward, the Penn State researchers will continue their study on using beta blockers to improve immunotherapy to potentially treat a variety of cancers.

The present study was published in the journal OncoImmunology.

Sources: MayoClinic, Penn State

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
AUG 30, 2021
Cancer
A Hot Approach to CAR T Cells
AUG 30, 2021
A Hot Approach to CAR T Cells
Immunotherapy, a type of treatment that targets a patient’s immune system to enhance the natural ability to attack ...
SEP 06, 2021
Microbiology
Imbokodo Trial Shows HIV Vaccine Candidate Isn't Effective Enough
SEP 06, 2021
Imbokodo Trial Shows HIV Vaccine Candidate Isn't Effective Enough
HIV vaccines have remained elusive in part because the virus has a powerful ability to mutate, and there are so many str ...
OCT 12, 2021
Immunology
Major Landmark in a 100-Year Search for a Malaria Vaccine
OCT 12, 2021
Major Landmark in a 100-Year Search for a Malaria Vaccine
In one of the greatest global health milestones of our time, the World Health Organization has approved the widespread d ...
OCT 19, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Researchers develop a potent antiviral drug for dengue fever
OCT 19, 2021
Researchers develop a potent antiviral drug for dengue fever
Dengue fever is a mosquito borne illness that is widespread, especially in tropical countries. The global incidence of d ...
NOV 03, 2021
Plants & Animals
A Samoan Plant May Reduce Inflammation as Well as Ibuprofen
NOV 03, 2021
A Samoan Plant May Reduce Inflammation as Well as Ibuprofen
To the people of Samoa, the medicinal qualities of a tree known as matalafi are well known. Now scientists are bringing ...
NOV 17, 2021
Health & Medicine
Nutrients for Reducing Autoimmune Disease Risk
NOV 17, 2021
Nutrients for Reducing Autoimmune Disease Risk
Want to reduce your chances of having your immune system turn on your body and start destroying your perfect health? Loo ...
Loading Comments...