Researchers have found that the antidepressant mirtazapine can significantly slow tumor growth and extend the lives of mice with colorectal cancer.
The study found that mice with colorectal cancer that were given mirtazapine lived an additional 67 days on average, while those that were not given the drug lived an average of 43 days, Fang Chun-kai (方俊凱), director of the Department of Psychiatry and the Suicide Prevention Center at Mackay Memorial Hospital, said yesterday.
The time that it took for the tumor to grow to 400mm3 was also almost doubled to 41 days for mice given the drug, up from 22 days for untreated mice, said Fang, who led the research.
Although it would be difficult to carry out human trials and the study has shown that mirtazapine does not cure cancer in mice, “at least it can help cancer patients currently taking this drug to feel more at ease,” said the doctor at a press conference.
Fang said he decided to carry out the study after discovering that many of the cancer patients referred to him for treatment for depression showed not only progress in their mental health, but a delayed onset of cancer relapse.
John Hwang (黃正仲), a biomedical imaging and radiological sciences professor from National Yang-Ming University who conducted the research with Fang, said the drug could achieve the same results on mice with other types of cancer.
“The drug improves the immune system and raises the serotonin levels in mice and lowers the tumor necrosis factor that causes cell death in the tumors,” said Hwang, adding that these effects would all be relevant to other types of cancer.
“The earlier the drug is given to the mice, the greater its effect on boosting the immune system,” Fang said.
Citing a study conducted by his hospital last year, Fang said that about 25 percent of cancer patients develop depression, adding that he hopes more studies can shed light on the relation of the emotional well-being of cancer patients and cancer prognosis.
The results of the findings are being published in the US scientific journal Public Library of Science ONE this month, Fang said.