Beta blocker drugs, normally used for high blood pressure, could enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapies in treating neuroblastoma, a type of children's cancer, according to a study published today.
Researchers from the Children's Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA) found that three beta blockers (carvedilol, nebivolol and propranolol) were able to slow the growth of neuroblastoma cancer cells grown in the laboratory, and when combined with chemotherapy these anti-cancer effects were increased.
When the chemotherapy drug vincristine was added with beta blockers, survival was greatly improved in mice.
Study lead author Dr Eddy Pasquier, senior research officer in the Tumour Biology and Targeting Programme at CCIA, said: "Three of the seven different beta blockers tested in the lab all slowed tumour growth. When combined with these beta blockers, vincristine was four times more effective than when used alone."
Neuroblastoma develops from nerve cells left over from a baby's development in the womb. Around 100 children are diagnosed with it each year in the UK, most of whom are under the age of five.
Despite the number of children surviving neuroblastoma rising from 17% in 1971 to 64% today, the aggressive form of the disease is still difficult to treat successfully.
Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "We urgently need more effective treatments for children with neuroblastoma, and this research opens up a new avenue to explore. But this approach has only been tested in mice, and may not have the same effect in children, so more work needs to be done to show whether this might work in the clinic."
The study is reported in the British Journal of Cancer, which is owned by Cancer Research UK.