VCU researchers find treatment link between cancer and allergy medicine

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Scientists have found a breakthrough in cancer research in an unexpected place. Researchers at VCU's Massey Cancer Center have uncovered a connection between allergies and cancer.

That discovery could potentially lead to therapies involving drugs you already can get over the counter at your local pharmacy. You may even have them in your medicine cabinet right now.

Tucked away inside a lab at VCU's Massey Cancer Center, even researchers were surprised.

"Really, in a sense it was serendipity or chance," exclaimed Dr. Daniel Conrad.

He and PhD student Rebecca Martin say the way we respond to everyday allergies is the key to this breakthrough.

Here's how it works--when you react to pollens and other allergens, your body releases histamine. It doesn't only bring on sneezing, itchy eyes and runny noses, for the mouse in this project, histamines have another effect.

"Histamine enhanced these cells that suppress the immune system," Conrad said. "When you suppress the immune system, cancer cells or tumor cells can grow more readily."

"When she added an anti-histamine then that reversed this effect," Conrad added. "Then these cells were not as active and in the mouse model that we used the tumor especially spread less rapidly."

Martin used Zyrtec and Tagamet in the experiment.

"When we give anti-histamines the mouse's immune system is able to fight the tumor better," Martin said.

Conrad, though, is cautious about whether or not this could succeed in cancer patients.

"Model levels in mice don't always translate to the human," he explained. "So while I think it's quite exciting, how well it will work in the human system will require much more studies."

All of these studies have to go through extensive clinical testing and that could take years before researchers would know for certain if this could be the next effect cancer therapy.

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