Could antidepressant drug imipramine help fight cancer? 抗抑鬱藥丙咪嗪能幫助抗癌嗎?


Monday 07/05/2021 ( — Many studies suggest that imipramine- a commonly used antidepressant medication may be used to help treat a number of cancers.  The drug may help prevent cancer cells from being repaired through a process called macropinocytosis.

Gábor Csányi from Augasta University in Georgia USA and colleagues screened 640 FDA-approved drugs to identify any that could inhibit macropinocytosis.  They found 13 can inhibit >95% of macropinocytosis solutes at ~10 μM. Three of them, imipramine, phenoxybenzamine and vinblastine are even more potent and they do not exert other cytotoxicity. Imipramine inhibits multiple cell types including some types cancer cells. The authors reported their findings in British Journal of Pharmacology in 2018.

This is not the first study to reveal the potential of imipramine as an anticancer agent while the study did indicate how imipramine could work to fight cancer.  In the past, studies have been conducted to indicate that imipramine can be used to treat coloretal cancer, prostate cancer, TNBC and ER+ breast cancer, metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, head and neck cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, (also here), small cell lung cancer, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors and Merkel cell carcinoma,

Imipramine has not been indicated as an anticancer medication even though cancer patient can get it easily as an antidepressant medication.  Thomas Sauer and Undine E Lang from University Psychiatric Clinics, University of Basel, Switzerland reported a case in the Journal of Scientific an Technical Research in 2018 and suggested that imipramine can be an effective chemotherapy to help treat long cancer.

The case is about a 58-year old man who were diagnosed with small cell lung cancer which is a very deadly subtype of lung cancer that can kill patients quickly.  When the patient was diagnosed with the cancer in 2012, the tumor was huge in the lung and metastasized to the liver and lymph nodes.  Doctors did not expect he would live more than 6 months.

Instead of seeking help from oncologists with his cancer, he complained to his doctor about his depression.  His doctor gave him imipramine and advised him to take 150 mg per day.  He kept taking the medication as a maintenance therapy.  In May, 2016, he was found to have had the tumor shrunken.  The biomarker serum ProGRP level decreased and metastasis in the liver and lymph nodes also decreased.  He was alive and well six years later.

The authors state in their reportOur observation of an increased survival in this patient possibly linked to imipramine treatment might suggest this drug also in off label use in patients suffering from other tumors, including glioma, colorectal cancer and retinoblastoma, which has been suggested at least by epidemiological studies.”  (Dr. Lu)

Here is more information about imipramine.

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