A new study has shown that two investigational drugs may offer both a convenient and effective alternative to surgical treatment for schwannoma tumors.
A schwannoma is a type of nervous system tumor. These tumors usually grow on nerves that conduct information relating to hearing and balance to the brain.
The treatment of schwannomas is a tricky one.
The novel therapies, which were reported in the November edition of Brain, show the potential to not only inhibit the growth of schwannomas but also shrink their sizes. They are also interestingly given via the oral route.
“Our current study gives an early indication that we can potentially provide schwannoma patients with a successful alternative treatment to manage their condition,” said senior study author David Parkinson, professor of neuroscience at the University of Plymouth.
This experimental treatment may not only be clinically helpful against schwannomas but also against some other tumor types, especially meningioma.
Schwannomas and treatment difficulty
Schwannomas are the most prevalent form of nerve sheath tumors and they can develop in people of all ages. However, they are probably more commonly seen in people with Neurofibromatosis Type II (NF2), which is a hereditary condition.
NF2 results in nerve tumors that are usually benign or non-cancerous but that could bring about a variety of symptoms.
The protein Merlin loses its functions in cells when this genetic condition is present. NF2 Patients more often than not develop meningioma tumors linked to the brain and spinal cord in addition to schwannomas.
Meningioma is the most common tumor within the brain, as per researchers.
Surgical procedures are the most effective option currently for treating these tumors. This type of treatment is not only difficult; there is also a high risk of damage to healthy nervous system tissue around the affected area.
There was, therefore, a need for better, safer treatment options.
Promising therapies for schwannomas
In this study, researchers focused their attention on the Hippo signaling pathway. This regulates organ size in human and animal tissues and cells by steering cell proliferation and apoptosis. However, in many cancer cases, the signaling pathway has been observed to be dysregulated.
The Hippo signaling pathway inhibitors used in the study were called VT1 and VT2.
The research team tested the drugs on tumor cells obtained during surgical resections in patient-donors and schwannoma models in mice. Tumor growth was observed to reduce drastically after only 21 days of drug administration.
It did not stop there. The novel treatment triggered tumor cell death and brought about overall tumor cell shrinkage.
There is evidence that these two drugs may do more than inhibit growth and induce shrinkage of schwannomas.
Researchers reported that the compounds appeared to also impede meningioma tumor cell growth. This makes them potentially more useful for NF2 patients, who also commonly have this tumor type along with schwannoma tumors.
“We are really excited to show that blocking the Hippo pathway is highly effective in preventing schwannoma and meningioma growth,” said Dr. Liyam Laraba, who led the study as a part of his Ph.D. research. “These drugs are well tolerated in our models and we hope that our work can stimulate and accelerate the use of these inhibitors in clinical trials.”
The ability of this treatment to tackle two tumor types that are commonly seen in the same group of patients could be a game-changer. It is an exciting prospect for such patients as it could remove the need for risky, intrusive surgery, according to Professor Parkinson.
Compounds in the same class as these drugs have also been found to help against mesothelioma. Phase 1 clinical trials are currently been carried out on their use for this tumor type.