A drug commonly used to treat seizures appears to make eye tumors less likely to grow if they spread to other parts of the body, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Their findings are available online in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
Uveal melanoma can be very aggressive and metastasize from the eye to other organs, especially the liver. “Melanoma in general, and uveal melanoma in particular, is notoriously difficult to treat once it has metastasized and grown in a distant organ,” says principal investigator J. William Harbour, MD. “We previously identified an aggressive class 2 molecular type of uveal melanoma that, in most cases, already has metastasized by the time the eye cancer is diagnosed, even though imaging the body can’t detect it yet. This microscopic amount of cancer can remain dormant in the liver and elsewhere for several yea
rs before it begins to grow and becomes lethal.”
Once this happens, the prospects for survival are poor, according to Dr. Harbour, the Paul A. Cibis Distinguished Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and professor of cell biology and of molecular oncology.
Dr. Harbour’s new study shows that drugs known as histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors alter the conformation of the DNA of the aggressive form of uveal melanoma, which changes the way key genes are expressed, rendering the tumor cells less aggressive.