Crohn's Disease Medication Helps With Brain Cancer

Azulfidine works to slow growth growth of gliomas

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Ted Kennedy's first symptom of brain cancer was the seizure he had in 2008. Seizures are commonly the first sign that's something's wrong among patients who have gliomas.

Researchers have found what's at the heart of brain tumors and the onset of seizures. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) team has also found that a medication used to treat Crohn's Disease blocks these seizures and may slow the growth of the tumor.

"Ask your oncologist about Azulfidine."

In a study published online in the September 11, 2011 issue of Nature Medicine, investigators showed that glioma cells flood healthy neurons with a neurotransmitter called glutamate.

Glutamate helps neurons communicate with each other. But tumor cells create a tremendous amount of glutamate, "100-fold beyond normal,” said lead investigator, Harald Sontheimer, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at UAB.

This action creates a state of "hyper-excitability" leads to seizures. This vast amount of glutamate also overwhelms and kills healthy neurons, which in turn frees room for the tumor to grow.

Sontheimer's team also discovered that Azulfidine (sufasalazine), a medication that treats Crohn's disease and some types of arthritis, blocks the tumor from releasing glutamate. This then prohibited the seizures and also stemmed the growth of the tumor.

This discovery came after working with mice that had human glial cells.

In its current formulation, Azulfidine isn't totally efficient in treating gliomas. Sontheimer suggests the drug could be re-formulated to treat primary brain tumors and  human clinical trials are warranted.

Meanwhile, Sontheimer says the existing drug could be used and may be valuable to some degree, particularly in early stage tumors.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 12, 2011
Last Updated:
September 27, 2011