In a study involving mice, Gilenya squashed the molecule that causes inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Calming the inflammation either prevented colitis-associated colorectal (CAC) cancer from forming or halted the growth of existing tumors.
"Don’t ignore ongoing intestinal issues – see your doctor."
Sarah Spiegel, PhD, the Mann T. and Sara D. Lowry chair in oncology and co-leader of the Cancer Cell Signaling program at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center, led the study.
She and her team found that a particular enzyme increased the levels of a molecule that’s involved in starting and nurturing intestinal inflammation. The enzyme is called sphingosine kinase 1 (SphK1) and the molecule is sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P).
In mice, Gilenya decreased the levels of both SphK1 and a S1P receptor known as S1PR1. This put a monkey wrench in the cancer process. CAC tumors in the animals either never got started, or existing tumor growth was slowed.
"Perhaps the most significant aspect of this study is the therapeutic potential of fingolimod in the treatment of colitis-associated cancer," Dr. Spiegel said in a statement. "Since this drug is already approved for clinical use, we're hoping to initiate a clinical trial to study its efficacy in patients with CAC in combination with approved therapies."
This is the first study to link SphK1 and S1P with IBD and colorectal cancer. Future studies will involve testing the levels of S1P in human blood samples.
The study was published in the January issue of Cancer Cell. The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Research Foundation. No conflicts of interest were reported.