We have a lot of ways to treat cancer once it forms, but there might be a new way to prevent it.
It's most famous for its statues, "called Moai," but a drug discovered in the dirt among the Easter Island icons back in the 70's, could be the answer to preventing cancer.
"This drug has had a lot of lives," said Z. Dave Sharp, PhD, Professor of Molecular Medicine at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
Dr. Dave Sharp says rapamycin was first used as a fungicide. Now it's used as anti-cancer therapy and an immunosuppressant.
"It can prevent transplant rejection," Dr. Sharp said.
A few years ago, he got the idea it might help extend life too.
"And everybody said oh that's a crazy idea," Dr. Sharp explained.
However, studies showed mice given the drug had their lives extended by up to 30 percent.
"They look younger. They act younger. They're more mobile," Dr. Sharp said.
On top of that Tyler Curiel, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, told ABC30, "The mice that got rapamycin appeared to have their cancers prevented."
Now they're giving mice cancer-causing chemicals. The idea is to find out if the drug is boosting their immunity, so their immune systems can kill cancer cells as soon as they appear.
"There's a lot of evidence that it boosts your immunity," Dr. Curiel said.
If it really does prevent the disease in these guys, "Perhaps eventually people will be able to take this drug," Dr. Sharp explained.
A two year, 450 thousand dollar grant from the National Cancer Institute is helping fund the work. Dr. Curiel says if the drug does prove to prevent cancer in mice, human trials could start in about two years.
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