Anti-anxiety drug from 1950s improves chances of surviving brain cancer

ADELAIDE, Australia — A decades-old anti-anxiety drug can improve the survival chances of those suffering from glioblastoma — an aggressive and deadly form of brain cancer. That’s according to researchers from Flinders University, who found how cerebrospinal fluid, the clear and colorless liquid that surrounds and protects the brain, affects the efficacy of brain cancer treatments. Scientists discovered that combining the anti-anxiety drug trifluoperazine with standard glioblastoma care could potentially keep patients alive longer.

Brain cancer, particularly glioblastoma, is one of the most devastating forms of the disease, claiming the lives of more young and middle-aged adults than any other cancer. Unfortunately, brain cancers have proven to be highly resistant to current cancer therapies, which are more effective in treating cancers elsewhere in the body. Scientists believe that the unique characteristics of the brain may be responsible for this resistance.

The collaborative team of Australian researchers, consisting of neurobiologists, neurosurgeons, and oncologists, conducted experiments using cerebrospinal fluid from 25 local patients with glioblastoma. Their findings revealed a significant impact on tumor cells when exposed to cerebrospinal fluid, causing these cells to change their characteristics and become more resistant to two key components of glioblastoma therapy: radiation and the drug temozolomide.

Brain tumor seen in brain scan
(© sudok1 –

“Glioblastoma kills so many people who are otherwise fit, healthy and young, within months. This is a horrible disease, and the treatments available are just not effective enough despite serious side effects,” says study author Cedric Bardy, assistant professor at the South Australia Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and Flinders University, in a media release. “This study helps us understand the limitations of the current chemotherapies and provides new hope for repurposing a class of drugs that could be added to the standard of care. We are working hard now to try this on patients in a clinical trial.”

Researchers delved into the molecular basis of these changes and found that glioblastoma cells exposed to cerebrospinal fluid exhibited increased resistance to a particular form of therapy-induced cell death known as ferroptosis. Crucially, they identified the existing anti-anxiety drug trifluoperazine, which has been in use since the 1950s. Trifluoperazine was shown to reverse the resistance of glioblastoma cells to both radiation and temozolomide. Importantly, it was found that trifluoperazine did not harm healthy brain cells.

This discovery offers new hope in the battle against this devastating form of brain cancer, providing a potential breakthrough in treatment effectiveness with fewer side-effects. Clinical trials are now being planned to further investigate this promising approach.

What Exactly is Trifluoperazine?

Trifluoperazine is a psychiatric medication which is part of a class of drugs called phenothiazine antipsychotics. It is a short-term treatment for anxiety and is available in pill form. The drug works by restoring the balance of certain natural substances in the brain.

The Grim Reality of Brain Cancer Survival Rates

Brain cancer, a complex and devastating disease, is unfortunately associated with a poor prognosis. While survival rates have improved over the past few decades, the overall outlook remains challenging. The five-year relative survival rate for all brain and central nervous system (CNS) tumors is just 36 percent, with a 10-year survival rate of 30 percent. These statistics, while providing a general picture, mask the significant variations in survival outcomes depending on the type of brain cancer, patient age, and other factors.

Glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive type of brain cancer, carries a particularly grim prognosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, the five-year survival rate for glioblastoma is only 6.9 percent, and the average survival time is a mere 14.6 months. This dismal outlook stems from the tumor’s aggressive nature, its tendency to infiltrate healthy brain tissue, and the limited treatment options available.

The study is published in the journal Science Advances.

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  1. Why state that its an anti-anxiety drug in the headline? It is NOT. Its an antipsychotic. Valium vs Haloperidol.

  2. I agree with Christine Stever. It is misleading to call trifluoperazine an anti-anxiety drug. It is an antipsychotic, and when taken for a chronic symptom or disease has severe side effects which may continue after the trifluoperazine is discontinued.
    This article should be rewritten ASAP.

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