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Botox, Surgery could aid in Shrinking Stomach Cancer, Study Reports

Update Date: Aug 20, 2014 02:11 PM EDT

Nerves might play a huge role in how cancer grows in the stomach, new research suggested. In this study, the team found that prohibiting the nerves from sending signals via surgery or Botox (onabotulinumtoxinA) could potentially slow down the progression of stomach cancer.

"Scientists have long observed that human and mouse cancers contain a lot of nerves in and around the tumor cells," said Dr. Timothy C. Wang, the Dorothy L. and Daniel H. Silberberg Professor of Medicine at Columbia's Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center. "We wanted to understand more about the role of nerves in the initiation and growth of cancer, by focusing on stomach cancer."

For this study, Dr. Wang and his team experimented on three different groups of mice models with stomach cancer. They discovered that the one procedure, vagotomy was able to slow down the mice's tumor growth, which extended their lifespans. Vagotomy is a procedure that cuts nerves. Based on the success from this procedure, the team attempted to block nerve signal without having to perform surgery.

The team discovered that Botox yielded similar effects as surgery in slowing stomach tumor growth. Botox, which has to be injected, works by preventing nerve cells from releasing a neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine, which is responsible for triggering cell division.

"We found that blocking the nerve signals makes the cancer cells more vulnerable-it removes one of the key factors that regulate their growth," said Dr. Wang reported in the press release.

In the study, the researchers also found evidence that targeting these cells can be beneficial in human cases. The team had compared stomach tumor recurrence in 37 patients, 13 of which received a vagotomy as a part of their procedure. Out of the 13 patients, 12 of them had tumors that did not progress past the areas where the nerve connections were cut. In the remaining 24 patients who had surgery but did not undergo a vagotomy, their stomach cancer recurred in all of the same regions as before.

"In the future, we'd really like to look at how we can use this method of targeting nerves to stop the growth of more advanced tumors," Dr. Wang said.

The study "Denervation Suppresses Gastric Tumorigenesis," was published in the journal, Science Translational Medicine.

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