Alzheimer’s drug may treat Barrett’s esophagus, esophageal cancer

A team of researchers renowned for their work in colon cancer believe they may have found a better treatment for Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer based on findings from their colon cancer research, according to Science Daily.

Cancer of the esophagus is one of the 10 most common cancers, yet there is no good treatment for the disease. Most people who have been diagnosed with esophageal cancer also have a long history of heartburn. Heartburn occurs when toxic acid from the stomach splashes up into the esophagus. Over time, if left untreated, this constant bathing of stomach acid can damage tissue in the esophagus, a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus.

Barrett’s esophagus is generally treated with the same medications used to treat heartburn and GERD, including Reglan (metoclopramide).

The damaged tissue of Barrett’s esophagus cannot be reserved and if left untreated can lead to esophageal cancer. It is also impossible to remove the damaged tissue, which means the risk of cancer is always a threat.

However, Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute had a hunch. He believed that since the cells in Barrett’s esophagus are very similar to the cells that line the colon, they might share some qualities that could lead to a better understanding in the treatment of Barrett’s esophagus. Researchers determined that the anti-Alzheimer’s drug DBZ, currently in clinical trials, had side effects that affected the lining of the lower colon. Using rat models, Clevers observed the effects of DBZ on Barrett’s esophagus tissue and found that the drug not only halted the growth of Barrett’s esophagus, in some cases it also completely destroyed the mutant tissue.

The treatment is far from human trials, but it still offers hope for a better treatment for Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer in the future.