Why Aspirin May be the Most Powerful Weapon in the War on Brain Cancer

Less than 20 percent of people with brain cancer survive more than five years after their diagnosis. It’s one of the most deadly forms of cancer because there are very few treatments for it available. The brain-blood barrier is a massive hurdle because it prevents powerful cancer drugs such as chemotherapy from reaching cancerous tumors. The barrier is a membrane that keeps us safe by separating circulating blood from brain fluid and preventing bacteria and pathogens from reaching the brain. It’s made of high-density cells and is extremely selective about what it allows to pass through and most medications find it nearly impenetrable. But scientists at the Brain Tumor Research Centre at Portsmouth University and an English startup called Innovate Pharmaceuticals may have created a drug that can reach brain tumors using a compound so common most people have it in their medicine cabinets: aspirin.

The blood-brain barrier only allows gasses, fat-soluble molecules, water, amino acids. and glucose to pass through. In its current form, aspirin has not been able to cross the membrane because the compound contains grains that cause gastric side effects. But researchers at Portsmouth and Innovate Pharmaceuticals claim to have reformulated aspirin while adding two additional ingredients to create a truly soluble liquid aspirin known as ‘IP1867B.’

For all the good aspirin can do in preventing second heart attacks and strokes, taking it daily can boost some risks, too — of ulcers, for example, and of bleeding in the brain or gu

The reformulated, soluble aspirin significantly increases the compound’s ability to cross the brain-blood barrier and attack cancerous tumors. Researchers say that in lab tests the aspirin has proven to be able to make its way past the blood-brain barrier, into the brain, and kill an aggressive cancerous tumor known as glioblastoma. Plus, the aspirin did so without harming any of the surrounding brain tissue. Researchers claim the reformulated aspirin is 10 times more effective than any existing chemotherapy at destroying brain cancer cells.

“We are excited by the studies to date and hope that our future studies will prove this to be the breakthrough that patients have been waiting for,” says Dr. James Stuart, chief medical officer at Innovate Pharmaceuticals. Sue Farrington Smith, chief executive of Brain Tumor Research agrees. “‘This is a potential game-changer for research into brain tumors and clearly shows what sustainable research is able to achieve,” she says. “It is science like this that will enable us to eventually find a cure for this devastating disease which kills more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer.”

Although this research appears to be a significant step forward in brain cancer treatment, there are more than a few hurdles researchers must overcome. Their work has yet to be published in a journal, and stands to be peer-reviewed and replicated. Then their treatment must be tested on lab mice and other experimental models before it can be tested on human subjects. “We need now to go on, and do further work to see if this happens in the normal brain which has tumors and then, ultimately, go on to clinical trials,” says Dr. Kieran Breen of Brain Tumor Research. But because the treatment is made with aspirin and other previously-approved medications, researchers should be able to expedite its journey to human trials which they believe will begin in about two years.


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