Researchers use cancer drug and antidepressants to fight untreatable 'brain-eating' infection

Sep 19, 2018

Cases of severe infections from the amoeba N. fowleri are rare ­— but there’s currently no way to stop the disease and it is almost always fatal. Now, scientists are looking to existing medications to a treatment.  

Often referred to a “brain-eating” disease, the amoeba is most commonly found in freshwater sources and soil. It enters humans through the nose and if it triggers primary amebic meningoencephalitis, the effects are swift and devastating. Aside from general antifungal medications, doctors have no weapons to fight the infection.  

In a study published recently in PLos Pathogens, researchers from Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California-San Diego reported some success in inhibiting the amoeba’s growth using other antifungals, the common antidepressant, Prozac, and tamoxifen, a breast cancer medication.

The scientists said they chose these drugs primarily because they are able to better break the blood-brain barrier. Ultimately, they found that in a lab, the medications were successful at inhibiting enzymes that grow on the amoeba’s outer membrane.

Because of the dangers associated with handling the infection, the University of California-San Diego is one of only six labs in the country researching N. fowleri. The research is ongoing.

Read the full press release.

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