Diabetic drug protects against brain-radiation side effects

In collaboration with the Press Association

A widely-used diabetic drug could help prevent some of the side effects experienced by cancer patients receiving whole-brain radiation therapy, say researchers.

Whole-brain radiation is widely used to treat recurrent brain tumours, as well as being used to prevent other forms of cancer spreading to the brain.

Around half of all patients report some decline in cognitve functions, such as memory, language and abstract reasoning skills following the treatment, however.

Scientists at the Wake Forest University, USA, have now found that a commonly-used diabetes drug called piolitazone provides protection against radiation-induced impairment in animal models.

Rats treated with the drug while receiving whole-brain radiation performed as well in cognitive tests as rats that did not receive radiation. However, rats that received radiation but not piolitazone developed impaired cognitive function.

"These findings offer the promise of improving the quality of life of these patients," said lead researcher Professor Mike Robbins.

"The drug is already prescribed for diabetes and we know the doses that patients can safely take. This could easily be applied to patients." It could also allow patients to receive higher doses of radiation, which could lead to longer survival, he said.

The study suggested that piolitazone may work by suppressing inflammation, thought to be one of the main ways that radiation causes damage to healthy tissue.

It has been published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology-Biology-Physics.