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Credit: Julio Sosa

A new study conducted at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine has discovered that an FDA-approved drug, reserpine, may disrupt the metastasis of cancer cells.

Originally created nearly 65 years ago to control blood pressure, reserpine now shows promising signs that it might be able to stop the spread of cancer by preventing tEVs, tumor-derived extracellular vesicles, from spreading to healthy cells, Penn Today reported. The tumors typically send out tEVs to prepare distant healthy tissues to accept cancer cells, allowing cancer to spread throughout the body. 

Since its release, reserpine has been largely phased out of use because of its strong side effects, like sleepiness and depression. 

“These side effects are a real nuisance if you’re using it daily as a blood pressure medication, but if I had metastatic melanoma I would certainly be willing to tolerate those effects around the time of surgery,” study author and Cell Biology professor Serge Fuchs told Penn Today.

In the study, which was published Jan. 14 in the journal "Cancer Cell," mice with melanoma were given reserpine before and after surgery. The drug prevented healthy cells from taking up tEVs, which helped reduce the spread of cancer and prolong their survival.

Fuchs worked on the study with a team of researchers from Penn Vet, joined by Wei Guo from the Department of Biology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, Constantinos Koumensis from the Perelman School of Medicine, and collaborators from the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and the Medical University of South Carolina.