Why get rid of your diarrhea and cancer with two medications when you can do it with one? As researchers from the Goethe University Frankfurt recently discovered, the future is now: A popular anti-diarrhea drug may in fact lead cancer cells to cell death, in addition to stopping you from shitting yourself all day.
Obviously, this is potentially extremely good news. Loperamide is an easily available, over-the-counter diarrhea treatment that works by slowing movement of the gut (it’s the active ingredient in Imodium, for example). And as cancer researchers initially discovered two years ago, loperamide also triggers a stress response in the endoplasmic reticulum of certain tumor cells. This stress response then triggers the degradation and self-destruction of the cells.
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More recently, the researchers discovered that loperamide could potentially cause cell death in glioblastoma brain tumors, an aggressive form of cancer impacting both adults and children that doesn’t respond to chemotherapy. It’s rare, representing around 1 in 10,000 cancer cases, but it’s almost always fatal.
The specifics of how loperamide could induce cell death in these tumors is rather complicated, but in semi-layman’s terms, the “activating transcription factor” that causes endoplasmic reticulum stress to induce cell death is produced in higher amounts when loperamide is administered. Notably, loperamide doesn’t seem to cause cell death in any other cells, and because it’s a widely used anti-diarrhea medicine, we already know it to be safe.
Currently, the study of loperamide and cancer cells remains in a lab, and there’s still a lot more research that needs to be done before we could confidently use this as a treatment. When people consume loperamide orally for diarrhea, it quickly binds to the intestines — as such, it wouldn’t reach the brain. Researchers are therefore working to figure out how to transport loperamide to the brain, citing nanoparticles as one potential means of doing so. They’re hopeful that once this is further studied, loperamide may even be used as treatment for neurological disorders, dementia and other types of cancer.
Curing brain tumors, dementia and diarrhea? Loperamide can truly do it all.