A drug that eases the effects of jetlag could help prevent painful side effects from cancer medicines, new research has found.
The study in rats, published in the Journal of Pineal Research, showed that the drug - known as melatonin - blocked harmful effects of chemotherapy on nerve health.
"These results are promising, especially as melatonin treatment is known to be safe in other conditions," said co-lead researcher Helen Galley, Professor at Institute of Medical Sciences at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
"However, more work will need to be done before we know if melatonin will help prevent pain in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy," Galley added.
The scientists focused on a common condition known as chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain (CINP), which causes tingling and pain sensation to touch and cold temperatures that can be severe enough to cause patients to limit their chemotherapy treatment.
The study showed that melatonin given prior to chemotherapy limited the damaging effect on nerve cells and the development of pain symptoms.
In this study, melatonin did not alleviate pain when CINP had already developed, suggesting that its potential benefits could be as prevention rather than cure.
Importantly, melatonin treatment did not interfere with the beneficial anticancer effects of chemotherapy in human breast and ovarian cancer cells.
Findings also showed that melatonin reduced damage caused by chemotherapy to vital parts of nerve cells known as mitochondria.
Experts say reducing harm to these cell energy centres could hold the key to preventing chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain which affects almost 70% of patients undergoing chemotherapy and can have severe impact on quality of life.
Everyday activities, including fastening buttons or walking barefoot, can cause pain that can persist even after the cancer is cured, meaning that some patients are unable to return to work or able to carry out household tasks.
"We are actively exploring an early-phase clinical study to see if these exciting laboratory findings might translate to direct benefit for patients undergoing chemotherapy. This is an area of real unmet need, where new therapies are urgently required," Lesley Colvin, Professor at University of Edinburgh, said.
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