Seizure Medication May Fight Breast Cancer Metastases

Dr. Will Brackenbury MRC Research Fellow University of York York, Interview with:
Dr. Will Brackenbury
MRC Research Fellow
University of York
York,  UK

Medical Research: What is the background for this study?

Dr. Brackenbury: Although survival rates from breast cancer are improving, metastasis, the spread of cancer cells from the primary tumor to secondary sites, is still the main cause of death. Unfortunately, there are no effective treatments available to slow or cure metastasis. We and others have found that sodium channels, normally found in neurons and muscle cells, are also present in metastatic cancer cells. Sodium channels are important drug targets for treating epilepsy. We previously found that the antiepileptic drug phenytoin, which is a sodium channel blocker, reduced tumor growth and metastasis in a preclinical model of breast cancer. This suggests that sodium channels might be useful new therapeutic targets for drugs that could slow metastasis.

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Dr. Brackenbury: We have found that a particular sodium channel subtype, called Nav1.5, is up-regulated in breast tumors compared with normal breast tissue. We found that sodium current, measured by electrophysiological recording, is active in live tissue slices taken from tumors. Suppressing Nav1.5 expression using RNA interference reduces tumor growth and inhibits local invasion of cancer cells into the surrounding fat tissue. Nav1.5 suppression also reduces the number of cells metastasizing to distant sites in the liver, lungs and spleen.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Brackenbury: This is the first study to show that sodium channels are functionally active in tumor tissue and Nav1.5 enhances breast tumor growth and metastatic dissemination. The results support the idea that compounds targeting Nav1.5 may be useful for reducing metastasis.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Brackenbury: We do not yet know whether other sodium channel subtypes also play a role in breast tumors.


Nav1.5 regulates breast tumor growth and metastatic dissemination in vivo.

Nelson M, Yang M, Millican-Slater R, Brackenbury WJ.

Oncotarget. 2015 Oct 6. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.5441. [Epub ahead of print]

PMID: 26452220

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Dr. Will Brackenbury (2015). Seizure Medication May Fight Breast Cancer Metastases