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Re-purposing cardiac drugs to improve radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer

Thursday 4 May, 2023

Celebrate the 30th birthday of Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea and donate to cancer research


In a groundbreaking new study, Cancer Council Victoria--funded researchers are exploring whether a cardiac drug called a beta-blocker can be re-purposed to improve the effects of radiotherapy for cancer treatment.

Beta blockers stop stress signalling and have been used for decades to treat heart failure and manage hypertension and anxiety.

Researchers from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS), the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute and The University of Melbourne will now use beta blockers to see if it can improve radiotherapy by blocking neural signalling.

The research is being co-led by from MIPS, Professor Erica Sloan, said radiotherapy is a well-established, but old treatment, used for more than 50 percent of patients with cancer.

“We are investigating if we can make radiotherapy more effective by repurposing another established drug – called a beta-blocker – that was developed for cardiac disease and blocks the stress response,” Prof Sloan said.
“The idea is that beta-blockers stop the stress response, which we hope will improve the immune response against cancer, and so boost the effects of radiotherapy.”

Only 1 in 4 women whose breast cancer has spread will survive for five years or more.

“Radiotherapy has limited use at this point as it can’t always reach disseminated tumours,” Prof Erica Sloan continued.

“However, if the patient’s immune system could be boosted during radiotherapy, we believe it could be used to treat breast cancer even after it spreads.

Prof Erica Sloan said recent findings from mice with breast cancer who have been treated with beta-blockers during radiotherapy can slow cancer progression.

“These new results are exciting. It suggests that we are on the right track, and the blocking of the stress response during radiotherapy might help with the cancer response,” Prof Sloan added.

“Blocking stress might also make the patient feel a lot better.”

Prof Sloan hopes that these findings will tell us how to best design future clinical trials of radiotherapy for treatment of metastatic breast cancer.

“We are now exploring how beta-blockers have these beneficial effects. The next step will be to evaluate these findings in a clinical trial so that breast cancer patients can benefit,” she added.

This project has been vitally funded for three years via Cancer Council Victoria’s Grants-in-Aid Program.

“Without funding from Cancer Council Victoria, which is shored up by public donations via fundraising campaigns like Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea, then we wouldn’t have been able to discover that a cardiac drug could improve radiotherapy for breast cancer patients,” Prof Sloan added.

“Donating to cancer research via Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea really does make a huge difference.”

Cancer Council Victoria’s Head of Fundraising Lyrian Fleming-Parsley said that if there was ever a year to host or join a morning tea, this 30th birthday year was it.

“Everyone loves coming together for a cuppa! It’s incredible to see the progress being made thanks to generous donations to Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea, which has helped to fund ground-breaking cancer research throughout the years, leading to many life-saving discoveries,” Ms Fleming-Parsley said.

“We urge all Victorians to join the birthday celebrations and host a morning tea and make yourself a cuppa for a cancer-free future this May or June.”

To host an Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea or to donate, please visit:


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