Researchers have discovered that fenbendazole, which is used to treat parasitic worm infections in animals, could also be effective against cancer. The broad-spectrum antiparasitic drug has multiple cellular targets and is known to inhibit cell cycle progression by targeting tubulin, leading to mitotic catastrophe (see figure).
The study was published in Scientific Reports. The researchers found that fenbendazole reduces the growth of human cancer cells by inhibiting glucose uptake, blocking cell cycle progression and causing apoptosis. In experiments with human EMT6 cancer cells, fenbendazole reduced the viability of the cells by blocking their ability to use glucose as an energy source. Cells were treated with varying concentrations of the drug for 2 or 24 h, and viability was measured using a colony formation assay. Results showed that fenbendazole decreased the number of viable cells in both the 2-h and 24-h treatments, and resulted in lower yield-corrected surviving fractions, reflecting increased apoptosis.
In addition to preventing glucose uptake, fenbendazole blocks the formation of microtubules, which form part of the cytoskeleton and provide shape and structure to cells. This is similar to the mechanism of action of cytotoxic cancer drugs, such as vinca alkaloids and taxanes.
Although the study found that fenbendazole can prevent the growth of cancer cells, it is important to note that this research was conducted in petri dishes and mice. There is no evidence that fenbendazole can treat cancer in humans, and the drug has not been tested in human clinical trials. Specialist cancer information nurse Caroline Geraghty from Cancer Research UK told Full Fact that while it is possible for studies in mice or petri dishes to look promising, “we don’t know if something will work (or be safe) until we test it in people.” fenbendazole for humans cancer