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Dopamine Discovery Could Aid In Breast Cancer Treatment

Ann Thompson
(from left) Dr. Nira Ben-Jonathan, and researchers Eric Hugo and Sejal Fox study breast tumors.

A University of Cincinnati scientist has discovered a novel approach to shrinking some forms of  advanced breast cancer.

Not only did Cancer Biology Professor Nira Ben-Jonathan discover over-expressed dopamine receptors in 30 percent of tumors she studied, but also determined, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, activating them would kill the cancer cells.

According to Ben-Jonathan, "If you have an over-expression of a receptor you're probably thinking you want to block the receptor. We blocked it, nothing happened. We said, 'maybe the receptors need to be activated.' We activated it and it killed the breast cancer cells."

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers and helps regulate movement and emotional responses. Dopamine receptors are associated with multiple diseases like addiction, and Parkinson's disease.

However Ben-Jonathan discovered the expression of dopamine type-1 in breast cancer.

"Even more exciting was that Fenoldopam, a Food and Drug Administration-approved drug, used to treat renal hypertension, is known to activate this receptor and does not penetrate the brain, potentially reducing side effects for patients," she says.

Dr. Ben-Jonathan's research is published in the journal Oncogene and is receiving positive worldwide attention. She says, "People are very excited about it. It's kind of revolutionary to look at the brain mechanism that early activates in breast cancer."

The next step for Ben-Jonathan and her discovery is a Phase 1 clinical trial.