A recent study conducted by scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen has suggested that painful side effects from cancer medicines can be managed using melatonin, a drug that helps ease the effects of jet lag.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that can be used to control sleep disturbances. Synthetic versions of melatonin can be developed in the laboratory.
During the research, the drug demonstrated capabilities to prevent pain caused by chemotherapy damage to nerves.
The researchers focused on a common condition known as chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain (CINP), which causes tingling and pain sensation to touch and cold temperatures.
In severe cases, these sensations cause patients to stop their chemotherapy treatment.
University of Edinburgh anaesthesia critical care and pain medicine professor Lesley Colvin said: “This is an area of real unmet need, where new therapies are urgently required.
“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.”
The latest research demonstrated that melatonin, when administered before chemotherapy, could limit the damaging effect on nerve cells and help reduce the development of pain symptoms.
The therapy additionally did not interfere with the positive anticancer effects of chemotherapy in human breast and ovarian cancer cells.
In addition, the study revealed that melatonin helped reduce the damage caused by chemotherapy to vital parts of nerve cells known as mitochondria. This, in turn, can assist in the prevention of CINP.
University of Edinburgh Centre for Integrative Physiology Dr Carole Torsney said: “These findings are very exciting and suggest that melatonin could prevent CINP by protecting nerve cell mitochondria.
“Our next steps will be to further test this theory by looking at the effect of melatonin in other pain conditions that also involve mitochondrial damage.”
The Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, British Journal of Anaesthesia, the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Melville Trust for the Care and Cure of Cancer funded the study.