Heading into spring and Allergy and Asthma Awareness month, many people load up on antihistamines and get their inhaler prescriptions renewed. A new study is revealing an interesting connection between histamines and cancer which could lead to advanced therapies using common antihistamines.

Allergies and Cancer: Unlikely Connection?

“This research is very exciting as it draws a connection between two diseases that aren’t commonly linked: allergy and cancer,” noted Daniel H. Conrad, Ph.D., member of the Cancer Cell Signaling research program at Massey. “However, it’s important to realize that this connection is very novel and further research is needed before we know if antihistamines can be used effectively in cancer therapies.”

Histamine May Protect Tumors

A new study shows that histamine, a component of the immune system that responds to allergens and foreign pathogens and is also linked to inflammation, plays a role in protecting tumors from the immune system. Researchers were able to interrupt a process that promotes melanoma growth by blocking the production of histamine in animal models. They found that histamine induces the activation, survival, and proliferation of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) which promote tumor growth by suppressing the immune system. MDSCs tend to migrate toward mast cells which help traffic the MDSCs to sites of inflammation such as the liver and tumors. Researchers showed that MDSCs can be decreased by over-the-counter antihistamines such as Zyrtec and Tagamet.

MDSCs Immune Response Against Cancer

“MDSCs have generated a great deal of interest in recent years because they limit the effects of the immune response against cancer,” explained study collaborator Harry D. Bear, MD, PhD, member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at Massey, professor and chair of the Division of Surgical Oncology at the VCU School of Medicine. “Now that we have shown that antihistamines can interfere with the production of MDSCs, we are hopeful that we may be able to use them to restore the immune system’s ability to fight off tumors.”

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