A drug used to treat kidney cancer may repair damaged blood vessels in the brain, new research claims.
It could be a lifeline for the 5,000 Britons every year who suffer a ruptured aneurysm.
A weakness in blood vessels inside the skull leads to catastrophic internal bleeding.
About five percent of the population are thought to have the condition – dubbed a “silent killer.”
It’s symptomless – usually causing no day-to-day problems. They can only be identified by scans.
Lead author Dr. Hirofumi Nakatomi, of the RIKEN Center for Brain Science in Japan, said: “Unruptured intracranial aneurysms are usually detected by Magnetic Resonance Angiography or Computed Tomography Angiography during health checkups.
“If these tests are unavailable, then aneurysms are undetectable until they burst.”
It can happen without warning. In half of cases it means almost instant death. And many of those who survive suffer permanent brain damage.
They can cause anything from a bad headache and vision problems to a potentially fatal stroke.
Experiments showed they are caused by a gene mutation known as PDGFRB.
In mice, treatment with the anti-tumor medication Sunitinib blocked its activity – preventing the aneurysm.
It applied to the most common type known as ISAs (intracranial saccular aneurysms) – which number over nine-in-ten cases..
Age, high blood pressure, smoking and drinking also increase the risk.
But Dr. Nakatomi said: “The unexpected finding that greater than 90% of aneurysms had mutations in a common gene indicates they could be the major trigger.”
After linking the variant with faster cell migration and inflammation in cultured cells, they discovered the effects could be blocked with sunitinib.
Lab rodents were genetically engineered to carry the mutant gene at the base of the brain.
After a month, the size of the artery had doubled in diameter and become very weak.
As in the cultured cells, the effect was stopped when the mice were given sunitini. Their basilar arteries remained normal-sized and strong.
Dr. Nakatomi said: “Establishing the first non-surgical animal model of intracranial aneurysm is in itself an achievement.
“But more importantly, we suppressed artery expansion with a drug, indicating that intracranial aneurysms can be pharmacologically treated.”
Additional research will be required to demonstrate the treatment is effective for humans. But perhaps the more difficult hurdle will be detection.
Dr. Nakatomi said: “In Japan, many people can receive these tests as part of their annual health checkup, making the development of drug treatments particularly useful.”
To repair an aneurysm, surgeons currently insert tiny metal coils or a mesh ball known as cerebral aneurysm embolization device, or both.
They work by blocking blood flow, sealing it off and preventing a rupture. The implants are placed via a catheter, normally inserted into a vein in the thigh or wrist and threaded through to the brain.
The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker