Simultaneous defeat of MCF7 and MDA-MB-231 resistances by a hypericin PDT-tamoxifen hybrid therapy

NPJ Breast Cancer. 2019 Apr 10;5:13. doi: 10.1038/s41523-019-0108-8. eCollection 2019.


Currently the greatest challenge in oncology is the lack of homogeneity of the lesions where different cell components respond differently to treatment. There is growing consensus that monotherapies are insufficient to eradicate the disease and there is an unmet need for more potent combinatorial treatments. We have previously shown that hypericin photodynamic therapy (HYP-PDT) triggers electron transport chain (ETC) inhibition in cell mitochondria. We have also shown that tamoxifen (TAM) enhances cytotoxicity in cells with high respiration, when combined with ETC inhibitors. Herein we introduce a synergistic treatment based on TAM chemotherapy and HYP-PDT. We tested this novel combinatorial treatment (HYPERTAM) in two metabolically different breast cancer cell lines, the triple-negative MDA-MB-231 and the estrogen-receptor-positive MCF7, the former being quite sensitive to HYP-PDT while the latter very responsive to TAM treatment. In addition, we investigated the mode of death, effect of lipid peroxidation, and the effect on cell metabolism. The results were quite astounding. HYPERTAM exhibited over 90% cytotoxicity in both cell lines. This cytotoxicity was in the form of both necrosis and autophagy, while high levels of lipid peroxidation were observed in both cell lines. We, consequently, translated our research to an in vivo pilot study encompassing the MDA-MB-231 and MCF7 tumor models in NOD SCID-γ immunocompromised mice. Both treatment cohorts responded very positively to HYPERTRAM, which significantly prolonged mice survival. HYPERTAM is a potent, synergistic modality, which may lay the foundations for a novel, composite anticancer treatment, effective in diverse tumor types.