Antidepressants commonly prescribed to treat depression and other psychiatric disorders can significantly reduce the chance of developing certain kinds of cancer, according to a recent study by the University of Lincoln’s Dr Tim Bates.

The study, which was conducted in partnership with colleagues from the University of Nottingham and the University of Warwick, examined more than 90,000 patients. The study found that those who were taking tricyclic antidepressants had a significantly lower incidence of colorectal cancer and glioma (a major type of brain tumour) than those who were not – by as much as 64% in the case of glioma and 21% for colorectal cancer.

Human lung cancer cells seen under a microscop Tim Bates
Human lung cancer cells seen under a microscope Tim Bates

The study offers the basis for a new approach to the prevention and treatment of cancer through the development of antimitochondrial drugs which would inhibit the growth of cancer cells, resulting in a form of “cell suicide” known as programmed cell death or apoptosis, without harming normal cells.

Dr Bates said: “Development of drugs that modulate mitochondrial function may seem counter-intuitive as mitochondria provide the majority of the cell’s energy, but as cancer mitochondria are biochemically different from mitochondria in normal non-cancer cells, they represent an Achilles heel. It is likely this will lead to the development of new drug treatments for a variety of conditions including cancer, Alzheimer’s and Diabetes.”