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article imageInexpensive diabetes drug might help fight cancer

By Kathleen Blanchard     Nov 26, 2011 in Health
Type 2 diabetes raises the risk of cancer, through molecular pathways that are not completely understood. Researchers have found an inexpensive diabetes drug could also help fight cancers that are associated with Type 2 diabetes, such as breast cancer.
The drug, metformin, has been found by a Michigan State University researcher to prevent stimulation of breast cancer cells that can occur from a number of natural and man-made chemicals.
"People with Type-2 diabetes are known to be at high risk for several diabetes-associated cancers, such as breast, liver and pancreatic cancers," said James Trosko, a professor in the College of Human Medicine's Department of Pediatrics and Human Development.
While metformin has been shown in population studies to reduce the risk of these cancers, there was no evidence of how it worked."
For their study, the researchers grew miniature human breast tumors called mammospheres. The team based their study on the idea that cancers originate from adult human stem cells
The mammospheres activated a stem cell gene(Oct4A).
Next, the researchers exposed the mammospheres to man-made chemicals that are known to promote tumors or disrupt the endocrine system – examples of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s) include BPA, some pesticides, PCB’s, plasticizers and fungicides.
They also exposed the miniature breast tumors to natural estrogen. Adding estrogen and EDC’s increased the size of the tumors. When they added the diabetes drug metformin, the cancer tumors shrank dramatically.
The inexpensive diabetes drug inhibited growth of the cancer cells in each instance.
"Though we still do not know the exact molecular mechanism by which it works, metformin seems to dramatically affect how estrogen and endocrine-disrupting chemicals cause the pre-existing breast cancers to grow”, said Trosko.
In the study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, the inexpensive diabetes drug decreased both the size and number of breast cancer cells in the lab. Trosko says more studies need to be done in human cells to find out if metformin could help fight pancreatic and liver cancer associated with Type 2 diabetes.
More about metformin, Cancer, Trosko, Research study, Plos ONE
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