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Anti-diabetic drug could prevent pancreatic cancer relapses

19 June 2012

Researchers presenting at the Pancreatic Cancer: Progress and Challenges conference hosted by the American Association for Cancer Research have shown that the anti-diabetic drug, metformin, kills cancer stem cells.

Cancer stem cells are the “roots of a cancer” which develop into the cancer cells that form a tumour. These ‘root’ cells are responsible for cancer relapses but are resistant to all current treatments.

Professor Christopher Heeschan and his team at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid treated mice with pancreatic cancers with metformin and the standard chemotherapy treatment for pancreatic cancer, gemcitabine. The team found that the combination of the two drugs reduced the size of the tumours more than either drug alone.

Moreover, they discovered that not only did relatively low doses of metformin stop the growth of established cancer cells, they killed the cancer stem cells too.

Professor Heeschen said: “Intriguingly, in all tumours treated with metformin to date, relapse of disease was efficiently prevented and there were no noticeable adverse effects.” 

A clinical trial is currently being carried out to assess the use of metformin and gemcitabine as a treatment to slow the growth of advanced pancreatic cancer. The results of this trial may determine if the treatment also reduces the rate of pancreatic cancer relapses as predicted by Professor Heeschan’s research.

PCRF-funded PhD student, Sabari Vallath, also presented at this prestigious conference, held in Nevada.

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