Diabetes drug could treat breast cancer, say scientists
- 15 April 2011
- From the section Manchester
A drug routinely used by thousands of diabetics could play a part in fighting breast cancer, research suggests.
Scientists in Manchester have developed a new test to identify patients with aggressive forms of the disease who could benefit from Metformin.
The discovery was made by the team at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit at the University of Manchester.
They said it could herald "an important new way of tailoring treatments" to the needs of cancer patients.
A team, led by Professor Michael Lisanti, found that some cancer cells stimulate normal healthy cells to feed them "high-energy foods", known as lactate and ketones.
They discovered that Metformin, a common drug used to treat diabetes, blocked the process.
Patients whose cancer cells "fed" off high-energy compounds were more likely to see their tumours spread or become terminal, they found.
It meant they could be helped by being given the diabetes drug, which essentially cuts off the "fuel supply" for aggressive cancer cells.
Scientists used the findings to develop a method to predict which patients had a poor prognosis - and those who could benefit from the drug.
"The potential benefit [of administering drug] is that it will stop the cancer cell being fed by the normal cell and then the cancer cell won't grow," the professor told the BBC.
"So this represents a rather new approach to the treatment of cancer.
"It's a very exciting development because we have a whole new area to attack at the cancer cell, how it feeds itself from the normal cells.
"And we can look to see what sorts of other drugs block this interaction between the cancer cell and the normal cell."