Diabetes Drug Disrupts Energy Pathways In Cancer Cells

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Researchers have been working to understand why diabetic head-and-neck cancer patients who are taking metformin have better treatment outcomes than non-diabetic cancer patients.

Metformin is an oral medication that helps people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels.

“This study is the first step in showing how metformin acts on head-and-neck tumors, and we are excited that it could eventually offer patients a method of improving their outcomes with few side effects,” said senior researcher Ubaldo Martinez-Outschoorn, M.D., at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Thomas Jefferson University.

Tumors require a lot of energy to develop quickly, and the investigators demonstrated that metformin “throws a wrench” into tumors’ energy-production pathways, making them more vulnerable to standard treatments. They also found that metformin alters the supportive micro-environment surrounding tumors.

To make their discoveries, the researchers examined tumor samples from 39 patients, before and after the patients were given metformin. The metformin treated samples showed a substantial increase in apoptosis, or cell death, and supporting tissue around the tumors showed signs of deterioration as well.

Metformin is considered a safe medication. The drug is generally well-tolerated by those who take it and is definitely less toxic than traditional cancer therapies. A few patients in this study experienced mild metformin side effects, such as gastrointestinal discomfort, but none of them reported severe adverse reactions.

“This study demonstrates that metformin has effects on head-and-neck cancers, at safe doses, that are at or lower than what is given to diabetic patients and that it changes head-and-neck tumor biology in a way that likely makes the cancer easier to kill,” says researcher Madalina Tuluc, M.D., Ph.D., Thomas Jefferson University.

The second phase of this research will, according to the investigators, involve clinical trials with a larger number of patients.

Source: Science Daily

 

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