The generic diabetes drug metformin has proved to be a potent cancer weapon when combined with the standard chemotherapy doxorubicin, say researchers at Harvard Medical School. Testing the combo therapy on mice bred with breast cancer, the drug proved far more effective than chemo alone in reducing tumor size and preventing a recurrence of the disease.
The research has highlighted once again the key role of cancer stem cells in regenerating a tumor. While only making up five percent to 10 percent of a tumor's cells, the cancer stem cells are believed to play a major role in the return of cancer after the first round of therapy. "If we could get some magic bullet to hit that stem-cell population, the thought is we could have more effective treatments," said Raymond DuBois, provost and executive vice president, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
U.S. researchers will be participating in a clinical trial of metformin for early-stage breast cancer patients, which is being sponsored by the National Cancer Institute of Canada. Enrollment is slated to begin next year.