U.K. investigators say diabetes drug may target pancreatic cancer stem cells

A team of scientists hailing from the Queen Mary University (QMUL) of London's Bart Cancer Institute and the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) has shown that not all cancers are alike when it comes to metabolism.

Most cancer cells rely on glycolysis to provide energy for the cell, which doesn't use oxygen. The scientists discovered that pancreatic cancer stem cells, which they term PancSCs, mostly undergo oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS), which not only requires oxygen but is a more efficient form of metabolism.

OXPHOS occurs in small organelles known as mitochondria that act as "battery packs" to provide energy to the cell. Metformin is already a mainstay antidiabetic drug on the market that works to suppress liver glucose production by targeting the OXPHOS pathway in mitochondria.

The QMUL team, led by Dr. Patricia Sancho, shows that PancSCs can be snuffed out by treating them with metformin. Not all PancSCs respond to metformin treatment, and some can alter their metabolism in response; however, the scientists also show an effective method to keep all PancSCs using OXPHOS as their only source of energy production.

"We might be able to exploit this reliance on oxygen by targeting the stem cells with drugs that are already available, killing the cancer by cutting off its energy supply," says Sancho.

Cancer stem cells are responsible for causing drug resistance in cancers, and pancreatic cancer is associated with high mortality. By blocking off the energy supply that PancSCs require to cause the aggressive proliferation of cancer cells, this approach looks set to have therapeutic value, and clinical trials are planned for later this year.

- here's the release

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