A new study has found that pancreatic cancer stem cells can be suffocated by an anti-diabetic drug.
Cancer cells commonly rely on glycolysis, the type of metabolism that does not use oxygen to generate their energy however, researchers from Queen Mary University of London’s Barts Cancer Institute and the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) in Madrid have now found that not all cancer cells are alike when it comes to metabolism.
PancSCs can make use of a more efficient form of metabolism, called oxidative phosphorylation or OXPHOS, which does use oxygen. OXPHOS uses a part of the cell called mitochondria and it is this which can be targeted with anti-diabetic drug, metformin.
Some PancSCs are however able to escape this treatment by being much more flexible in their metabolism, leading to a recurrence of the cancer, but the investigators also found a way to prevent such resistance and force all PancSCs to keep using OXPHOS.
The researchers think that the new discovery could be used to develop treatments that stop the stem cells using oxygen and prevent cancer returning after conventional treatment. A clinical trial is planned for later next year.
First author Patricia Sancho said that they 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.
The study appears in Cell Metabolism.