Most cancer cells use a type of metabolism that does not rely on oxygen. However, new research suggests that pancreatic cancer might not work in the same way. It might be possible to use the anti-diabetes drug metformin to “suffocate” the stem cells of pancreatic cancer.
The study, conducted by researchers at Queen Mary University, could lead to the production of new, effective treatments for pancreatic cancer. Traditionally, pancreatic cancer has proved one of the most difficult forms of cancer to treat, because its symptoms are rarely visible before the cancer is too far developed.
“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,” said Dr. Patricia Santo, a researcher at Queen Mary University.
“In the long term, this could mean that pancreatic cancer patients have more treatment options available to them, including a reduced risk of recurrence following surgery and other treatments.”
The researchers stressed that metformin will not cure pancreatic cancer. Rather, adding metformin to conventional cancer treatment could stop stem cells from metastasizing elsewhere in the body, or returning in the pancreas.
The findings were published in Cell Metabolism.

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