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Diabetes drug linked to cancer care

4 June, 2009  

Cancer treatment could be “revolutionised” thanks to a drug commonly prescribed for diabetes, researchers have claimed.

Scientists in the US and Canada have discovered that an important immune system defence against cancer is boosted by the drug metformin.

Promising new cancer therapies could be provided if the medicine is used in conjunction with vaccines, they believe. The effectiveness of antiviral vaccines could also be enhanced by the use of metformin.

The breakthrough was accidentally stumbled upon while the researchers were investigating immune system mechanisms in mice. They found that the ability of immune system cells to “remember” biological agents they have targeted before depends on them burning fatty acids for energy instead of sugar.

“Immunological memory” is the key process behind vaccines, which trigger a reaction by offering the immune system a recognisable target. Until now, scientists have struggled to develop successful cancer vaccines because the immune system`s memory often fails when it comes to cancer.

The new research suggests that metformin, which increases fatty acid metabolism to combat diabetes, could boost immunological memory.

Writing in the journal Nature, study leader Professor Yongwon Choi, from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, says: “Our findings were unanticipated, but are extremely important, and could revolutionise current strategies for both therapeutic and protective vaccines.”

Copyright Press Association 2009