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Could Statin Drugs Help Fight Mesothelioma?

Lab Tech

A new study suggests that some of the most popular drugs used to treat high cholesterol may also help combat deadly malignant mesothelioma.

That finding comes from Japanese research, published recently in the medical journal, Cancer Letters. The study found a “synergistic effect” in mesothelioma cells between two statin drugs, atorvastatin (Lipitor) and simvastatin (Zocor) and gamma tocotrienol (y-T3), a form of Vitamin E. “Statin+y-T3 combinations induced greater cell growth inhibition more than each single treatment,” write the authors in the summary of their findings.

The combination of statin drugs and gamma-tocotrienol appears to work by inhibiting an important metabolic pathway inside the mesothelioma cells, making it impossible for them to synthesize or utilize certain critical molecules. When the researchers exposed mesothelioma cells to y-T3 alone, it had a negative impact on the endoplasmic reticulum of cells, the part of the cell that manufactures proteins and synthesizes carbohydrates and fats. But it took the addition of the statin drugs to trigger apoptosis, or programmed cell death.

This is not the first time that statins and gamma-tocotrienol have been combined to treat cancer. A 2009 study at the University of Louisiana found that even using very small (“subeffective”) doses of statins along with y-T3 may play a role in the treatment of breast cancer. They concluded, “These findings suggest that combined treatment of statins with gamma-tocotrienol may provide significant health benefits in the treatment of breast cancer in women…” Other studies have associated statin use with reduced risk of ovarian and lower incidence of liver cancer.

But it may be some time before a statin/y-T3 combination is used in the treatment of patients with mesothelioma, if at all. While preliminary laboratory studies have been promising, human trials will be needed to determine whether these compounds will have the same effect in mesothelioma patients as they do in a test tube, as well as what doses are most effective. For now, the Japanese researchers simply concluded that the combination “could be useful for malignant mesothelioma therapy” and may work with other treatments in a “complementary style”.

Mesothelioma is one of the most difficult-to-treat cancers because it is highly resistant to most conventional treatments. Most mesothelioma patients have the best results when treated with multiple treatment modalities.

If you are interested in learning more about this potential treatment talk to your doctor.


Tuerdi, G, et al, “Synergistic effect of combined treatment with gamma-tocotrienol and statin on human malignant mesothelioma cells”, July 20, 2013, Cancer Letters, Epub ahead of print.
Wali, VB, et al, “Combined treatment of gamma-tocotrienol with statins induce mammary tumor cell cycle arrest in G1”, June 2009, Experimental Biology and Medicine, pp. 639-650.

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