A new study suggests that the diabetes drug metformin may help keep mesothelioma cells from growing and spreading.
The study is not the first study of metformin for mesothelioma. But this one dives deeper into how the diabetes drug may actually work against asbestos cancer.
Drugs to treat mesothelioma can be expensive. But metformin pills are common and relatively cheap. If the drug proves to be helpful against mesothelioma, it could offer hope to thousands of patients fighting this rare cancer.
Mesothelioma Treatment with a Diabetes Drug?
Pleural mesothelioma is a rare form of lung cancer caused by asbestos. It affects the thin tissue surrounding the lungs.
As cancer grows on this membrane, it prevents the natural movement of the lungs. Pleural mesothelioma patients often develop chest pain, cough, and breathing problems. This cancer spreads quickly. Even with the best standard treatments, many patients die within a year of diagnosis.
Metformin is the main Type 2 diabetes drug. But some animal studies show it may also be effective against some cancers. Metformin helps regulate cell communication and proliferation. It does this through a protein pathway scientists call Notch.
Doctors know that when the Notch pathway is not working right, cells can grow out of control. Researchers hope the diabetes drug can slow or stop this process in mesothelioma.
Results of the Metformin Study
For the diabetes drug to work against pleural mesothelioma, there needs to be a problem with the Notch pathway. When researchers at Italy’s University of Ferrara tested pleural mesothelioma cells, that is exactly what they found.
“MPM [malignant pleural mesothelioma] cells showed high levels of Notch1 activation compared to normal pleural mesothelial cells,” writes lead study author Marika Rossini.
When researchers treated the cells with the diabetes drug, they got the reaction they were hoping for. “Metformin treatment hampered MPM cell proliferation and enhanced the apoptotic process, accompanied by decreased Notch1 activation,” says Dr. Rossini.
Apoptosis is the process by which aging cells self-destruct and are replaced by fresh, healthy cells. Apoptosis slows way down or stops in mesothelioma cells. This allows too many cells to grow in one area, forming a tumor.
Scientists will need to conduct more studies to know for sure if the diabetes drug will help human mesothelioma patients. But these results suggest that it is possible.
Rossini, M, et al, “Metformin Induces Apoptosis and Inhibits Notch1 in Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma Cells”, January 18, 2021, Frontiers in Cell Developmental Biology, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcell.2020.534499/full