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Metformin disrupts head and neck tumor growth

January 27 2017. On January 25, 2017, The Laryngoscopereported the discovery of researchers at Thomas Jefferson University of mechanisms associated with the drug metformin against cancer of the head and neck. "This study is the first step in showing how metformin acts on head and neck tumors, and we are excited that it could eventually offer patients a method of improving their outcomes with few side effects," announced senior author Ubaldo Martinez-Outschoorn.

Acting on the knowledge of improved head and neck cancer outcomes among metformin-treated diabetic patients in comparison with nondiabetics, Dr Martinez-Outschoorn and colleagues examined tumor cells derived from 39 nondiabetic cancer patients before and after they were treated with metformin. The subjects were given metformin doses that were approximately half of those commonly received by diabetics. The team found an increase in tumor cell apoptosis (programmed cell death) as well as signs of deterioration of cancer-supporting fibroblasts surrounding the tumor cells, suggesting that these cells were less able to assist their neighboring cancer cells’ growth and metastasis.

"Because tumors need a lot of energy to grow quickly, throwing a wrench in their energy-production pathway makes this kind of cancer more susceptible to standard therapies," explained first author Joseph Curry, MD.

"This study demonstrates that metformin has effects on head-and-neck cancers, at safe doses, that are at or lower than what is given to diabetic patients and that it changes head-and-neck tumor biology in a way that likely makes the cancer easier to kill," concluded coauthor Madalina Tuluc, MD, PhD. "Metformin disrupts the cancer's most efficient method of generating fuel for its growth and shuts off the cancer's support system." "The next step would be to test these doses of metformin in phase II clinical trials with a greater number of patients," Dr Martinez-Outschoorn added.