New research suggests that metformin treatment could effectively eliminate pancreatic cancer stem cells that rely on oxygen-based metabolism for energy production.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death, because of its tendency to cause symptoms only at a late and advanced stage. There were 49,000 new cases of the disease in 2015 in the United States; only 7.2% survive beyond 5 years. In most cases, by the time signs and symptoms appear, complete surgical removal is not possible and the cancer has already spread to other organs. Thus, development of strategies for earlier detection and new treatments are necessary to improve the prognosis of pancreatic cancer patients.
Recently, researchers from Queen Mary University of London’s Barts Cancer Institute and the Spanish National Cancer Research Center in Madrid found that pancreatic cancer stem cells could be “suffocated” with a drug already used to treat diabetes . Although most cancer cells typically rely on glycolysis to generate energy, pancreatic cancer stem cells use oxidative phosphorylation, in which mitochondria use oxygen to create ATP. Metformin, a drug widely used in the treatment of diabetes, inhibits mitochondrial function. The researchers found that metformin treatment resulted in an energy crisis and subsequent apoptosis, effectively eliminating pancreatic cancer stem cells. Some resistant clones did emerge, but the authors identified the key determinants for dependency on oxidative phosphorylation, thereby forcing the cells to rely on this metabolic pathway and remain responsive to metformin treatment.
The findings of this study have led to a strong interest in repurposing metformin for pancreatic cancer treatment. At Hemacare, we are excited to hear about advances in the development of new treatments to combat this lethal cancer. We provide a wide array of cancer disease-state blood products and primary cells for your research purposes.
 Sancho, P. et al. MYC/PGC-1alpha Balance Determines the Metabolic Phenotype and Plasticity of Pancreatic Cancer Stem Cells. Cell metabolism 22, 590-605, doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2015.08.015 (2015).