The diabetes drug metformin has long been thought to have anti-cancer effects, and researchers have been busy studying it. Now, according to a press release from the American Association for Cancer Research, new preclinical trials have shown that metformin may work in part by destroying cancer stem cells. Researchers at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre, who conducted the research, also say that when they combined metformin with standard pancreatic cancer chemotherapy in mice implanted with a set of patient-derived tumors, the combination of drugs destroyed all cancer stem cells and more differentiated cancer cells than chemotherapy alone.
Over the past several years, AACR says, pancreatic cancer treatments have been thought to be inadequate because they didn't address the problem of stem cells, which are generally resistant to therapy. "The researchers found that metformin pretreated cancer stem cells were particularly sensitive to alterations to their metabolism through the activation of AMPK," AACR says. Targeting these cells, the researchers say, may help raise survival rates. They add that disease relapse was also prevented with the addition of metformin.