Diabetes Rx Has Future In Managing Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer stem cell growth curbed with metformin

November 10, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) The cheap and effective drug that lowers blood sugar in type II diabetics may be a new weapon against breast, colon, prostate and other cancers. Growing evidence suggests metformin may also be helpful in managing ovarian cancer.

New research adds weight to previous studies showing that metformin is effective in tamping down on the growth of ovarian cancer stem cells.

This effect was even better when the drug was combined with the common chemotherapy – cisplatin.

"Medicines have many uses - ask your oncologist."

Researchers at the University of Michigan were led by Ronald J. Buckanovich, MD, PhD of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology. The study looked specifically at the impact of metformin on cancer stem cells (CSC).

Researchers looked at the effect of the drug on tumor cell lines in the lab and also on human ovarian cancer tumors in animal models.

dailyRx spoke about this study with Iris Romero, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics/gynecology at the University of Chicago. Dr. Romero recently published her research into metformin and ovarian cancer.

“The study by Dr. Buckanovich demonstrates that metformin inhibits growth of ovarian cancer stem cells. This novel mechanism makes an important contribution to the developing story regarding metformin and ovarian cancer.”

Dr. Romero’s study, published earlier this year in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that ovarian cancer patients taking metformin had longer periods of time before the disease got worse. This is called progress-free survival.

“Dr. Buckanovich’s group uses both in vitro and mouse models to provide convincing evidence that metformin targets ovarian cancer stem cells,” said Dr. Romero, who was not involved with this study.

“This effect would make the drug particularly useful in the setting of maintenance therapy after patients undergo primary treatment with surgical management and chemotherapy.”

The authors of this study wrote, “These important results shed light on how metformin works and provide critical preclinical rationale for the use of metformin in phase 2 clinical trials for ovarian cancer patients. We believe that metformin co-treatment with chemotherapy may prevent ovarian cancer recurrence and improve long-term survival."

This work was supported by a grant from the Michigan Institute for Clinical Health Research and the National Institutes of Health. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

The next goal in validating metformin for ovarian cancer treatment is a large prospective randomized clinical trial; these novel mechanistic findings take us one step closer to that goal.

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Review Date: 
November 8, 2012
Last Updated:
November 11, 2012