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Diabetes Drug Metformin May Inhibit Liver Cancer

Ernie Shannon's picture

A drug commonly used to treat diabetes, metformin, may be beneficial in preventing liver cancer, according to researchers at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center. Primary liver cancer is an often deadly form of cancer and is rising around the world. It is now the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among American men. The research results appear in the April 2012 issue of Cancer Prevention Research.

Ironically, patients with Type II diabetes have a two- to three-fold increased risk of developing primary liver cancer. Also at risk are obese people with hepatitis or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Metformin is derived from French lilac and used to help patients with Type II diabetes. Thanks to the research in Maryland, it is now being studied in connection with the prevention of a variety of cancers.

"Our research demonstrated that metformin prevents primary liver cancer in animal models while mice treated with metformin had significantly smaller and fewer tumors than those who did not receive the medication," says the study's senior author, Geoffrey D. Girnun, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a research scientist at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center. "Based on these findings, we believe metformin should be evaluated as a preventive agent in people who are at high risk. Many patients with diabetes already are taking this medication, with few side effects."

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Dr. Girnun adds, "There have been several retrospective epidemiological studies linking metformin with reduced risk of liver cancer, but our study is the first to formally test whether metformin can protect against carcinogenesis – not just tumor growth and development, but actual tumor formation in the liver." He says he will seek federal funding for a clinical trial to study the anti-cancer effects of metformin in patients who have Type II diabetes.

Glucose is converted into fatty acids in the liver through a process called lipogenesis. This process is increased in people who have diabetes, hepatitis, fatty liver disease as well as cancer. Dr. Girnun says metformin reduces the level of glucose and inhibits this fatty acid synthesis.

"When you block this process, you prevent the cells from making more building blocks to make more cells. There is also no energy to put the building blocks together, and the cells are not able to proliferate, thereby preventing tumors from developing," he explains.

Resource: Contact: Karen Warmkessel
[email protected]
University of Maryland Medical Center