Metformin and Cancer: A Positive Connection

Each day, many individuals with type 2 diabetes take a regular dose of the drug metformin, which helps to control their blood sugar. But according to a new study, that may not be all the drug is good for.

As scientists at the University of California, San Diego, recently discovered, metformin may also be helpful in preventing tumors in people who take it.

Prevention Via Cellular Pathways

When a person takes metformin, the drug activates LKB1-AMPK, a cellular pathway in the body that protects a cell's ability to perform a certain function. It accomplishes this thanks to a protein known as GIV, or Girdin.

UCSD researchers discovered that without GIV, metformin was unable to activate the pathway and protect the body. Epithelial linings began to leak and collapse as a result of toxins, inflammation, and bacteria. This discovery points to an exciting breakthrough for the medical community; by isolating what makes metformin effective, scientists can determine how best to repurpose the drug for treatment of other illnesses.

Could Metformin Stop Cancer?

One of the illnesses that UCSD scientists hope to treat with their discovery is cancer. If GIV can protect cells and ensure that they perform their specific functions, these researchers believe that the protein could do the same for other cellular pathways – thereby inhibiting the growth of tumors.

Lead study author Pradipta Ghosh is particularly hopeful that her team's research will help cancer patients in the future. She's called GIV “a bona fide tumor suppressor,” and even reported that the team's findings “provided new insights into the epithelium-protecting and tumor-suppressive actions of one of the most widely prescribed drugs, metformin, which may inspire a fresh look and better designed studies to fully evaluate the benefits of this relatively cheap medication.”

This study has recently been published in the current issue of eLife, and though the research is still new and preliminary, it represents an enormous ray of hope for people suffering from cancer and their families.

As Ghosh says, “[B]y identifying GIV/Girdin as a key layer within the stress-polarity pathway we've peeled another layer of the proverbial onion.”

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