Drug Can Starve Cancer Stem Cells


An existing drug can prevent cancerous stem cells from reproducing, without the toxic adverse effects of chemotherapy.

Cells, including cancerous ones, cannot thrive without energy production. An obscure drug may fight off cancer by preventing energy production within cancer stem cells, essentially switching the cells off, according to a study published by Aging.

The drug, called diphenyleneiodonium (DPL), can inhibit the production of vitamins that feed cancer cells, causing the cells to starve.

“Our observation is that DPI is selectively attacking the cancer stem cells, by effectively creating a vitamin deficiency,” said researcher Michael Lisanti, MD, PhD. “In other words, by turning off energy production in cancer stem cells, we are creating a process of hibernation.”

DPI stops the reproduction of cancer cells by cutting off their energy source, according to the study. The drug does this without creating the toxic adverse effects that are common with traditional chemotherapies, according to the study.

The authors found that DPI had this effect on cancer stem cells, preventing the creation of more cancer cells. When added to a mixed population of cells, DPI sent stem cells into hibernation, according to the study; however, the drug did not fight against “bulk” cancer cells, which do not typically initiate tumor growth within patients, according to the authors.

DPI was observed to inhibit more than 90 protein enzymes from being converted into cellular energy in the mitochondria, according to the study. The lack of energy production deprives cancer cells of vitamin B-12 and riboflavin, which shuts the stem cell down and prevents growth.

“It’s extraordinary; the cells just sit there as if in a state of suspended animation,” Dr Lisanti said.

The treatment also works by weakening the cell and making it vulnerable to other drugs used to fight cancer, according to Dr Lisanti.

“The beauty of this is that DPI makes the cancer stem cells metabolically-inflexible, so they will be highly susceptible to a many other drugs,” he said.

DPI is groundbreaking because it does not create the free radicals that lead to the significant adverse events associated with chemotherapy, according to the authors.

The researchers have previously searched for new and innovative non-toxic treatments for cancer and have discovered other treatments that can kill cancer stem cells, such as the effective combination of vitamin C and antibiotics.

The authors are calling DPI treatment a new form of chemotherapy: mitoflavoscins.

“In terms of chemotherapies for cancer, we clearly need something better that what we have at present, and this is hopefully the beginning of an alternative approach to halting cancer stem cells,” said co-author Federica Sotgia, PhD.

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