Diabetes Drug may be Liver Cancer Hard Hat

Liver cancer prevented by metformin in animals

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) People with diabetes are often prescribed metformin, a drug that actually does most of its work in the liver. This very mechanism could extend the usage of this drug as a possible cancer treatment.

Adding to a number of other studies showing the potential of metformin as a cancer therapy, researchers have discovered the diabetes drug may protect against liver cancer.

"Maintaining your ideal weight will help stave off cancer."

Geoffrey Girnun, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, led a-first-of-its kind study evaluating metformin effectiveness in liver cancer.

“Since many of the effects of the drug take place in the liver, we were surprised when we reviewed the literature that there was no direct evidence for a protective effect of metformin in liver cancer except for a few retrospective epidemiological studies,” said Girnun.

Girnun and his team produced liver cancer in mice. The animals receiving metformin had only minimal cancer growth, while the mice that didn't receive the medicine had substantial tumor growth.

The study demonstrated that metformin blocked lipid synthesis in the liver - something that's known to encourage cancer. This was, in part, why the drug prevented liver cancer in the animal study.

People living with diabetes, hepatitis and non-alchololic fatty liver disease, along with obese individuals, are at greatest risk of developing liver cancer.

Lipid synthesis is a common activity shared by all these diseases. While diabetics are already taking metformin, Girnun thinks that the medication may have potential for lowering liver cancer risks in these other groups.

Clinical trials involving patients at risk for liver cancer are planned to learn if preventive benefits seen in mice are also seen in humans.

Results from this study were presented at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2012, held March 31-April 4, 2012.

Research findings are considered preliminary until published in peer-reviewed journals.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 2, 2012
Last Updated:
April 3, 2012