Xin Li, an assistant professor of basic science and craniofacial biology at the College of Dentistry, has received a grant from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health to conduct a preclinical study of the potential of metformin, an oral anti-diabetic drug, to prevent the development and progression of prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in American men.
Current treatment techniques for prostate cancer are mostly palliative with poor prognosis. However, epidemiological studies indicate that patients taking metformin have lower prostate cancer risk and better prognosis.
“Our central hypothesis is that metformin acts as a novel chemo-preventive agent to restrict the initiation and progression of prostate cancer,” says Li. “Our preliminary data demonstrate that metformin reduces the cancer-promoting MYC oncogene levels both in vitro and in vivo.”
The MYC oncogene produces a DNA-binding protein that promotes cancerous cell growth and also alters prostate tumor sensitivity to inhibitors that regulate cell growth.
Li and her team will use mice having a regulator gene found in many cancers to examine the inhibitory effect of metformin on prostate cancer progression and also to define the epigenetic enzyme alterations that occur in metformin-treated prostate cancer.
“We postulate that our investigation of a novel combined cancer prevention therapy using metformin and mTOR inhibitors will yield findings that can be translated into clinical research, thereby providing guidance for prostate cancer prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment of this disease,” says Li.