Following a suggestion from an eight-year-old, scientists have found that some of the world’s cheapest and most common antibiotics can eradicate cancer stem cells across multiple tumour types in the lab. Antibiotics aren’t just good at treating infections – they may also be able to eradicate cancer stem cells, scientists have found.
Michael Lisanti, an oncologist from Manchester University in the UK, asked his daughter Camilla at the dinner table one night how she would cure cancer, Fiona Macrae reports for the Daily Mail. Her response? That she’d use antibiotics, “like when I have a sore throat”. Along with his wife, cancer researcher Federica Sotgia, Lisanti decided to try out the hypothesis, and discovered that some of the cheapest and most widely-used antibiotics can kill off a range of cancer cells – without harming healthy tissue. After doing some initial research, the team decided to investigate a class of antibiotics that stop cells from making mitochondria – the organelle that provides energy to the cell – as a side effect.
Cancer stem cells, which trigger tumours and keep them alive as they spread throughout the body, have an unusually high number of mitochondria. So Lisanti and Sotgia thought that not only would these antibiotics be more likely to attack these cells, but they may also be able to stop them from growing.
They tested their hypothesis in the lab by treating cancer stem cells from seven tumour types around the body with common, FDA-approved antibiotics. Surprisingly, they found that four of the antibiotics were able to kill off cancer stem cells taken from breast, prostate, lung, ovarian, skin, pancreative and brain tumours. One antibiotic, known as doxycycline, which is often used to treat acne, was particular promising – and it costs only around 10 Australian cents a day, compared to the hundreds of dollars spent on current cancer treatments. Importantly, the antibiotics didn’t harm healthy human cells. Via This is big