New research led by senior investigator XiangLin Tan, assistant professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, highlights the importance of a novel pharmacologic pathway of metformin that can control diabetes and also decrease the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Despite the complexity of determining the exact process of cell migration and surrogate markers in vitro, researchers were still able to determine that metformin use suppresses the signaling activity of the gene known as RET, which is found abundantly in pancreatic cancer cells and thought to be responsible for genetic coding of cell function, including proliferation, survival, and death. “Our data indicate that targeting RET with metformin may be an attractive and novel strategy for the prevention and treatment of pancreatic cancer progression and metastasis,” said Tan. Metformin was approved by the FDA for the treatment of type 2 diabetes in 1995, but it was available for use in Canada nearly 2 decades earlier.
Metformin lowers both postprandial and basal blood glucose by decreasing intestinal absorption of glucose and glucose production in the liver. Although no suggestion has been made to formally link a potential association of diabetes with pancreatic cancer, the researchers report that metformin’s inhibitory effects on cancer-cell proliferation is promising. And although not new to the realm of cancer treatment and prevention studies, metformin is gaining increased attention for chemoprevention and a role in treatment because of its anti-inflammatory actions and ability to block protein synthesis, resulting in the death of cancer cells.  

Considering the significant potential for metastasis with pancreatic cancer, researchers express hope that this novel use of an older antidiabetic drug may bring promise to those diagnosed with this disease. The researchers note that while results are promising, “Further in vitro and in vivo studies are warranted to investigate how metformin modulates RET signaling to inhibit the progression and metastasis of pancreatic cancer.”
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