Rise of Aspirin
The anti-inflammatory drug also has cancer-fighting properties, say scientists at IIT-Chennai.By Anila Mathew
We may all have popped an aspirin for fever or pain. The non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) has also been used to prevent stroke and in the treatment of heart disease. Its latest use could be in the treatment of cancer. In what could be a major breakthrough in cancer therapy, Dr Amal Kanti Bera, professor of biotechnology at IIT-Chennai, and his team have discovered the way in which aspirin induces apoptotic cell death in various cancer cell lines such as colon cancer cells, chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells, myeloid leukemia cells as well as the HeLa cell line.
In a research conducted at the center’s electrophysiology lab, where different activities of ion channels are studied, medical researcher Debanjan Tewari looked into the effects of different chemicals on the mitochondrial ion channel called Voltage-Dependent Anion Channel (VDAC). In the study on aspirin, it was found that in cancer cells, aspirin interacts with VDAC leading to the entry of calcium into the mitochondria. It was also seen that aspirin further causes disassociation of another protein, HK-II (hexokinase II) from the mitochondria, thereby foiling the survival attempts of the cell in presence of imminent danger posed by aspirin’s presence in the system. All the experiments were carried out in cell culture, and it was discovered that depending on the cell types, aspirin may stimulate apoptosis by activating caspases, up-regulating several pro-apoptotic proteins, down-regulating Bcl-XL, or targeting NF-KB pathway. In order to test whether aspirin preferentially targets cancer cells, its effect on the oral cancer cell line, SCC-131, and non-cancerous oral mucosal cell line were also compared. The results of this study were published in Scientific Reports, an online journal brought out by the Nature Publishing Group.
As is commonly known, patients who are prescribed aspirin do report side effects like gastric ulcers. Dr. Bera’s research also aims to modify the chemical composition of aspirin in order to mitigate such side effects. The dosage used in the study was found to be non-toxic to other normal cells. “This study will help pharmaceutical researchers design more potent anti-cancer drugs,” says Tewari. “When we understand how a molecule works, the scope for new drug discovery widens. Research has shown how low-dose aspirin taken every day can reduce the risk of cardiac diseases in high-risk people. We hope it has the same effect on cancer.” The discovery at the cellular level would need further studies and experimentation. After studies at the organismal levels, aspirin can be used as part of combination therapy in fighting cancer. This discovery will go a long way in making cancer treatment affordable and accessible.