DEC 12, 2017 1:32 PM PST

How Aspirin Strengthens a Cancer Drug


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Time and time again, cancer has proven to be a most complex and formidable enemy. In many instances, cancer has outwitted available treatments. But what if a cheap and ubiquitous drug can help tip the scale in the patient’s advantage? Indeed, scientists recently found that aspirin could increase the potency of a cancer drug, offering patients the potential of a rare upper-hand against cancer.

Formally known as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), aspirin is the humble go-to drug used to treat a variety of health conditions like the common fevers, headaches, and inflammation. Doctors also prescribe this drug to reduce the risk of heart attacks for patients who have already had one.

And in recent years, aspirin gained the spotlight again as more research linked it to anti-cancer potential. Previous studies linked aspirin to lowering the risks for colorectal and colon cancer by nearly 20 percent. Likely, aspirin’s anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties play a big part in its anti-cancer effects, but the exact mechanisms are only beginning to be unraveled.

Given this promising history for aspirin, researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia, hoped this common compound could improve the potential of Sorafenib, a rare anticancer drug that’s aimed at RAS mutated cancers.

The RAS gene encodes a protein that’s part of a signaling pathway known as the RAS/MAPK pathway, which is involved in cell division and differentiation. Because of its functions in cell growth, mutations in RAS are often associated with many types of cancers.

Few drugs exist that specifically target cancers with RAS mutations. Sorafenib is one such drug. Sorafenib is an anti-angiogenic agents that inhibit the protein known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). By inhibiting VEGF, the drug blocks the growth of blood vessels that enable cancer to survive and proliferate. Although its potential is high, Sorafenib is associated with significant side effects, which hampers its effective use.

In the current study, researchers tested the effects of a combined aspirin and Sorafenib treatment in cancers driven by RAS mutations.

In several cancer cell models, the addition of aspirin boosted the effects of Sorafenib. Then, in mouse transplanted with human tumors, Sorafenib and aspirin showed greater tumor size reduction, versus Sorafenib alone.

"We found the addition of aspirin to a cancer inhibitor drug, Sorafenib, strongly enhanced its effectiveness against mouse models of lung cancer and melanoma with RAS mutations,” said Dr. Helmut Schaider, the study’s senior author.

"[T]wo molecular processes are activated and together they work to kill RAS mutant cancer cells. This dual activation also might prevent the tumors acquiring resistance to the treatment, which can happen when the inhibitor drug is given alone,” she explained.

By boosting the efficacy of Sorafenib, aspirin could lower the dose of this cancer drug, and thereby reduce side effects in patients. Furthermore, "adding aspirin could also potentially prevent relapse of tumors in patients,” she said.

Still, whether an aspirin-Sorafenib combination will work in patients remains to be proven. "A clinical trial of the combination could proceed relatively quickly, potentially piggy-backing on other testing already underway,” said Dr. Schaider.

Additional sources: MNT

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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