A team in Bath has shed new light on how some painkillers may hold the key to unlocking mysteries about a number of types of cancer.
Scientists funded by Cancer Research UK are looking at how drugs such as ibuprofen may interact with a key protein that fuels the growth of bowel and prostate cancers.
According to a study published in the journal Chemical Communications today, ibuprofen is one of several profens - a particular group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - being investigated for their ability to prevent cancer.
A University of Bath research team carried out an analysis of drugs in the same class as ibuprofen and discovered that they are all processed by the body in exactly the same way – through a protein called AMACR, which converts the drug into its active form.
AMACR is overactive in almost all prostate cancers, some bowel cancers and several other types of cancer and is thought to fuel the growth of the disease by boosting the cell’s energy supply.
Understanding how drugs like ibuprofen might alter AMACR activity could help scientists better understand how to block cancer growth.
Lead author Dr Matthew Lloyd said: “Our study is the first to test other drugs in the same family as ibuprofen systematically and show that they‘re all processed by the same protein in the body. Some early laboratory studies have suggested that high doses of ibuprofen can halt the growth of prostate cancer cells, but the reasons for this aren’t well understood.
“Understanding more about how this protein is acting in cells and what molecules it interacts with could provide important clues to how this process works, hopefully opening up new avenues of research for treating prostate cancer in the future.”
Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “This research is part of an international effort to understand how drugs like ibuprofen could prevent, or slow down, the development of cancer. But there are risks as well as benefits and long term use of these drugs can have side effects, such as bleeding and stomach ulcers. Understanding more about how these drugs work on a molecular level is a crucial step in being able to develop better targeted drugs with fewer side effects in future.”
The research, carried out in the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at the university, was done by a team comprising academic staff, post-doctoral scientists, undergraduate students and a sixth form college student.