The key to stopping potentially-deadly cancer stem cells from developing into tumours could be prescribing a combination of antibiotics and Vitamin C to patients.
In fact, the treatment is nearly 100 times more effective at stopping cancer cell growth than pharmaceuticals such as 2-DG, according to the team.
And as both ingredients (antibiotics and Vitamin C) are relatively non-toxic, this could dramatically reduce the possible side-effects of anti-cancer therapy.
Professor Michael Lisanti, who designed the study, explained: “We now know that a proportion of cancer cells escape chemotherapy and develop drug resistance; we established this new strategy to find out how they do it.”
Published in the journal Oncotarget, the study saw the antibiotic, Doxycycline, administered in ever increasing doses over a three-month period, to induce a process called metabolic inflexibility in the cell mitochondria.
This means that although the cancer cells were alive, they are not able to switch between feeding (or getting energy) from different bio-fuel sources in the body.
They were fixed to glucose, and thus could subsequently be easily starved by taking away their glucose.
Lisanti said: “We suspected the answer lay in the fact that certain cancer cells – which we call metabolically flexible - are able to switch their fuel source. Thus, when the drug treatment reduces the availability of a particular nutrient, the flexible cancer cells can feed themselves with an alternative energy source.”
The second metabolic “punch” then came in the form of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C); the equivalent of two blows in quick succession, and was able to wipe out the cancer cells.
“Our results indicate it is a promising agent for clinical trials, and as an add-on to more conventional therapies, to prevent tumour recurrence, further disease progression and metastasis,” said Lisanti.
Back in March, research found that high doses of Vitamin C, injected into the blood stream could prove effective in treating cancer.
Up to 1,000 times higher than recommended intake levels, the Vitamin C infusions selectively targeted tumour cells in cancer patients. This increased the rates of cell deaths and sensitised them to radiation and chemotherapy.