Chemotherapy can be highly effective for treating some cancers, although the administration of toxic chemicals is not without its drawbacks. The side effects of the high concentrations of chemotherapy drugs necessary to stop cancer cells from growing can be considerable.
Chemotherapy and other forms of cancer treatment are not always effective. Cancer cells can continue to grow, especially more aggressive forms of cancer. Cancer stem-like cells (CSCs) are believed by some researchers to be involved.
Cancer stem-like cells have the capacity for self-renewal and are believed to be responsible for heterogeneous lineages of cancer cells that comprise tumors.
A treatment that targets CSCs that is less toxic than chemotherapy drugs could revolutionize the treatment of cancer, or at least augment conventional therapies.
Now, a team of researchers from the University of Salford has demonstrated that vitamin C – ascorbic acid – is effective at preventing the growth of CSCs.
For the study, the research team tested seven substances and measured the effectiveness of each at disrupting bioenergetic processes in CSCs. By disrupting the metabolism of the cancer cells, tumor growth can be stopped.
The team tested the anticonvulsant drug stiripentol, three experimental drugs – actinonin, FK866, and 2-DG – and three naturally occurring substances: Vitamin C, caffeic acid phenyl ester (CAPE) – a honeybee derivative – and silibinin – an active constituent of milk thistle seeds.
The researchers found that two of the experimental drugs – actinonin and FK866 – were the most effective at preventing the formation of CSCs, although vitamin C was found to be ten times more effective than the experimental CSC-targeting cancer drug 2-DG.
The researchers report that vitamin C disrupts glycolysis – the breakdown of glucose inside mitochondria providing energy for cell proliferation.
Dr. Michael P. Lisanti, professor of translational medicine at the University of Salford, said “Vitamin C is cheap, natural, nontoxic and readily available, so to have it as a potential weapon in the fight against cancer would be a significant step.”
Lead author for the study, Dr. Gloria Bonuccelli, said “Our results indicate [vitamin C] is a promising agent for clinical trials, and as an add-on to more conventional therapies, to prevent tumor recurrence, further disease progression, and metastasis.”
The paper – NADH autofluorescence, a new metabolic biomarker for cancer stem cells: Identification of Vitamin C and CAPE as natural products targeting “stemness” – has recently been published in the journal Oncotarget.