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Statin plus cancer drug deliver combo punch to brain cancer cells

Building on newly discovered genetic threads in the rich tapestry of biochemical signals that cause cancer, a Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center team has dramatically killed brain cancer cells by blocking those signals with a statin and an experimental antitumor drug.

The unlikely pairing of cholesterol-lowering lovastatin and cyclopamine killed 63 percent of medulloblastoma cells grown in the laboratory. By contrast, using either agent alone wiped out fewer than 20 percent of cells. The Hopkins researchers published their findings in the January issue of the American Journal of Pathology.

The researchers caution that the cyclopamine-lovastatin combination has yet to be tested in animals, much less people, but they conclude that the tumor cell-killing by the combo is tantalizing. Cyclopamine works by blocking the so-called "hedgehog" pathway, long known to promote and guide cell and organ growth. Excessive growth is the chief characteristic of cancer. The investigators believe that blocking hedgehog with cyclopamine makes cancer cells more susceptible to lovastatin.

Along with its cholesterol-clogging effects, lovastatin, sold under the trade name Mevacor, is known to curb destruction of proteins that put the brakes on cell growth, causing cancer cells to self-destruct through a process called apoptosis. The effects of the statin already is being studied in people at high risk for the deadly skin cancer, melanoma.

First extracted from corn lilies in the 1950s, cyclopamine is a powerful toxin known to stunt fetal development and cause birth defects in humans and animals. Its connection to anti-cancer efforts grew out of later insights into its blockage of hedgehog, which gets its name from spiky hairs that develop on fruit flies lacking the signal.

"We already knew from earlier research that hedgehog controls brain cell survival and growth, and that blocking signals in this pathway may stop uncontrolled growth of canc
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Source:Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions


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