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Common diabetes drug may 'revolutionize' cancer therapies
Date:6/3/2009

This release is available in French.

Researchers at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that a widely used anti-diabetic drug can boost the immune system and increase the potency of vaccines and cancer treatments. Their findings will be published June 3 in the journal Nature.

The discovery was made by Dr. Russell Jones, an assistant professor at McGill's Goodman Cancer Centre and the Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, Yongwon Choi, PhD, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, and postdoctoral fellow Erika Pearce, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania. They discovered that the widely prescribed diabetes treatment metformin increases the efficiency of the immune system's T-cells, which in turn makes cancer and virus-fighting vaccines more effective.

The specialized white blood cells of the human immune system known as "T-cells" remember pathogens they have encountered from previous infections or vaccinations, enabling them to fight subsequent infections much faster. This "immunological memory" has been the subject of intense study for many years, but until now the underlying cellular mechanisms behind it were not well understood. Now, the researchers say, they can use diabetic therapies to manipulate T-cell response and enhance the immune system's response to infections and cancer alike.

"Many genes involved in diabetes regulation also play a role in cancer progression," Jones explained. "There is also a significant body of data suggesting that diabetics are more prone to certain cancers. However, our study is the first to suggest that by targeting the same metabolic pathways that play a role in diabetes, you can alter how well your immune system functions."

"We serendipitously discovered that the metabolizing, or burning, of fatty acids by T-cells following the
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Contact: Cynthia Lee
cynthia.lee@mcgill.ca
514-398-6754
McGill University
Source:Eurekalert

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