How humble aspirin kills mighty cancer

CHENNAI: For more than three years now, scientists have been saying aspirin, the low-cost painkiller that also prevents heart diseases, can kill cancer cells. Just that they didn’t know how.

Now, a team of scientists from Indian Institute of Technology – Madras has discovered how this non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug destroys cancer cells.

The study, published in peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports, found aspirin targeted malignant cells which are high in a protein called voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC). “The drug induces high levels of calcium ions in the mitochondria of the cancer cells. Elevated levels of calcium prevent mitochondria from breaking down food into energy. Aspirin prevents this energy production and releases toxic substances that kill the cell,” said IIT-M professor of biotechnology Amal Kanti Bera.

The study will help pharmaceutical researchers design more potent anti-cancer drugs, said researcher Debanjan Tewari, who began his PhD work on the protein three years ago when animal studies showed anti-cancer properties in aspirin. “When we understand how a molecule works, the scope for new drug discovery widens,” he said. Research has shown how low-dose aspirin taken every day can reduce risks of cardiac diseases in high-risk people. “We hope it has the same effect on cancer,” said Tewari.

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