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Blood fat medicine can kill cancer cells

21 November 2008

The substance simvastatin kills cancer cells and can reduce the risk of blood clots in cancer patients. Experimental studies also show that low doses of simvastatin can lower the risk of contracting prostate cancer, for example, and of such cancer spreading throughout the body.

Pharmacist Mikael Åberg is submitting his dissertation at Uppsala University on November 21.

It turns out that the substance simvastatin, which is used in drugs for high levels of blood fats, lowers the risk of developing certain forms of cancer.  Until now it has not been known just how this positive treatment works.  But, in parts of his doctoral work, Uppsala researcher Mikael Åberg is clearly on the trail of an answer to the riddle.
The pharmacist and researcher Mikael Åberg has shown in experimental studies that the substance simvastatin kills breast and prostate cancer cells, while also reducing the propensity to form blood clots.  This is primarily for two reasons.  First, the substance prevents cancer cells from forming the protein BCL-2, which the cells need to elude programmed cell death.  Second, it keeps the cells from forming the protein TF (tissue factor), which makes the blood coagulate in the vessels, causing blood clots.  TF also has a role in how cancer spreads throughout the body.
“My most important finding is that simvastatin actually kills cancer cells, even though this requires a high dose that could lead to severe side effects if the treatment is administered for a long period.  Side effects would include degradation of muscles, leading to life-threatening kidney problems,” says Mikael Åberg.
Blood vessels normally do not have any TF, that is, the protein that makes blood coagulate.  But cancer cells have TF on them, and the protein is also found on the so-called micro-particles that the cancer cells release into the blood.  Mikael Åberg has shown that a high dose of simvastatin reduces the TF on the surface of the micro-particles, while a low dose decreases the cell’s production of micro-particles.  The low dose does not kill the cells, however.
“A low dose, corresponding to the amount of medicine that patients normally take, affects the cell’s production of prostasomes, as the micro-particles we studied are called.  This treatment can lower the risk of developing prostate cancer, of it spreading, and of experiencing a blood clot as a result of the cancer – and it does so without increasing the risk of side effects,” says Mikael Åberg.
“It is an enticing thought to be able to guide high concentrations of simvastatin to the tumor itself.  The medicine could then be diluted to harmless concentrations in the blood circulation.  This could kill the tumor without increasing the risk of serious side effects,” says Mikael Åberg.

More information about the public defense and the content of the dissertation.

For more information, please contact Mikael Åberg at cell phone: +46(0)70-8452844, or the thesis director, Professor Agneta Siegbahn at phone:+46 (0)18 611-4251.