Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, and drugs that selectively target a protein known as COX-2 prevent the development of intestinal polyps, the precursors of colorectal cancer. However, these drugs have severe side effects that preclude their routine use in the prevention of colorectal cancer.
But now, a team of researchers, at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, has found that inhibiting an enzyme known as 11-beta-HSD2 (both genetically and using an extract from licorice) blocks COX-2 activity in human and mouse colorectal tumor cells, inhibiting their growth and metastasis in experimental models of colorectal cancer.
Importantly, long-term inhibition of 11-beta-HSD2 did not have side effects on the heart and blood vessels of mice, as long-term treatment with selective COX-2 inhibitors does. The authors therefore suggest that inhibiting 11-beta-HSD2 might provide a new approach to preventing colorectal cancer.
In an accompanying commentary, Paul Stewart and Stephen Prescott, highlight the importance of these data for the development of a potential new therapeutic option in colorectal cancer.