A new study says that cancer medication sorafenib, which is used for advanced liver and kidney cancer, appears to be effective against cancer stem cells in pancreatic cancer.
The findings of the study appear online in the journal Cancer Research.
The team led by Professor Dr. Ingrid Herr, Head of the Department of Molecular Oncosurgery, a group of the Department of Surgery at Heidelberg University Hospital, in cooperation with the German Cancer Research Center, tested sorafenib in mice and pancreatic cancer cells.
It inhibits resistant tumour stem cells and is also especially effective in combination with sulforaphane, an organic compound found in broccoli.
In their tests on cancer cells and mice, the researchers showed that sorafenib inhibited typical properties of cancer stem cells from pancreas tumours and greatly reduced tumour growth.
However, this effect lasted only for a short time and after four weeks, new colonies of cancer stem cells formed that no longer reacted to further treatment with sorafenib.
"This resistance is probably related to a certain metabolic pathway, the NF-kB pathway, that is activated by sorafenib," explained Vanessa Rausch, a young researcher at the department of Surgery at Heidelberg University Hospital and first author of the article.
There are naturally occurring substances that block precisely this undesired NF-KB pathway and thus make the dangerous cells vulnerable: vegetables from the cruciferous family such as broccoli and cauliflower possess a high content of sulforaphane, an anti-cancer compound.
The experiments show that sulforaphane prevents the activation of the NF-kB pathway by sorafenib.
The combination treatment reinforces the effect of sorafenib without causing additional side effects.
The invasive potential of cancer cells was prevented - metastasis was completely blocked in cell culture experiments.
"We assume that nutrition may be a suited approach to break therapy resistance of cancer stem cells and thus make tumour treatment more effective," Professor Herr said.