An anti-inflammatory drug celecoxib, activates the liver cancer cell death, in a way that makes those cells commit suicide, found in a study.
Researchers also found that the combination of celecoxib with each of two chemotherapy drugs killed more liver cancer cells in culture, making those combinations more effective than either drug on its own.
"Each chemotherapy drug alone will reduce the growth of cancer cells, but when each single drug is combined with Celebrex, a greater growth suppression effect was observed," said Jiayuh Lin, senior author of the study and an associate professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University.
Celecoxib has this effect by acting on STAT3, a gene inside liver cancer cells that, when activated, allows those cancer cells to resist the effects of chemotherapy drugs.
The researchers determined that the celecoxib molecule binds to STAT3 on so-called "hot spots," effectively blocking its ability to function.
And when STAT3 is inhibited, cellular survival pathways are blocked that cause the cancer cell to chop itself up and die.
The researchers then treated a line of liver cancer cells with celecoxib in combination with two chemotherapy drugs: doxorubicin, which is used to treat breast, ovarian, gastric, thyroid and several other cancers, and sorafenib, which is the only chemotherapy medication approved for liver cancer treatment. Its brand name is Nexavar.
With both drugs, the addition of celecoxib treatment reduced the number of viable liver cancer cells by anywhere from approximately 50 percent to more than 90 percent, depending on the doses.
The combination of celecoxib and sorafenib also significantly limited the cancer cells' ability to form colonies, a key element of tumor growth and survival after the drug treatment.
The research will be published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.