HIV Treatment could be used to help treat skin cancers

Faculty scientists have made an important discovery in skin cancer treatments. They found that the HIV drug Nelfinavir can help treatments of melanoma to become more potent.

Skin cancer is a major problem in the UK, with more than 13,000 people being diagnosed with melanomas every year and over 2,000 people dying from it. There are drugs that are available to help treat melanoma skin cancer, but these can be ineffective because melanoma cells become resistant to them over time. After the resistance, the cells go on to make genetic changes which make it extremely hard to attack them.

Professor Claudia Wellbrock and her team found that Nelfinavir can help prevent cancer cells from becoming resistant to the treatment, making the cancer fighting agents more effective for a longer time.

The team discovered that cancer cells were able to rewire themselves by using a molecular change. This change that typically takes place in the first two weeks of cancer treatments, helps the cancer cells to develop resistance.

It was this molecular change that Wellbrock targeted by the use of Nelfinavir. It was found that Nelfinavir actually blocks the cells from rewiring and they were therefore less likely to develop resistance to the cancer treatment.

It is now thought that Nelfinavir could be administrated alongside existing cancer drugs in order to improve their effectiveness and boost the patient’s chances of survival.

Professor Wellbrock says:

“In the first few weeks of standard treatment for skin cancer, the cancer cells become stronger and more robust against treatment. But if we can target skin cancer cells before they become fully resistant, we would have a much better chance of blocking their escape. We think this research has brought us one step closer to making this a reality.”


The paper can be found at Cancer Cell   http://www.cell.com/cancer-cell/fulltext/S1535-6108(16)30037-X

 

Insulin offers new hope for the treatment of acute pancreatitis

Faculty scientists have discovered that insulin can protect against acute pancreatitis, a disease for which there is currently no treatment. The condition involves the pancreas digesting itself, resulting in severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and systemic inflammation. There are around 20,000 cases every year in the UK, with around 1000 proving fatal. There is currently no immediate cure. Dr Jason Bruce, the research team leader, said:

“The major causes of pancreatitis include bile acid reflux from gall stones and excessive alcohol intake combined with a high fat diet. When alcohol and fat accumulate inside pancreatic acinar cells — the cells that secrete digestive enzymes into the gut — the resulting small molecules (metabolites) deplete cellular energy levels and increase cellular calcium. This causes uncontrolled and catastrophic cell death and the cells burst, releasing their toxic enzymes, which digest the pancreas and surrounding tissue.”

However, recent research from Dr Bruce’s laboratory shows that insulin, which is normally released from the beta cells of the insulinpancreas, prevents the toxic effects of alcohol and fatty acid metabolites.

The team decided to look at insulin because it has been used to treat obese pancreatitis patients by reducing fatty acids on the blood. Diabetes makes pancreatitis worse and diabetics are at higher risk of developing the disease, but the team noticed that the incidence of pancreatitis is reduced in diabetics who receive insulin. Although tenuous, these findings suggested that insulin might have a protective role, but it remained unclear how the insulin was working. This research provides the first evidence that insulin directly protects from the disease in the acinar cells, the place of initiation. Dr Bruce explained:

“Insulin works by restoring the energy levels of pancreatic acinar cells, which fuels the calcium pumps on the cell membranes. These calcium pumps help to restore cellular calcium and prevent the catastrophic cell death and autodigestion of the pancreas. Although more research is needed to confirm that insulin works in animal models and human clinical trials, this study suggests that, combined with tight control over blood glucose, insulin may be an effective treatment for pancreatitis. Furthermore, if we can better understand how insulin works, then we might be able to design new and more effective drugs that might one day provide the first curative treatment for this disease”