IIT Madras scientists discovers how inexpensive aspirin might be killing cancer cells

For more than three years, word has been going around among scientists that aspirin, the inexpensive painkiller that is also given to heart-disease patients, can kill cancer cells. However, they did not know how, until now.

Recently, a team of scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology – Madras, has discovered how this non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug terminates cancer cells.

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More details about the study:

  • The study was published in peer-reviewing journal Scientific Reports
  • It found that aspirin targeted malignant cells which are high in a protein called voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC)
  • “The drug induces high levels of calcium ions in the mitochondria of the cancer cells. Elevated levels of calcium prevent mitochondria from breaking down food into energy. Aspirin prevents this energy production and releases toxic substances that kill the cell,” said IIT-M Professor of Biotechnology Amal Kanti Bera

Stats on cancer cases in India

  • It is estimated by cancer registries that 14.5 lakh Indians live with the disease
  • Every year, more than seven lakh new cases are registered and 5.5 lakh die of cancer
  • An estimated 71 per cent of all cancer-related deaths occur in the age group 30-69 years
  • On an average, cancer treatment costs Rs 1.75 lakh for a patient. The cost may go up depending on the type and stage of cancer, and the hospital where the treatment is being done

Why is this study important?

This study will help pharmaceutical researchers design more potent anti-cancer drugs, said researcher Debanjan Tewari, who began his PhD work on aspirin three years ago when animal studies showed anti-cancer properties in this protein.

It will be a revolution if low cost molecules and salts like those in aspirin can kill cancer cells. This can pave way for affordable therapy. The scientists are not able to comment on the direct use of aspirin as cancer drugs right now. But with some clinical studies, they are sure they will be able to make good progress in the case.