Aspirin Ingredient Triggers Possible Cancer, Diabetes-Fighting Protein
April 21, 2012

Aspirin Ingredient Triggers Possible Cancer, Diabetes-Fighting Protein

An international team of scientists has discovered a link between the active ingredient in aspirin and a protein which helps regulate cell growth and metabolism -- a link which could mean that the same anti-inflammatory medication and pain reliever might potentially be able to help treat cancer and prevent Type 2 Diabetes.

Those researchers, who hail from at McMaster University in Canada; the University of Dundee in Scotland, and the University of Melbourne in Australia, have discovered that salicylate can directly increase the activity of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), which is considered a cellular fuel-gauge that is typically activated by exercise and the anti-diabetic medication metformin, the Ontario-based school said in a Thursday press release.

They have published their findings in the latest edition of the journal Science.

"We're finding this old dog of aspirin already knows new tricks," Dr. Greg Steinberg, a co-principal investigator of the study and an associate professor of medicine at McMaster University, said in a statement.

"In the current paper we show that, in contrast to exercise or metformin which increase AMPK activity by altering the cells energy balance, the effects of salicylate is totally reliant on a single Ser108 amino acid of the beta 1 subunit," he added. "We show that salicylate increases fat burning and reduces liver fat in obese mice and that this does not occur in genetically modified mice lacking the beta1 subunit of AMPK."

In addition, the study shows that salicylate, which is derived from willow bark and is believed to be one of the oldest drugs in the world, also shows potential as an anti-cancer medication, Lisa Raffensperger of NewScience reported on April 19.

Raffensperger said that the researchers applied the active ingredient of aspiring into cultured human kidney cells, and that's how they discovered that it could activate the AMPK enzyme. Afterwords, they then tested high doses of the substance on various breeds of mice, and discovered that those which were genetically engineered to lack AMPK did not experience the same metabolic effects from salicylate as those which still possessed it.

"Three studies published last month in the medical journal The Lancet reported that taking an aspirin every day may significantly reduce the risk of many cancers and prevent tumors from spreading. The unanswered question was how this anti-cancer benefit occurs," the McMaster University said in their press release.

"With many recent studies showing that metformin may be important for cancer prevention the authors' study raise the interesting possibility that aspirin may also be working in a similar manner; however, further studies are needed as the concentrations of salicylate used in the current study were higher than the cancer trials," they added. "Nonetheless, the researchers' results show the one thing that salicylates and metformin hold in common is their ability to activate AMPK."