Statins help kill brain cancer cells

In collaboration with the Press Association

Combining a widely used anti-cholesterol drug with a new anti-cancer treatment dramatically increases the number of brain cancer cells killed during laboratory testing, say scientists.

The treatment, combining cholesterol-lowering statin drug lovastatin with cancer drug cyclopamine, was found to kill 63 per cent of brain cancer cells.

Lead author Dr Eli Bar said that he was "surprised by the degree to which the drug combination was so effective".

Using either agent alone wiped out less than 20 per cent of brain cancer cells, said the team at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in the US.

However, the researchers cautioned that the work remains at an early stage, and will need further testing before it can be tried in cancer patients.

Cyclopamine works by interfering with the signaling pathways that tell cancer cells to multiply. In combination with lovastatin, the two drugs provide a powerful brake on the growth of cancer cells, and encourage them to die instead.

Previous research has suggested that lovastatin helps to curb the unregulated multiplication of cells that is a hallmark of cancer growth, as well as promoting cell death. Other research organisations around the world, including Cancer Research UK, are investigating the potential of statins to treat cancer in combination with other chemotherapy drugs.

The study has been published in the American Journal of Pathology.