Dutch scientists plan to test aspirin against a rare form of cancer after genetic testing suggested the common painkiller might also kill tumor cells.
The finding is the latest in a string of studies to show that aspirin and other anti-inflammatories may have cancer-fighting properties.
But researchers who did not participate in the experiments cautioned that aspirin research is in its earliest stages, and many potential anticancer aspects still need to be investigated, including dosage and side effects. Details of the experiments conducted at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam appear in Thursday's issue of Nature.
``There's no reason to begin or increase your aspirin consumption based on these studies,'' said Emory University biochemist Keith D. Wilkinson, who reviewed the research for the scientific journal.
The Dutch scientists focused on cylindromatosis, a genetic abnormality which causes benign tumors to grow in hair follicles and sweat gland cells. Without a normal tumor-suppressing CYLD gene, cells lack a biochemical instruction to die when they become old or damaged. Instead, the cells grow wildly and accumulate potentially cancerous changes.
To test aspirin's effect on this process, the researchers cultured human cells and silenced their CYLD gene to mimic the disease.
Then, they added a variety of different anti-inflammatory agents to the cultures, including sodium salicyate, a form of aspirin.
The compounds appear to have stimulated the same biochemical pathways as the proteins that would have been encoded by the normal CYLD gene. Normal cell death and tumor suppression was restored, they reported.
``By making the connection between this cell death pathway and this gene it suddenly became clear to us what the cause of the disease was,'' said Rene Bernards, senior author of the Nature study.
The Dutch paper is one of three in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature describing the function of the CYLD gene.
Whether a misfiring CYLD gene is responsible for other cancers is not known, Bernards said.
``If it is, then aspirin may also be helpful for those forms of cancer,'' he said.
However, Bernards cautioned his group hasn't yet proven that aspirin can treat cylindromatosis. The Dutch researchers plan to test an aspirin cream applied to scalp tumors.
Previous studies have suggested that aspirin may help prevent colon cancer by reducing polyps that can become cancerous. An apparent association has also been found between aspirin and reduced rates of pancreatic cancer.
Boston University biologist Tom Gilmore said eventual aspirin-based cancer therapies will require considerable research because the drugs probably would work differently than aspirin that is swallowed to relieve a headache.
Also, the aspirin doses in a topical cream to treat cylindromatosis are ``almost certain to be much higher'' than normal doses that people ingest, Gilmore said.