Edward Gabrielson, MD, Professor of Pathology and Oncology, and a colleague at Johns Hopkins Medicine have been awarded a research grant from LUNGevity Foundation to support their work identifying a biomarker for the development of targeted lung cancer therapies.
Dr. Gabrielson’s team is collaborating on this project with The Alex Grass Professor of Oncology at Johns Hopkins Medicine, David Ettinger, MD.
Recent studies suggest metformin, a drug commonly used to treat diabetes, can significantly improve the effects of chemotherapy without adding toxicity to breast cancer patients.
Dr. Gabrielson and Dr. Ettinger are exploring the possibility that metformin could have a similar effect in lung cancer patients.
In preliminary laboratory studies, these researchers have found that lung cancer cell lines with LKB1 gene mutations (found in nearly 40% of lung adenocarcinoma patients) are particularly sensitive to metformin as a single drug. Using this grant, the researchers are working to translate these findings to the clinical setting by studying lung cancer tissue samples in the laboratory to examine the possible links between LKB1 mutations and response to metformin with and without chemotherapy.
“The metformin studies in breast cancer have demonstrated a great upside without much of a downside,” says Dr. Gabrielson. “Based on our preliminary work, I think it’s definitely worth studying the effects of metformin on lung cancer therapy, especially in patients who are genetically predisposed to benefiting from the treatment.”
In addition, the researchers are studying the clinical records of lung cancer patients at Johns Hopkins Medicine from the past 25 years. Some of these patients were diabetics being treated with metformin as they were also being treated for lung cancer. Dr. Gabrielson’s team is reviewing the records of patients treated with metformin to determine if metformin use is associated with an improved response to chemotherapy.
As these studies are completed, these researchers could be laying the groundwork for improved chemotherapy outcomes for lung cancer patients by using metformin in combination with conventional chemotherapy drugs. In addition, by establishing direct links between metformin, LKB1 mutations and a specific chemotherapeutic, they will have described a biomarker that could potentially be used to identify cancers that are likely to be responsive to metformin in combination with conventional chemotherapy. The advancement of such targeted approaches and therapies will help physicians give optimized treatments to each lung cancer patient.