RESEARCHERS in Scotland are close to finding drugs which can mimic the effects of aspirin and help to prevent cancer.
Dr Lesley Stark, from the Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit at Edinburgh University, said the work was focused on how aspirin could prevent bowel cancer.
They now believe they are close to being able to mimic the effects of the drug on tumours, but without the adverse side-effects linked to regular use of aspirin.
The research, which will be discussed at the Edinburgh Science Festival, is now moving on to see how aspirin might also reduce the risk of dementia.
Previous work published by the researchers found that in the Scottish population taking aspirin regularly reduced the risk of bowel cancer. Taking all the studies done together, the risk appeared to be reduced by 40 per cent, Dr Stark said.
“But we can’t recommend that people take aspirin because of the side-effects related to taking it,” she said. “So what my work aims to do is understand what aspirin is actually doing to colon cancer cells that causes them to die.”
Dr Stark said research showed that aspirin had a greater effect on bowel cancer compared with other types of cancer. “It might be that it is because it has more of a direct effect on that particular organ and the cells in the tumour are more exposed,” she said. “Another reason might be that the colon is exposed to a lot of stresses all the time and so when the cells become tumorous, the aspirin acts on them more quickly.”
The researchers are using cells in the lab to see how they react to aspirin, to try to see if there is a way of mimicking the effect. They are also taking cells from patients’ tumours to see what effect the drug is having.
Dr Stark said the aim was ultimately to create a drug that would mimic the effects of aspirin, but without the side-effects.
She said they were currently “quite close” to a few drug targets which could have the same impact on cancer cells as aspirin.
The research is also looking at finding so-called “biomarkers” – signals in a tumour that could indicate which patients who have early signs of cancer could benefit from taking aspirin as part of their treatment.
“Maybe not all patients with a tumour would respond to aspirin. Some might, some might not,” Dr Stark said. “By taking a bit of tumour and looking at it, we might be able to say which patient might respond to aspirin as a treatment.
“We are very close to identifying biomarkers that can be used to show if a patient is responding to aspirin or not.”
Dr Stark stressed that researchers were not at the stage where they could recommend people take an aspirin every day.