If an international team of researchers is right, then one of the potentially best mesothelioma prevention and treatment drugs has been sitting in your medicine cabinet this entire time. It’s aspirin.
Yes, you read that right. Ordinary aspirin. The little pill you’ve taken for years to get rid of headaches is apparently also good for getting rid of nightmares. Nightmares in the form of mesothelioma.
Writing in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Death & Disease, the researchers determined that aspirin discourages tumor growth by interfering with the functioning of the HMGB1 molecule.
HMGB1 is science shorthand for high-mobility group box 1. It’s a molecule that triggers cellular inflammation. Healthy cells that experience inflammation are cells potentially destined to transform into cancer cells.
But it gets worse. Not only does HMGB1 contribute to the beginnings of mesothelioma, it also acts as a cheerleader that encourages fledgling tumors to grow and spread.
Anti-Inflammatory Effect Against Mesothelioma
The researchers took note of the fact that aspirin — formally known as acetylsalicylic acid — is an anti-inflammatory agent.
They wondered whether the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin extended to fighting cancer – in particular, cancers that are induced by inflammation, as mesothelioma is.
The researchers came away from their investigation thinking that perhaps aspirin’s anti-inflammatory attributes do indeed have an impact against the inflammation-stoking factors that can trigger mesothelioma.
In this instance, the inflammation-stoker is that HMGB1 molecule.
“We hypothesized that aspirin may exert anticancer properties…by abrogating the carcinogenic effects of HMGB1,” wrote the researchers.
The researchers hailed from the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, the University of Ferrara in Italy, the San Raffaele University and Scientific Institute in Milan, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and New York Langone Medical Center in New York City.
To conduct their investigation, the researchers took a number of mesothelioma cell lines and divided them into two groups.
One group consisted of the mesothelioma cells that secreted HMGB1. The other consisted of mesothelioma cells that did not secrete HMGB1.
All of the mesothelioma cells from both groups were placed in nutrient-lined lab dishes. The researchers later added amounts of aspirin. They then stepped back and watched what happened.
Later, they gave aspirin to lab mice that had mesothelioma and again stepped back to observe the results.
To their delight, the aspirin inhibited the mesothelioma cells from properly developing. The aspirin also disrupted the mechanisms that permit mesothelioma cells to uproot and re-anchor themselves elsewhere within a body.
The researchers were able to pinpoint the HMGB1 molecule as aspirin’s target. They were also able to identify that it was the metabolite contained in aspirin that did all the heavy lifting. In case you’re curious, that metabolite is called salicylic acid.
Aspirin Paired with an HMGB1-Specific Inhibitor
The researchers went one step farther and paired aspirin with a substance known as BoxA. BoxA is an inhibitor that specifically targets HMGB1. Combining aspirin with BoxA increased the therapeutic value of both, the researchers found.
At serum concentrations comparable to those achieved in humans taking therapeutic doses of aspirin, the salicylic acid and BoxA pairing “markedly reduced” mesothelioma growth in the mice and significantly improved their survival, the researchers indicated.
“The effects of aspirin and BoxA were cyclooxygenase-2 independent and were not additive, consistent with both acting via inhibition of HMGB1 activity,” they wrote.
The researchers indicated that until now no one really understood how aspirin could be effective against cancer generally, let alone mesothelioma. However, the researchers said this investigation should make it clear that HMGB1 inhibition is the key.
They also said that this study adds weight to the notion that ordinary aspirin can play a potentially big role in both preventing and treating mesothelioma.