Antibiotics as new Cancer Treatments?

Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Sciences, University of Manchester have discovered a way to eradicate cancer stem cells, using the side-effects of commonly used antibiotics.

The research led by Professor Michael Lisanti studied the side effects of antibiotics on the mitochondria of cancer causing stem cells. Professor Lisanti worked with colleagues from The Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York and the Kimmel Cancer Centre, Philadelphia.  The team used five types of antibiotics – including one used to treat acne (doxycycline) – on cell lines of eight different types of tumor and found that four of them eradicated the cancer stem cells in every test. This included glioblastoma, the most aggressive of brain tumors, as well as lung, prostate, ovarian, breast, pancreatic and skin cancer.


Professor Michael Lisanti (The University of Manchester)

Since Mitochondria have common features of Bacteria the normal antibiotics that work against the bacteria are effective against mitochondria too. The mitochondria in cancer causing stem cells are engaged in a rapid biogenesis process in turn making them susceptible to Antibiotics.

During this study the team was able to show that 4-to-5 different classes of FDA-approved drugs can be used to eradicate cancer stem cells, in 12 different cancer cell lines, across 8 different tumor types (breast, DCIS, ovarian, prostate, lung, pancreatic, melanoma, and glioblastoma (brain)).The five atibiotic groups used were the erythromycins, the tetracyclines, the glycylcyclines, an anti-parasitic drug, and chloramphenicol.

Interestingle previous clinical trials where antibiotics have been used to treat cancer related infections have also shown remarkable positive therapeutic effects. In one such trial conducted using lung cancer patients, azithromycin, the antibiotic used, increased one-year patient survival from 45% to 75%.

Dr Matthew Lam, Senior Research Officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer speaking to the News Hub Web portal of the Institute of Cancer Sciences, said: “The conclusions that the researchers have drawn, whilst just hypotheses at this stage, are certainly interesting. Antibiotics are cheap and readily available and if in time the link between their use and the eradication of cancer stem cells can be proved, this work may be the first step towards a new avenue for cancer treatment.This is a perfect example of why it is so important to continue to invest in scientific research. Sometimes there are answers to some of the biggest questions right in front of us but without ongoing commitment to the search for these answers, we’d never find them.”

The research was published in the journal Oncotarget and available on following link,

Antibiotics that target mitochondria effectively eradicate cancer stem cells, across multiple tumor types: Treating cancer like an infectious disease.