Research Highlight

Antidiabetic drug kills breast cancer cells

doi:10.1038/nindia.2016.46 Published online 12 April 2016

Researchers have found that an antidiabetic drug called pioglitazone can inhibit the growth of human breast cancer cells1, making it potentially useful for treating breast cancer and diabetes simultaneously.

Pioglitazone is widely used to treat type 2 diabetes. It also protects against diabetes-induced cardiovascular complications such as heart attacks and strokes.

Previous studies had shown that diabetics are vulnerable to various cancers. To investigate the anticancer potential of pioglitazone, the researchers exposed cultured human breast cancer cells to different doses of pioglitazone.

They found that the antidiabetic drug inhibited the growth of the cancer cells by activating p21, a cell-cycle inhibitor protein. The drug also activated major cell signaling pathways such as the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway, which arrests cancer cell growth through a process of controlled cell death known as apoptosis.

When an inhibitor was used to block the activity of MAPK, the cancer cells began to grow. This suggests that the antidiabetic drug possibly kills cancer cells by modifying the activity of MAPK, indicating that it could keep breast cancer at bay.

“The findings of this research could potentially be useful for developing a new class of compounds that enhance the therapeutic efficacies of pioglitazone in diabetics afflicted with breast cancer,” says Biplab Giri, the lead researcher.

The authors of this work are from: Experimental Medicine & Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Department of Physiology, West Bengal State University, Kolkata, and Discovery Research SBU, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd., Hyderabad, India.


1. Kole, L. et al. Pioglitazone, an anti-diabetic drug requires sustained MAPK activation for its anti-tumor activity in MCF7 breast cancer cells, independent of PPAR-g pathway. Pharmacol. Rep. 68, 144–154 (2016)