Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Omega 3 Fish Oils and Chemotherapy

While chemotherapy remains the mainstay of treatment for most types of cancer, there will be a need to improve what’s called the ‘therapeutic index’. Simply put this is a measure of the good a drug does versus the bad. Chemotherapy causes all kinds of toxic side effects while killing cancer cells, and generally it could kill more if given at a higher dose, but to do so ends up causes a lot more damage. One way of improving chemo is through the use of new generation drugs that target tumour cells rather than the indiscriminate slaughter of the older drugs.

Another way to do this is to find ways of protecting normal cells in some way and/or making cancer cells more susceptible to the effect of the existing chemo drugs. Can this be done safely? According to some researchers the answer is a qualified yes. And the magic drugs that can spare normal cells but make cancer cells more susceptible to chemo are…omega 3 fish oils. There is mounting evidence that omega 3 fish oils, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can indeed work in this way.

A new paper ‘Selective sensitization of tumours to chemotherapy by marine derived lipids: A review’, published in the journal Cancer Treatment Reviews (abstract here:, goes over the evidence from cell cultures, animal experiments and clinical trials. And there is a lot of evidence to go over. The authors summarise it quite nicely, showing that the positive effect is there across many tumour types (including breast, prostate, colon, lung, lymphomas and more), and across chemo types (nearly all of the main classes of chemotherapy drug are listed).

One very encouraging aspect of this story is the number of active clinical trials looking at this now. The pre-clinical results and first analyses from those human trials that have taken place have all been positive. And when you factor in the other positive effects of EPA and DHA, such as helping to cope with stress (, or a reduction in side effects (, then it really does begin to seem as though high dose omega 3s should be the one supplement that every cancer patient takes.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Cancer research - Surrey University

Interesting news on cancer research can come from all sorts of unexpected sources (and I don't mean the daily press or the BBC...). One recent example comes from 'Forever Surrey', the magazine for alumni and supporters of Surrey University (where I did my PhD in computer science). The latest issue carries a few interesting snippets on cancer research at the university.

First up is news of a new urine test for prostate cancer. Current testing for the test is geared around Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA), which is produced by all prostate cancer cells, not just cancerous ones. This means a high PSA value may not necessarily be connected to cancer but be caused by other conditions. It's better than no test at all, but it's not ideal. It also makes it hard to distinguish between slow-growing prostate cancers that can be safely let alone or monitored over time, and those that are fast-growing, aggressive and have to be treated immediately. Professor Hardev Pandha, a professor at the university and a consultant oncologist at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, and his team have come up with a new test that is much more cancer-specific.

Targeting a protein called Engrailed-2 (EN2), which is produced by prostate cancer cells and present in urine, they have developed a test that is much more specific, faster and easier to use. For starters this is a urine test rather than a blood test (which is what the PSA test is), and the researchers are working on a version of the test that can be done using a dipstick (like a pregnancy testing kit). A more faster and more accurate test that can really pin-point cancer rather than just generic prostate problems would be a great step forward.

But it's not just a new and improved biomarker test that's being developed at Surrey. The same research team are also working on a new treatment for prostate cancer. Dr Richard Morgan, one of Professor Pandha's team, has been working on a drug that targets a protein called HXR9 which is only active in cancer cells. By being able to switch off this protein with a new drug it can safely treat prostate cancer - without the damaging side-effects of existing treatments.

Interestingly, the same drug seems to have activity in a range of other cancers, including ovarian, breast and melanoma. This is definitely one to keep an eye on in the future...