Pulling the plug on pancreatic cancer cells

Pulling the plug on pancreatic cancer cells

Scientists from Manchester, England, have shown that they can cut off the energy generators in pancreatic cancer cells by using Shikonin, a TCM, and cause an overload of calcium which kills the cells.

All cells need trace amounts of calcium to help them work efficiently and levels are tightly controlled by pumps on the cell surface. Excess levels of calcium inside the cells can kill them. And, according to Dr Jason Bruce and his team from the Division of Cancer Sciences at the University of Manchester, this could be an ‘Achilles Heel’ in pancreatic cancer.

So what could turn the pump off and cause calcium to build up in the cell? The researchers found (1) that pancreatic cancer cells extract their energy from sugar but in a unique way. Pancreatic cancer cells use an enzyme called PKM2 – it is found in high levels in pancreatic tumours but not in the surrounding healthy cells. The more PKM2 present, the lower the survival.

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They then shut down PKM2 in two ways: First they tried blocking enzymes that produced it, and this worked, although it was a complex approach.

The second way was a direct attack. To do this they used Shikonin, a constituent of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

This method was found to be extremely effective. Needless to say, the team are now looking to create drugs that might do the same job, as they do not know what the effects of Shikonin could be on the rest of the body.

Shikonin is known to increase numbers and activation of T-lymphocytes and it has been previously shown (2) to inhibit cancer progression by binding to the site of heat shock protein, Hsp90.

In TCM Shikonin is used to treat smallpox, measles, sores, ulcers and skin problems.

Go to: Alternative treatments for Pancreatic Cancer


  1. http://www.pcrf.org.uk/news.php/307/pulling-the-plug-on-calcium-pumps-potential-new-treatment-strategy-for-pancreatic-cancer?category=1
  2. https://biomedres.us/pdfs/BJSTR.MS.ID.001149.pdf


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