Aspirin seems to help keep cancer away. A new study may go some way to explain why.
To investigate the drug's unexpected side effects, Grahame Hardie, at the University of Dundee, UK, applied salicylate - produced by the breakdown of aspirin - to cultured human kidney cells. He found the drug activated AMPK, an enzyme involved in cell growth and metabolism that has been shown to play a role in cancer.
Salicylate, found in willow bark, has been used as a medicine for thousands of years.
"This is an ancient herbal remedy which has probably always been part of the human diet," says Hardie. "But we're still finding out how it works."
Co-author Greg Steinberg, of McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, tested high doses of salicylate on mice. Those mice engineered to lack AMPK did not experience the same metabolic effects from salicylate as mice with AMPK.
The next step will be to conduct studies in mice to see whether AMPK is important in mediating an anti-cancer effect.