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David Bradley ISSUE #46
June 2005

Oily Solution to Breast Cancer

Potent new weapons in the fight against breast cancer could be developed by combining the commonly used intravenous anesthetic and sedative propofol with omega-3, the fatty acid found in oily fish such as herring, salmon, and mackerel, according to US researchers.

Rafat Siddiqui ??
Rafat Siddiqui ?

Rafat Siddiqui, of Indiana University in Indianapolis, and his colleagues investigated the effects of two omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), combined with propofol on a breast cancer cell line in the laboratory. The antioxidant and cancer inhibiting properties of propofol are well known, but it only reduces cancer cell migration by about 5-10%. DHA and EPA have minimal effect on cancer cells. However, when propofol is combined with either of these fatty acids the researchers found that these new conjugate compounds inhibit cancer cell adhesion by 15% and 30% respectively, reduce the ability of breast cancer cells to develop into malignant tumors, inhibit cancer cell migration by 50%, and increase spontaneous cell death, apoptosis, by 40%. The inhibition of metastatic activity could be important in preventing the spread of cancers to other organs.

"These results suggest that our novel propofol-DHA and propofol-EPA conjugates may be useful for the treatment of breast cancer," says Siddiqui.

Fatty acids have been used previously to facilitate the absorption of drugs by cells. Siddiqui explains that this may be the mode of action of the DHA and EPA conjugates too. "It is possible that these conjugates allow propofol to remain in cell membranes for longer and so enhance its anticancer effects," adds Siddiqui.

"Our studies are mostly done on breast cancer cells in culture using very small amounts," Siddiqui told Reactive Reports, "We would like to synthesize these compounds in larger quantities to use...in future studies so that we can test their effectiveness as potential anticancer drugs." The compounds might be developed for oral or intravenous treatment of breast or other cancers, he adds. These compounds are lipophilic and so could provide additional benefits for local application in the form of patches or ointments.

Structures by David Bradley

Since both the omega-3 fatty acids and propofol have anticancer properties, they provide additive effects. Siddiqui suggests that the propofol-omega 3 fatty acid conjugate will be safer too. "Upon metabolism, one would expect that the propofol-omega-3 fatty acid conjugate would break down into free propofol and omega-3 fatty acid," he explains, "Volatile propofol will be cleared quickly from the body, whereas omega-3 fatty acids will be incorporated into the cellular system, providing additional health benefits, including cardioprotective effects."

Breast Cancer Res, 2005, 7, R645-R654; http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/bcr1036