Findings of a local study revealing new mechanisms underlying aspirin’s cancer-preventive effect, have just been published in the prestigious journal Scientific Reports, which forms part of the NATURE publishing group. The published article, entitled ‘Aspirin impairs acetyl-coenzyme A metabolism in redox-compromised yeast’, marks the conclusion of a four-year long research project spear-headed by Professor Rena Balzan, Dr. Gianluca Farrugia and Ms. Maria Azzopardi at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, in collaboration with other scientists at the University of Malta, the Genomics Core Facility of the European Molecular Biology Laboratories (EMBL), Heidelberg, Germany, and the Institute of Molecular Biosciences at Graz University, Graz, Austria.
The pain-killing drug aspirin, taken under medical prescription in low daily doses over long- term periods, is of proven efficacy in the chemoprevention of bowel cancer and other common malignancies. In fact, clinical trials are also being carried out to investigate the potential use of aspirin as a preventive measure against cancer recurrence. However, the mechanisms by which aspirin prevents cancer are not fully understood and are still the subject of numerous scientific studies involving the use of various laboratory experimental models, such as yeast cells. Yeast cells are particularly well suited for the investigation of genetic and metabolic processes at the molecular level in higher animals, including mammals. In fact, previous work carried out by Prof. Balzan and her group has already shown that aspirin causes programmed cell death or apoptosis in a strain of yeast cells that cannot respond adequately to oxidative stress, much like early-stage human cancer cells.
In their latest published article, Balzan’s team further showed that the death of these same aspirin-treated yeast cells was preceded by a decrease in the level of cellular acetyl-coenzyme A - a key metabolic substance required for energy production in cells. Aspirin caused this shortage by reprogramming the expression of genes coding for proteins that play essential roles in acetyl-coenzyme A metabolism (namely its synthesis and mitochondrial transport in cells). These findings will help shed further light on our understanding of aspirin’s cancer-preventive effects in humans and aid in current efforts to develop more effective cancer therapies in the future.
This project was financed by the Malta Council for Science and Technology, through the R&I Technology Development Programme (Project R&I-2015-001).