Health Beat: 'Dirty' cancer fighter: Medicine's next big thing

Health Beat: 'Dirty' cancer fighter

A single cell causes cancer, and it kills millions of people around the world every year. Doctors have many ways to treat it, but there might be a way now to prevent it. 

A drug discovered in the dirt among the Moai statues on Easter Island back in the 1970s could be the answer to preventing cancer.

"This drug has had a lot of lives," said Dr. Z. Dave Sharp, professor of molecular medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio

Rapamycin, Sharp said, was first used as a fungicide. Now, it's used as an anti-cancer therapy and an immuno-suppressant.

"To prevent transplant rejection," Sharp said.

A few years ago, Sharp got the idea that it might help extend life, too. 

"Everybody said, 'Oh, that's a crazy idea,'" explained Sharp.

Studies, however, have shown mice given the drug had their lives extended by up to 30 percent. 

"They look younger. They act younger. They're more mobile," said Sharp.

"The mice that got Rapamycin appeared to have their cancers prevented," said Dr. Tyler Curiel, professor of medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Now, doctors are giving mice cancer-causing chemicals. The idea is to find out if the drug is boosting their immunity, so their immune systems can kill cancer cells as soon as they appear. 

"There's a lot of evidence that it boosts your immunity," Curiel said.

If it really does prevent the disease in mice, "perhaps, eventually, people will be able to take this drug," said Sharp.

A two-year, $450,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute is helping to fund the work.

If the drug does prove to prevent cancer in mice, human trials could start in about two years, Curiel said.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Tyler Curiel about fighting cancer with Rapamycin

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