Versatile Medication

The Treatment of Two Worldwide Diseases with One Medication

As many individuals in the scientific or medical community can attest, sometimes a solution is best sought when using a conventional treatment in an unconventional manner. An interesting example of this is with medication. For many individuals, specific ailments or symptoms become linked with certain medications. For example, taking an Advil whenever you have a headache. However, this line of thinking ignores the complexity of medication and the multitude of effects a pill can have on the body. To combat this impulse, many scientists are now advocating for a reassessment of certain medicinal usages, resulting in  more frequent prescriptions of “versatile medications”, embodying an array of medications used for the alternative applications outside of their designated manufactured use.

Aspirin, a commonly used versatile medication, aids in treating day-to-day inflammation,  pain and fevers. However, Aspirin is also effective in preventing platelet clumping , which would eventually form blood clots. This anti-clumping quality is the reason why many doctors prescribe it not only to reduce pain and fight fevers, but also to prevent heart attacks or strokes. Zantac is another example of a versatile medication; Zantac is commonly used as an acid-reflux drug, but  can also be used to help treat allergic reactions. Birth control, the pill that prevents pregnancy is effective in treating acne. Isn’t it possible that instead of trying to solve problems by thinking of new solutions we simply reinvent something that already works? Instead of asking what can we do to solve a problem, we should be asking what can we use to solve a problem. Cancer is one disease that affects many people all over the world and is being researched intensely to find a cure.  It's time to be creative in our fight against cancer, and Metformin, a drug used to treat Type 2 diabetes, could be the answer to helping cure cancer.

Former UNB Fredericton student, Lua Samimi, spent the final year of her Biology degree studying the effects of metformin and starvation therapy on lung cancer cells, during which she was able to explore interests of hers like cancer, evolution, forensic biology and histology. She completed her honours project under the supervision of Dr. Aurora Nedelcu and received her BSc. in May 2018. Lua is currently pursuing her MSc. in Global Health at McMaster University.

About Her Research

Much like Aspirin, Zantac, and birth control, Metformin may be another drug with alternative uses. Recent studies found that Metformin may possess anti-tumour properties in certain cancer cell lines. To explore this further, Lua's study looked at the combined effect of metformin and starvation therapy on lung cancer cells. The cancer cells were grown in a medium with nutrients to support cell growth.  Once enough cells had grown, they were exposed to a combination of two treatments noted as metformin and starvation. All cells were treated with a specific amount of metformin. For the starvation treatments, cells were added to a growth medium that had either low, normal, or high glucose levels. It has been shown that cancer cells love sugar, so by decreasing the amount of sugar available to them, Lua was studying whether the cells would die from the starvation or simply adapt to the lower levels. This study was also exploring whether lower glucose levels improved metformin's ability to prevent cancer growth.After, the cells were counted while observing changes in shapes/morphology over several days.


One of the most common issues in cancer cell culture labs is the potential for contamination due to bacteria, viruses, or fungi, which created challenges in Lua’s research. A large portion of the year was spent trying to figure out why the cancer cells kept getting contaminated.  Even after using heavy-duty biosafety cabinets, PPE, and sterile supplies the cells would still get contaminated. Every time this would happen, the processes would start all over again with the re-thawing of a new vial of cells. Luckily cancer cells grow quickly, so the setback on research was not alarming.

Passion and Persistence

Lua expressed the support and training that she has gained from Dr. Aurora Nedelcu has been invaluable to increasing her knowledge about cancer evolution and research. “Research is full of ups and downs. It really helps to make sure you’re doing something you’re passionate about because you won’t want to quit when you face a challenge.”

Cancer research is a global health issue, as well as a complex disease on multiple levels. One such level of complexity may be attributed to the variety of cells within one’s body, or even one cell line where there is the possibility of a multitude of different types of cancer cells growing. Or, that the disease can metastasize and the cells resiliency to changes within their environment adds to the complexity of developing treatments. As such, the potential Metformin has in treating cancer is phenomenal as it has been successful in treating diabetes for years. However, although the results of the study seem promising, there is still plenty of research that needs to be done on the drug before it can be put into action as an anti-cancer treatment. Dosages, safety, and efficiency all need to be considered before it can be effectively introduced to the public.

Overall, the acceptance of versatile medications is of great importance in the scientific community. It promotes thinking outside the box to find ways to grow and development on substances already created. It is this kind of creative thinking that leads to true change and innovation in science.


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