The steroid dexamethasone, which is currently used to treat inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, can block the formation of liver cancer in mice. This finding, published in Nature Communications this week, suggests that the use of steroids may be beneficial in the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma - the most common form of liver cancer in humans.
Bo Huang and colleagues show that the metabolism of glucose is altered in hepatocellular cancer in mice and tumour cells switch from using one metabolic reaction to another. This is accompanied by the loss of an enzyme - 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 - that, in rodents, creates a steroid hormone. They find that treatment with the steroid dexamethasone restores the pre-tumour metabolism of glucose in mice and reduces the formation of liver tumours. Administration of dexamethasone also reduced the formation of chemically-induced tumours in mice. Additionally, the authors find that expression of 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 was reduced in human liver cancers.
These findings suggest that targeting the altered metabolism in liver cancer may be a useful therapeutic strategy.