Moffitt Research: Nicotine Can Inhibit Lung Cancer Chemotherapy

March 31, 2006

Tampa, FL - Nicotine can prevent chemotherapeutic drugs such as taxol from killing lung cancer cells, researchers at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute report. While nicotine itself is not a carcinogen, it can influence biological pathways that help promote tumor growth.

Srikumar Chellappan, Ph.D. and colleagues tested whether nicotine’s influence could affect the performance of three standard lung cancer drugs: gemcitabine, cisplatin, and taxol. They found that in a variety of lung cancer cell lines, the addition of a small amount of nicotine, what would be present in the blood of an average smoker, inhibited these drugs’ ability to kill the cancer cells. Nicotine protected the cells by upregulating two genes, XIAP and survivin, which act to prevent cells from undergoing apoptosis, or programmed cell death. When the authors silenced the expression of either gene, nicotine’s protective effect was eliminated.

“While this research is enlightening the best thing is to stay away from nicotine in all forms and use behavioral smoking cessation therapies as a viable alternative,” says Chellappan, associate professor of the Drug Discovery Program.

Clinical studies have shown that cancer patients who continue to smoke during chemotherapy have lower response to treatment, and now these findings suggest that even people who quit smoking but use nicotine supplements such as patches or gum may not respond as well to drug treatment.

Chellappan’s findings will be publishing online this week in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). His research will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C. April 2.

In 2001, the National Cancer Institute awarded Moffitt the status of a Comprehensive Cancer Center in recognition of its excellence in research and contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Additionally, Moffitt is a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a prestigious alliance of the country’s leading cancer centers, and is listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of the top cancer hospitals in America. Moffitt’s sole mission is to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer.