Several drugs that help lower cholesterol may also have applications in chemotherapy for some kinds of cancer, researchers say. Both the cancers and heart disease use a particular genetic structure, so drugs that reduce activity in that pathway can help fight both.
That structure, called the hedgehog pathway, is a signaling pathway that in embryos helps regulate organs so that they develop properly. When activated in grown adults, tumor growth and cancer can result. Current treatments for those cancers involve targeting that pathway, but the tumors can develop a resistance to those therapies.
By focusing on cholesterol derivatives called oxysterols, doctors are finding ways to get around this resistance. Cholesterol drugs can attach themselves to these oxysterols and then get into the tumors, past this defense. By getting inside the tumor, the drugs can avoid the mutated surface proteins that are resistant. The drugs allow chemotherapy medications to make use of the hedgehog pathways and attack the tumors directly.
This is an unusual treatment, researchers say, in that it activates the pathway, using it to undermine the tumor from within. Most cancer treatments block pathways rather than repurposing them.