Purpose: Pharmacologic concentrations of ascorbate may be effective in cancer therapeutics. We hypothesized that ascorbate concentrations achievable with i.v. dosing would be cytotoxic in pancreatic cancer for which the 5-year survival is <3%.
Experimental design: Pancreatic cancer cell lines were treated with ascorbate (0, 5, or 10 mmol/L) for 1 hour, then viability and clonogenic survival were determined. Pancreatic tumor cells were delivered s.c. into the flank region of nude mice and allowed to grow at which time they were randomized to receive either ascorbate (4 g/kg) or osmotically equivalent saline (1 mol/L) i.p. for 2 weeks.
Results: There was a time- and dose-dependent increase in measured H(2)O(2) production with increased concentrations of ascorbate. Ascorbate decreased viability in all pancreatic cancer cell lines but had no effect on an immortalized pancreatic ductal epithelial cell line. Ascorbate decreased clonogenic survival of the pancreatic cancer cell lines, which was reversed by treatment of cells with scavengers of H(2)O(2). Treatment with ascorbate induced a caspase-independent cell death that was associated with autophagy. In vivo, treatment with ascorbate inhibited tumor growth and prolonged survival.
Conclusions: These results show that pharmacologic doses of ascorbate, easily achievable in humans, may have potential for therapy in pancreatic cancer.