Metformin may function as anti-cancer agent via targeting cancer stem cells: the potential biological significance of tumor-associated miRNAs in breast and pancreatic cancers

Ann Transl Med. 2014 Jun;2(6):59. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2305-5839.2014.06.05.


Metformin is one of the most used diabetic drugs for the management of type II diabetes mellitus (DM) in the world. Increased numbers of epidemiological and clinical studies have provided convincing evidence supporting the role of metformin in the development and progression of a variety of human tumors including breast and pancreatic cancer. Substantial pre-clinical evidence from in vitro and in vivo experimental studies strongly suggests that metformin has an anti-cancer activity mediated through the regulation of several cell signaling pathways including activation of AMP kinase (AMPK), and other direct and indirect mechanisms; however, the detailed mechanism(s) has not yet been fully understood. The concept of cancer stem cells (CSCs) has gained significant attention in recent years due its identification and defining its clinical implications in many different tumors including breast cancer and pancreatic cancer. In this review, we will discuss the protective role of metformin in the development of breast and pancreatic cancers. We will further discuss the role of metformin as an anti-cancer agent, which is in part mediated through targeting CSCs. Finally, we will discuss the potential role of metformin in the modulation of tumor-associated or CSC-associated microRNAs (miRNAs) as part of the novel mechanism of action of metformin in the development and progression of breast and pancreatic cancers.

Keywords: Metformin; breast cancer and pancreatic cancer; cancer stem cells (CSCs); microRNAs (miRNAs).

Publication types

  • Review