Diabetes mellitus type 2 (DM2) is a modifiable risk factor associated with pancreatic carcinogenesis and tumor progression on the basis of epidemiology studies, but the biological mechanisms are not completely understood. The purpose of this study is to demonstrate direct evidence for the mechanisms mediating these epidemiologic phenomena. Our hypothesis is that DM2 accelerates pancreatic cancer growth and that metformin treatment has a beneficial impact.


To determine the effect of glucose and insulin in pancreatic cancer proliferation, we used conditioned media to mimic DM2 conditions. Also, we studied the effect of anti-diabetic drugs, particularly metformin and rosiglitazone on pancreatic cancer growth. We established orthotopic/syngeneic (Leprdb/db) mouse cancer models to evaluate the effect of diabetes on pancreatic tumor growth and aggressiveness.


Our results showed that diabetes promotes pancreatic tumor growth. Furthermore, enhanced tumor growth and aggressiveness (e.g. epithelial–mesenchymal transition) can be explained by functional transcriptomic and metabolomic changes in the mice with diabetes, namely via activation of the AKT/mTOR pathway. Metformin treatment suppressed the diabetes-induced AKT/mTOR pathway activation and tumor growth. The metabolic profile determined by mass spectrum showed important changes of metabolites in the pancreatic cancer derived from diabetic mice treated with metformin.


Diabetes mellitus type 2 has critical effects that promote pancreatic cancer progression via transcriptomic and metabolomic changes. Our animal models provide strong evidence for the causal relationship between diabetes and accelerated pancreatic cancers. This study sheds a new insight into the effects of metformin and its potential as part of therapeutic interventions for pancreatic cancer in diabetic patients.

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