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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2 (2005), Issue 1, Pages 49-57

Antiangiogenic Steroids in Human Cancer Therapy

David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology-Oncology, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Received 13 September 2004; Accepted 13 January 2005

Copyright © 2005 Richard J. Pietras and Richard J. Pietras. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Despite advances in the early detection of tumors and in the use of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery for disease management, the worldwide mortality from human cancer remains unacceptably high. The treatment of cancer may benefit from the introduction of novel therapies derived from natural products. Natural products have served to provide a basis for many of the pharmaceutical agents in current use in cancer therapy. Emerging research indicates that progressive growth and spread of many solid tumors depends, in part, on the formation of an adequate blood supply, and this process of tumor-associated angiogenesis is reported to have prognostic significance in several human cancers. This review focuses on the potential application in antitumor therapy of naturally-occurring steroids that target tumor-associated angiogenesis. Squalamine, a 7,24 dihydroxylated 24-sulfated cholestane steroid conjugated to a spermidine at position C-3, is known to have strong antiangiogenic activity in vitro, and it significantly disrupts tumor proliferation and progression in laboratory studies. Work on the interactions of squalamine with vascular endothelial cells indicate that it binds with cell membranes, inhibits the membrane Na+/H+ exchanger and may further function as a calmodulin chaperone. These primary actions appear to promote inhibition of several vital steps in angiogenesis, such as blockade of mitogen-induced actin polymerization, cell–cell adhesion and cell migration, leading to suppression of endothelial cell proliferation. Preclinical studies with squalamine have shown additive benefits in tumor growth delay when squalamine is combined with cisplatin, paclitaxel, cyclophosphamide, genistein or radiation therapy. This compound has also been assessed in early phase clinical trials in cancer; squalamine was found to exhibit little systemic toxicity and was generally well tolerated by treated patients with various solid tumor malignancies, including ovarian, non-small cell lung and breast cancers. Clinical trials with squalamine alone or combined with standard chemotherapies or other biologic therapies, including antiangiogenic agents, should be considered for selected cancer patients, and further study of the mechanism of action and bioactivity of squalamine is warranted.