Non-anticoagulant heparins and inhibition of cancer

Academic Article


  • Low-molecular-weight heparins (LMWH) appear to prolong survival of patients with cancer. Such a beneficial effect is thought to be associated with interruption of molecular mechanisms involving the heparan sulfate (HS) chains of cell surface and extracellular matrix proteoglycans (HSPGs), growth factors and their receptors, heparanase, and selectins. The beneficial effects of heparin species could also be associated with their ability to release tissue factor pathway inhibitor from endothelium. The utility of heparin and LMWH as anticancer drugs is limited due to their anticoagulant properties. Non-anticoagulant heparins can be obtained either by removing chains containing the antithrombin-binding sequence, or by inactivating critical functional groups or units of this sequence. The non-anticoagulant heparins most extensively studied are regioselectively desulfated heparins and 'glycol-split' heparins. Some modified heparins of both types are potent inhibitors of heparanase. A number of them also attenuate metastasis in experimental models. With cancer cells overexpressing selectins, heparin-mediated inhibition of tumor cells-platelets aggregation and tumor cell interaction with the vascular endothelium appears to be the prevalent mechanism of attenuation of early stages of metastasis. The structural requirements for inhibition of growth factors, heparanase, and selectins by heparin derivatives are somewhat different for the different activities. An N-acetylated, glycol-split heparin provides an example of application of a non-anticoagulant heparin that inhibits cancer in animal models without unwanted side effects. Delivery of this compound to mice bearing established myeloma tumors dramatically blocked tumor growth and progression. © 2009 S. Karger AG, Basel.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Casu B; Vlodavsky I; Sanderson RD
  • Start Page

  • 195
  • End Page

  • 203
  • Volume

  • 36
  • Issue

  • 3-4