Posts claiming antibiotics can cure cancer are misleading

Old and misleading news from 2015 resurfaces

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Claim: An eight-year-old girl discovered that cancer can be treated using antibiotics.

Fact: The claim is misleading and concerns a piece of old news from 2015. In 2015, Dr Michael P. Lisanti made news headlines when he and his wife Dr Federica Sotgia, both professors at the Manchester University, UK spoke with their daughter Camilla about cancer treatments. Camilla told her parents she would use antibiotics to treat cancer. This helped point Dr Listani in the right direction with his research, but the research is in a trial.

Fact or Fiction

On 5 February 2022, Urdu news website Saba TV shared an article with an Urdu headline

کینسر موذی مرض مگراب گھبرانے کی ضرورت نہیں ، 8 سالہ بچی نے ایسا علاج دریافت کیا کہ انسانی عقل دنگ رہ گئی

translated as “Cancer is a dangerous illness but there is no need to worry as an eight-year-old girl discovered a cure that stunned the human mind.”

According to the article, married couple Dr Lisanti and Dr Sotgia, both part of the cancer research team at the University of Manchester, asked their daughter how she would treat cancer, in response to which she said she will use antibiotics. The article said that Dr Listani was astonished after hearing this; the doctor then carried out tests in the laboratory and the results revealed that antibiotics can kill cancer cells.

Soch Fact Check investigated the claim and found that the incident in question occurred in 2015. According to an article published by the University of Manchester, Dr Lisanti was conducting research on how antibiotics can affect mitochondria and how they impact upon the growth of tumours. The article quotes Dr Listani as saying, “I was having a conversation with Camilla about how to cure cancer and she asked why don’t we just use antibiotics like we do for other illnesses. I knew that antibiotics can affect mitochondria and I’ve been doing a lot of work recently on how important they are to the growth of tumours, but this conversation helped me to make a direct link.”

However, the conclusions that Dr Listani drew were just hypotheses. In particular, Dr Listani and colleagues proposed in a research paper that on the basis of a preliminary study, five mitochondrially-targeted FDA approved antibiotics can be used to treat cancer like an infectious disease. While research in this area is ongoing, there is not yet an established method to treat cancer with antibiotics.

Additionally, other research refers to cancer treatment using antibiotics as a double-edged sword; while this form of treatment can promote cancer cell death, it can also negatively impact on mitochondrial balance.

The article in question is thus misleading as it suggests an antibiotics-based treatment for cancer was discovered by an eight-year-old, when in fact this area of medicine is still in the early stages of research and development. Soch Fact Check reached out to cancer research centres in Pakistan to gain a better understanding of the topic in question, but had received no response at the time of reporting. However, there does not seem to be scientific consensus on the matter at this time.

Virality

This is not the first time this misleading news has been shared. Soch Fact Check conducted a CrowdTangle analysis and found that it was first shared by a Facebook page on 14 October 2021. The same article with the same headline was also published here, here, here and here, among other posts, receiving a cumulative 15,600 interactions across 32 posts between October 2021 and February 2022.

Conclusion: It is not true that an eight-year-old girl discovered that antibiotics can be used to treat cancer. Antibiotics have both positive and adverse effects on cancer treatment. Researchers around the world are still conducting trials on FDA approved antibiotics and their impact on cancer.

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