Latest research by scientists at the University of Bath has shown why the anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen might stop certain cancers from developing.

Ibuprofen - a member of the family of drugs known as NSAIDs - is one of the most commonly taken non-prescription drugs alongside paracetamol and aspirin and there is evidence to suggest that long-term users could be better protected against prostate cancer, some colon cancers and several other cancers as well.

Unlike many drugs ibuprofen can exist in two different forms, known as R- and S-. Only the S-form has anti-inflammatory properties whilst the R-form is inactive. However the body can convert R-ibuprofen into S-ibuprofen through a process known as chiral inversion - something scientists believe may have knock-on benefits in fighting cancer.

This is because the enzyme that performs chiral inversion, alpha-methylacyl-CoA racemase (AMACR), has increased levels in prostate cancer, some colon cancers and several other cancers as well. This latest research hypothesises that the body's processing of the drug in fact reduces the normal activity of the enzyme, which in turn could stop the cancer from developing.

The academic team involved in this latest paper include Dr Matthew Lloyd, Dr Tim Woodman, Dr Andrew Thompson and Professor Mike Threadgill, all within the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Lloyd said: "The chiral inversion behaviour of ibuprofen in humans has been known since at least the 1970s. However, it is not until now that the specific proteins that perform the various steps have been identified.

"This study focusses on the final enzyme that produces active ibuprofen, which fights cancer by targeting cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes. It will also help us understand how ibuprofen fights cancer by targeting AMACR."

He added: "A particularly pleasing aspect of the study was the contribution made by the student members of the team."

Students involved in the project include Jiao Ping and Xiao Qu, Chinese Masters in Pharmacy students participating the in the Bath-Shangdong Summer Exchange Programme in 2010 and 2011; Tom Hutchings, a Nuffield Undergraduate Summer Project student in 2010; Georgina Steel, a Nuffield Sixth Form Summer Project student in 2010 now studying Dentistry at the University of Liverpool; and Amanda Allan, Grace Chui, Lawrence Johnson, Vienna Leung, and Portia Li, present and past Masters in Pharmacy students at the University of Bath.