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The poisonous metalloid arsenic destroys blood cancer by killing the proteins which keep the disease alive, researchers have claimed.
Zhang Xiaowei at the State Key Laboratory of Medical Genomics in Shanghai, China, told Reuters: “Unlike chemotherapy, the side effects of arsenic are very low. There is no hair loss or suppression of bone marrow (function). We are interested in finding out how arsenic can be used in other cancers.”
Arsenic has been used as a medicine in China for well over 2,000 years.
In 1992 a group of Chinese doctors reported how they used arsenic to treat acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow which has cure rates of at least 90% in China.
The actual workings of arsenic and how it works with cancer cells has never been ascertained, until now. Zhang and the research team, whose findings were published in the journal Science and described how their modern equipment allowed them to see how arsenic attacks particular proteins which enable the cancer to survive.
“The clinical result of arsenic in treating APL is well-established. More than 90% of APL patients in China have (at least) five years of disease-free survival,” Zhang said.
Copyright Press Association 2010
State Key Laboratory of Medical Genomics