Scientists have uncovered the mystery of how arsenic works to treat leukaemia.
According to a report in Nature Cell Biology, patients with a certain kind of leukaemia – acute promyelocytic leukaemia – can be successfully treated with arsenic, but until recently, experts did know how the process worked.
Now scientists have solved the mystery of how arsenic can treat cancer, more targeted treatments with fewer side effects are likely to be developed.
Lead author, Cancer Research UK’s Professor Ronald Hay based at the University of Dundee, said: “Our discovery is key to understanding how we can enhance the anti-cancer properties of this poison.
“Knowing the specific molecules involved allows us to now work on creating more targeted and effective cancer drugs with fewer side effects.”
Scientists found that arsenic helps molecules called SUMO stick onto proteins involved in leukaemia. An enzyme called RNF4 hunts down SUMO and breaks down the cancer-causing proteins.
Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, Dr Lesley Walker, said: “Discovering which molecules are involved in this process is an exciting step forward in understanding this complex paradox – how can a chemical that causes cancer also cure it?
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Nature Cell Biology