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Methadone kills leukaemia

A drug prescribed to help addicts come off heroin could be used in the fight against treatment resistant forms of leukaemia, a study has shown.

Researchers in Germany have discovered that methadone, an agent used to break addiction to opioid drugs, has surprising killing power against leukaemia cells.

The study, published in journal Cancer Research, suggests methadone could be used as a new therapy for leukaemia, especially in patients whose cancer no longer responds to chemotherapy and radiation.

Senior author Dr Claudia Friesen, of the University of Ulm, said: “Methadone kills sensitive leukaemia cells and also breaks treatment resistance, but without any toxic effects on non-leukaemia blood cells.

“We find this very exciting, because once conventional treatments have failed a patient, which occurs in old and also in young patients, they have no other options.”

Methadone, developed in Germany in the 1930s, is a low cost agent that acts on opioid receptors, and thus is used as an opioid substitute to treat addiction. Scientists have found that opioid receptors also exist on the surface of some cancer cells for reasons that are not yet understood.

Copyright PA Business 2008

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